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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Evolution of Play

The Evolution of Play.

Play was the natural expression of the highest capabilities of the young individual in all the higher races. It was not peculiar to man. One might gauge the height to which different classes of animal beings had risen according to the degree in which they had developed the play-instinct. It was pointed out by Dr Woods-Hutchison and other high authorities that in the grades of life below the birds there were practically no play-instincts. If the birds were taken and divided into their classes, it would be found that the more primitive birds had practically no play-instinct, whereas the higher birds developed it Considerably. Take birds on a comparatively low plane in our own country—birds like the moa and kiwi—or take domestic poultry—hens, ducks, or geese, These birds, which made their rough nests on the ground, and had never developed such ingenuity as was essential to birds living in trees, had no play-instinct. A chick was born full-fledged, with all the necessary faculties, and straightway went to work to peck and provide for itself—born ready-made, as it were. But with the higher birds, especially such as under human tuition developed powers of speech—birds such as parrots—there was great development of the play-instinct. Such birds when young rehearsed, as it Mere, the parts they were to play in mature life. They had to learn the qualities necessary to them in after-life, and Nature saw to it that they obtained 6uch instruction in the most pleasurable way possible. The young birds enjoyed instruction, and that was the natural process.—(Applause.) That was one of the things the genius of Froebel pointed out—that all instruction properly conducted should be enjoyable to the infant. When they got above the birds it was found that the play-instinct asserted itself as a more and more essential, specialised, and conspicuous feature in the lives of the higher members of each successive genus. For these facts he relied greatly on Dr Woods-Hutchinson, who had kept animals Under observation all his life, and was not a young man. Dr Woods-Hutchinson kept marsupials, and saw very little of the play instinct in them. But in puppies and kittens the instinct was strongly marked, and could at once be recognised. When they saw a kitten rushing round and pouncing at its own tail or springing on the old cat, the kitten was obviously pursuing just such a course of training as would fit it for mature life in the open. It was getting the best possible training in the most thoroughly enjoyable way. The contests it had with the older cat, the buffets it got in the face, and the occasional harder encounters were all assisting it to qualify for the contests which were to take place on the roofs later on, when the male cats should struggle for supremacy.—(Laughter and applause.) The bearing of all this was obvious. They found as they went along the series of life that the play-instinct became a more and more important and dominant factor. In man it reached its utmost development. They found not only development of the play-instinct in little children, but also in the games for boys and girls, and in the later forms of play that all men had to exercise if they did not wish to go under—the play that was known by the name of recreation. He would quote a passage from Dr Woods-Hutchinson, because to some of them it might be somewhat new:—"The child of to-day is not born in the twentieth cen- page 70 tury, but in the Glacial Epoch, on the edge of the receding ice-sheet. It is not born an Anglo-Saxon, but a cave-dweller. Its mind is contemporary with the mammoth. Hence its earliest play-instincts seem to have no practical bearing whatever. The child's mind begins where that of the race did, and passes through absolutely parallel stages in its development. From this point of view all the child's plays become strikingly prophetic and rehearsal in character." They all knew that in the earliest stages of childhood the child tried everything it came across by the one arbitrament of its sense of taste. It put everything into its mouth. It would not accept assurances; it must gain its own experiences in its own way. From that stage it went on to another, in which it delighted to touch, handle, and play with everything it came across. Next every possible cover suggested an ambush from which to pounce out and pretend to devour or to be devoured; and so on. As development proceeded further play tended to become more and more organised and purposeful, passing in succession from mere play—e.g., with blocks, sand, or skipping-rope—to competitive group games (such as hide-and-seek or marbles), on to complex co-operative group games (such as cricket or football).