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date: 19 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Children’s play, defined as non-obligatory activity, has often been a contested endeavor between adults, who, in their capacity as teachers and protectors, have tried to guide children toward productive pastimes and the younger generation who, in their quest for autonomy, have tried to fashion their own ways of amusement. This essay focuses on the “latent” period of childhood, ages six to twelve, when play is often regarded as the special “work” of children. Four contexts of play—environment, materials, playmates, and risk-freedom—are examined over five chronological periods—colonial America, early nineteenth century, late nineteenth century, early twentieth century, the most recent past. Changes and continuities have characterized all contexts and all periods, but the general trend has been toward increased adult control of children’s activities and diminished opportunities for unstructured, independent play.

Keywords: play, play site, toys and playthings, playmates, autonomy, appropriation, incorporation, transformation

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