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Plato and Play-Doh

There is a cartoon going round in which a young student turns up at the philosophy class with a pack of Play-Doh instead of a copy of Plato's Republic. You are meant to laugh at the foolish scholar. Big mistake. The laugh is on you - it is the student that got it right. Eavesdrop on a bairn wholly absorbed in her play world and what do you hear? Imagination in spades. Rule-making on the spot. The confident handling of symbols. Role-play. Endless pondering on substance and relations. And on it goes. Eavesdrop on bairns playing together and you get all that plus empathy, sharing, the resolution (or not!) of conflict and much more. Plato is famous for his Allegory of the Cave. I would bet that the fundamentals of that imagery rest more in Plato the bairn playing, perhaps dangerously, with candles and shadows on the wall, than in him as the serious student of Thales and Heraclitus.

Play for play's sake -of course. But it is also a basic bit of the recipe for the happy, useful, engaged adult. We must make more space for it, first of all for the bairns. The negatives are the obvious ones – the excess of online, of TV, of the mountains of plastic in predicable princess or ninja shapes, but positive action is the vital element. Our streets to become safe play areas, allowing the bairns into the adult activities like dish-washing, cooking and DIY, uncovering the work-as-play and play-as-work overlaps. Making our “formal” education frameworks at all stages more open and accessible to play. Getting out into the wet and muddy, loving weather in all shapes, stopping and wondering. It is out of this fertile mould that the good philosophical questions come, and even some of the answers.

A safer Scotland is a Scotland where bairns are free to play. Their play is our future.

And here are some useful links with good ideas about how to do all this.


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