Several weeks ago, I received a copy of Susan Linn’s The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World to review for the Simple Kids readership. I’ve been looking forward to sharing this book with you from the moment I read the first page.
Susan Linn is a psychologist, director and co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and pioneer in the use of puppets as play therapy. She has also written a book titled Consuming Kids. As you can imagine, her philosophies and beliefs line up perfectly with the purpose of Simple Kids.
In the opening chapter of The Case for Make Believe, Linn lays the foundation for why play is important for our children. Her extensive work with children and her experience in providing play therapy allows her a broad base from which to speak about the mechanics of play and what it is, exactly, that our children are learning as they play.
Not only are fine and gross motor skills developed through play, but also, as Linn writes:
Make believe is a natural means of coping with deep fears and fantasies, even for children leading the most sheltered of lives. It can often seem quite gruesome and serves two purposes. It’s a way for them to gain a sense of mastery over the things that frighten them or overwhelm them. It’s also a time when young children, working so hard to conform to exhortations to “be good,” have a chance to give voice to their very human desires to express the unacceptable – anger, selfishness, meanness, and fear (21).
From this perspective, Linn is able to invite the reader to see how make believe play is being threatened and why we must work so diligently to protect it. She speaks on:
- the invasive and pervasive nature of commercialism – a topic she has devoted another book entirely to covering, but which she discusses powerfully in the second chapter.
- how from birth, parents are encouraged to provide devises and equipment so that from infancy on, our children are accustomed to a life of “all screens all the time.”
- the powerful and profound effects of play therapy in children who are undergoing stressful situations – whether that stress if from changing schools or from the loss of a sibling.
- the subversive nature of violence in many of the toys and video games marketed for boys.
- the “Princess Trap,” and how the Disney Princesses not only dilute and limit the imagination of girls, but also how Disney’s picture of a “princess” effectively excludes people who aren’t fair-skinned.
One of the most eye-opening points for me was Linn’s discussion of “middle childhood” – the years from age six to ten – when the swirling physical changes of infancy and early childhood have calmed and before the hormone-driven upheaval of adolescence descends. Perhaps it is because my oldest daughter will soon enter middle childhood that I was particularly interested in learning that creative play continues to an excruciatingly pivotal part of development at this age. Complex problem solving skills, development of autonomy and independence, and creative experimentation are all wonderful aspects of development nurtured and encouraged by creative play – and all of those things are being severely threatened by too much screen time and toys that choke out creativity by doing everything for the child.
This book is the kind of reading that inspires positive and healthy change. I know that many in the Simple Kids audience are already taking proactive measures to protect, nurture, and encourage make believe in their homes. I have to confess that I am a parent who fell willingly for the allure of Baby Einstein videos and Dora on DVD. Though I was already moving away from a commercialism-driven path through raising our children, The Case for Make Believe solidified what I was already discovering to be true – my kids are great at play. I want to make more space for that in our home.
Finally, Linn closes the book by writing, “The last thing I want is to make parents feel guilty.” This is why she advocates so strongly for societal change, not more parental guilt.
The impetus for her advocacy for make believe is this:
Play is essential to the development of creativity, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, and making meaning. Given what’s at stake, don’t we all have a moral, ethical, political, and social obligation to provide children with the time, space, and tolls to generate play? (26)
My answer is an enthusiastic yes. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read this book. It will challenge and encourage what the ways play is honored in your family.
I’m borrowing one last idea from Susan Linn in the form of these questions: As you think back on your own childhood, what are your favorite memories of play? And how old were you when you remember your happiest, most engrossing play?