BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Origins of Free Play’

Guest post by Elena Marouchos of New Zealand Infant and Toddler Consortium

The Origins of Free Play, Kálló, Éva, and Györgyi Balog. Pikler-Lóczy Társaság, 2005.

‘The Origins of Free Play’ is a delightfully easy read and should be a companion reference for all who work with infants and toddlers. This book not only helps us to understand the value of free play; it eloquently describes the modes of free play, from the time an infant discovers his hands to the manipulation and experimentation of objects until the stage of building things. The detailed accounts and pictures show us that an infant’s need to play is fundamental. It also becomes evident that we can only see the child clearly once we stop prompting and sit back. Attentive observation is where we truly become aware of everything that happens at a physical (gross motor and fine motor) and cognitive level, until one block is placed on top of another. The sequence of how this play unfolds follows the natural development from infancy to young toddlerhood and provides valuable insight as to the learning that takes place, and hence the kinds of objects that are appropriate yet still challenging, for the child.

This book serves as a wonderful reminder that  “a child who achieves things through independent experimentation acquires an entirely different kind of knowledge than does a child who has ready-made solutions offered to him”.  ( Emmi Pikler )

Eva Kallo’s honest account of her own journey as a pedagogue makes this book read more like a journal that a text book …”activities conceived by adults supposed to animate children to play and learn, that mealtimes to be “gotten done with” as quickly as possible in order to make time for what was supposedly the most essential thing: play between teachers and children.  Time where it was thought that a teacher’s role was to demonstrate to children how they should play, to “animate” and supervise them”.   A subtle invitation…as one can’t help but reflect on our own pedagogy over time.

Aside from the valuable knowledge about modes of play, ‘Origins of free play’ provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our role as teachers, perhaps questioning how it is possible to support a child’s development if we do not ‘play’ with the children ourselves. ‘Origins of free play’ shows us how we can create a safe environment for free, uninterrupted play which permits the child to explore and discover the world in their own way and in their own time.     Throughout the book, photographs of very young children engaged in focused play remind us of the fascination that comes when children engage with the most ordinary and simplest of playthings. In its humblest form, this book details the way infants play, simple ideas for appropriate playthings, the play area, and, most importantly, the value of observing play. It’s value, however, lies in how it allows those who work with the very young to reflect, embed and thus articulate our practice.