Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Flow and experience

Flow is defined as a "holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, pg. 36). If flow seems under-defined and seem intuitive, that is because the definition is based on native categories, or something that individuals identify themselves. To this end, flow is highly subjective and related to an experiential state. The essence of experience however, is that it can never be fully captured, which makes the issue of measuring flow highly problematic. Hegel (1977) aptly describes experience as being what we experience in the moment. In a particular moment, the properties of things can be said to be experienced by the senses, we experience the qualities of objects through this sensuous interaction with them. In contrast, the conception of ‘the uniqueness of the thing’ is an idea that develops independently of what is experienced of the thing. From this, one can assume that a thought is then the non-sensual component of experience.

To illustrate further, when a child first sees a red ball that she has never seen before, she experiences its properties. She immediately apprehends it; she apprehends the color red, the roundness of the ball, the smoothness of its texture, and so forth. She then develops a concept of the object as ball; a concept that is independent of all the properties previously encountered through the senses.

There are of course many interpretations of experience, but Hegel's phenomenological perspective sheds light on how a concept or definition of flow, or even play, is only part of the picture. I'm beginning to really like the notion of play as inherently contradictory (or dualistic if we must) since it is experienced in the moment-to-moment but only made sense of after the fact.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pre-conditions of play

My husband and I have to work out a vacuuming schedule to accommodate Viggo, our 7-month old black striped tabby. Freya, our 5 month old is less affected, although she'll come hightailing to me to seek comfort when it's turned on. Our routine is simple; Ken will start with the upper level of the house (we live in a 3-storey townhome), whereas I'll sit in the basement and play with the cats. I then attempt to distract Viggo by playing with his favorite toys. Once the vacuum starts, he would still be interested in play but the sound would distract him to the point where he'd pause in the middle of play. If the vacuum comes closer (living room area on the first floor), poor Viggo would completely stop and that's our cue to hide in the closet together. Not because it's play, but because it makes him feel safe. Which brings me to the point of the post; a point that has been brought up in the class many times. Without a sense of safety, play is the first activity to go away. Indeed this was the case with our Viggo. We're pretty sure that some day that he'll be able to deal with the vacuum better (he hasn't had a panic attack since the first time he heard) but until then, maybe I can create a safe environment enough for him to play when the monster is turned on!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


This week's blog post is exactly the state that I am currently in. What is un-play? I'm honestly not sure, but it's definitely a state of 'un'. Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT in a state of not-play. On the contrary, I'm at the stage of my life when I'm so embroiled in thinking about play that when I have to actually sit down and write about it, I just stare at the screen. Like so. Part of it is because of the qualifying exams fast approaching next week, and the other is because I've just been thinking so much about it that it's difficult to put into words without writing an essay. For instance, my apprenticeship paper is to define play based on cognitive, biological and sociocultural learning theories. After which, I will work on designing play for learning. See why I can't keep my thoughts to just a paragraph? UN-PLAY (It's like saying unbelievable, just not.) A part of me is irritated at authors who claim that perspectives that try to define play narrows or limits the possibilities of play. For the purposes of learning and the culture accountability in education however, that is almost inevitable. Moreover, specializing does not necessarily mean that theorists are strapping themselves down. What's so terrible about committing oneself to a position? We all have our beliefs and perspectives. I think the key position to assume is to be candid about the assumptions that one has and to be clear about why one is using the approach. A defensible position - oh wait, I know what this is. I'm preparing for my defense subconsciously. Maybe? UN-PLAY!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Framing play and the nature of signs

Goffman (1974) proposed frames as basic elements of a situation, which consist both existing structures and is made sense of by an individual’s subjective perspective. In short, frames are ways of organizing experiences. From a Piagetian perspective, one would suggest that an individual’s existing conceptual frames or schemas help her make sense any given situation. These frames then influence the individual’s next actions. From a Vygotskian perspective; an individual’s interpretations of contextual frames are based on social and cultural formations. These frames however only make sense in-so-far as the individual recognize the meaning of these frames and is able to not only act upon them but to communicate the meaning of this frame. The idea of frames can help us make sense of play; play as an inclusive intersubjective state or a mutual recognition of the situation. For play to be recognized between individuals, they have to have a shared experience; the actions undertaken by another person in this situation are understood within the specific play frame. It stands to reason that symbolic competence is insufficient without an understanding of how actions also require a response from another (Mead, 1967). Similarly, when participants engage in play, the recognition from the participants that they are playing is paramount. Play is determined by the participant(s). Moreover, symbolic competence allows children to understand social cues and is necessary for children to determine what constitutes play. In order for play to be recognized, children need to be able to understand signals, that is, to reflect upon their actions and recognize that actions undertaken are signals or symbolic representations (Bateson, 1972). I am still thinking about the nature of signs and symbols with respect to play and am hopeful to examine this further in the next few weeks.