An exploration of play motifs

A dear friend, believer in and lover of wilderness, and inspiring mama  turned me on to the work of David Sobel.  I am reading, well not really reading, more like hopping slowly around, his book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators.  And since we are all educators (we are!), this book, I think, makes for inspiring ideas for all of us who spend time with small folk.


First, what grabs me is his fresh approach to formulating profound ideas about how to foster a love of nature and a seriousness about caring for the earth.  He starts by simply observing children playing in nature.  Lots of observing.  And then lots of thinking.  Plus a whole bunch of wisdom and insight.  From all of this hard, but I am sure very fun, work, patterns emerge. From the patterns, Sobel has identified seven play motifs — common strands of play observed in children from all walks of life in all different ecosystems.


This is both profound and so ordinary, which makes it awesome.  One of the feelings that overwhelms me when I watch the boys play in the wild is the comfort in knowing that what they are doing is exactly what children have been doing for millennia!  Even though we buy our food instead of hunt and gather, drive cars instead of ride horses, and cook in microwaves instead of over the fire, the kids, well they are still playing the same as they were when we were still doing all of those things.  Like Sobel, I think this makes a great case for the evolutionary significance of nature play and a double case for the importance of this play in educating sustainably for sustainability.


So back to those seven play motifs, they are: 1) adventure, 2) fantasy and imagination, 3) animal allies, 4) maps and paths, 5) special places, 6) small worlds, and 7) hunting and gathering.  I am a lot excited about ruminating on each of these themes as we flit about the forest.  Many of them I have already thought about and intently observed.  Others aren’t entirely new, but will make for fresh soil for growing.  Oh this will be fun.  Hope you don’t mind playing along.


Hope you are playing in the forest, too.


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