||Children at Play: Clinical and Developmental
Approaches to Meaning and Representation
||Arietta Slade and Dennie Palmer Wolf
||Oxford University Press © 1994
Oxford University Press
200 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10016
Three parts, including 14 chapters, an index make up this 313-page
book. The five chapters that make up Part I deal with affect in
symbolization. Part II includes three chapters that add the issue of
relationships to the process of symbolization. The final part, Part
III, has five chapters that deal with specific populations, such as males
and females, Down Syndrome children, deaf children, inhibited children,
and children with affective disorders. The sixth chapter in this
part deals with the issue of pretense and the emotional value of pretense.
As in many edited books, the chapters in this book are somewhat uneven.
While some include reports of studies with a minimal level of
quantification and data with at least a rudimentary statistical analysis,
most are based on anecdotal case studies and clinical observations.
This is not surprising inasmuch as the basic approach of the book is
psychoanalytic. The concept is that "... in play children learn to
negotiate meaning using the opportunities and materials a culture makes
available" (p. vii). Although the chapters vary in quality; all
contributors show a compassion and care for children and a sense of wonder
and amazement at the development of children. The interest in the
child as a person comes through in every chapter. Play is believed
to provide a window to the child's level of understanding.
A fundamental understanding expressed throughout the book is that play is an
interactive process and that the child and the therapist are co-creators of the
play. The therapist has the responsibility to ensure that any
interpretation offered does not go beyond the child's current capacity of
perception. "Interpretation outside the ripeness of the material is
indoctrination and produces compliance" (p. 102). The therapist is the
coauthor of the narratives developed in play. One of the more quantified
studies reports that in play children were 87 to 91% contingent and mothers were
97% contingent (p. 188). Such a high level of observed interaction can
only underline the interactive nature of play. The understanding of
symbolism and pretense play that is common throughout all the chapters is that
this quality of play means that it cannot be viewed as statements about the
reality or veridicality of real events. It is always the child's
perception affected by developmental levels, individual differences, and the
interaction with the adult.
For anyone who engages in play therapy this book can be of great assistance
in staying humble before the mystery of humanity and maintaining limits upon the
interpretations placed on play. A grasp of this book's understanding of
children at play would eliminate almost all use of play as an investigatory tool
in attempting to obtain information about hypothesized or suspected prior
events. At the same time, it will enrich anyone who wants to bring a
positive and nurturing element into the interactions between an adult and a
child at play.
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological
Therapies, North field, Minnesota.