LCHC play words meeting notes 4-25-05

From: Robert Lecusay (
Date: Fri Apr 29 2005 - 11:09:55 PDT

Here they are (in the body as well as an attachment).


Playworlds meeting at LCHC
April 25, 2004

Articles for discussion available at:

Attending: Mike Cole, Deborah Wilson, Elaine Parent, Virginia Gordon, Beth
Ferholt, Kristen Clark, Sonja Baumer, Alexander Chizhik, Kelli Moore,
Robert Lecusay, Christian Simmoneti, Lars Rossen, Niels Pederson, Koichi
Haishi, Don Schumman.

The meeting began with the continuation of a conversation that began
before the meeting had actually started: regarding the LCHC Narnia
playworld, was there a concern about the children being frightened and
about the destruction of some of the artifacts they had created for the

Alexander wondered about the adults’ engagement in the destruction of the
artifacts in the playworld (e.g. destroying a prop-portrait because this
conformed to a situation in the Narnia narrative) - when do the adults
distinguish between destruction as “work” (doing things with a particular
research objective in mind?) and destruction as play?

Beth responded that decisions about what is and isn’t destroyed are guided
in part by whether or not the destruction occurs in the narrative, by what
the kids decide to do, but also through compromise between the teacher and
those at LCHC involved in the project.

Beth continued by explaining one of the main dilemmas at the moment in the
Narnia playworld: what to do about the evil witch character at the end of
the playworld project. Should the children kill her, banish her, tame her?
The problem is further complicated by the fact that the teacher is playing
the part of the witch in the playworld. But, Beth continued, that part of
the point of the playworld is to “kill the teacher” in the sense that
there is a change in the power dynamics of the classroom.

Beth returned to the readings, critiquing the Goncu article for seeming to
leave out the issue of ethics and play.

Mike asked the group what sort of theoretical approach they were using to
address the dilemma of dealing with the witch.

Beth responded by saying that the group was faced with conflicting
frameworks. On the one hand, the adults have a responsibility for
maintaining control of the situation. On the other hand, when the adults
agree to play with the kids they are taking the risk of engaging in
activities that may not conform to the rules of the school.

Mike, referring to the Schutz, noted the presupposition that people don’t
mix different orders of reality, different systems of meaning.

Beth brought up the Mobius strip analogy to describe the transition from
the “real” world to the playworld – the feeling of getting from one place
to another without recognizing a connection between the two. She then
referred to the idea in the Schutz piece about taking a “leap” into a
different reality, distinguishing between the adults, who she thinks are
unable to consciously decide to make the leap, and the kids who she thinks

Mike points to this distinction between adult and child play as an
argument against the Goncu paper, which he read as saying that
pretend-play remains the same across a lifetime. Mike added to this
observation that some of the adult participants in the playworld have
moments of difficulty getting out of the playworld. He then returned to
the question of how the Schutz served as a theoretical guide for figuring
out what to do during the next visit to the play world.

Beth responded that perhaps through understanding how the kids use
repetition and artifacts to change their sense of space and time, the
adults would gain a better understanding of how to get in and out of the

Mike pointed out the fact that one of the things that distinguish kids and
adults’ senses of time is the fact that the kids aren’t really taxed with
keeping track of time, that this is largely done for them by the adults,
so what exactly is this difference in sense of time and what difference
does it make?

Deborah suggested recruiting ten year olds as interpreters to explain to
the adults what the younger kids are thinking. Beth brought up the fact
that Sonja’s ten year old daughter had at one point given Beth and Sonja
some really good advice about how to structure the playworld.

Sonja observed that the decision about what to do next in the playworld
was complicated by the fact that everyone involved in the playworld (the
kids, the teacher, the group from LCHC) interpreted the text from
different perspectives, that everyone brought in other narratives in order
to understand this narrative (referencing J. Bruner). She pointed out as
an example her initial ignorance about the Christian subtext of the Narnia

Sonja then spoke about different suggestions the kids had made for dealing
with the witch (distinguishing between salvation and destruction). Some
kids made the association between the witch’s evil and her feelings of
unhappiness, that pleasing the witch would in some ways make her become
good. Other kids, however, suggested planting bombs, blowing up the school
to really make sure the witch was dead. Beth also brought up the funnier
solutions like throwing kitty litter at the witch, or putting boogers on
her. But Beth emphasized the fact that all these solutions demonstrated
that the kids were really thinking through the idea of how to deal with
the witch.

Beth next brought up the problem of how to organize within the playworld
when the teacher is absent (literally or when he is there but in
character). Appoint the children as leaders?

Beth then brought up the previous three playworld visits. In the first of
these the feeling was that the kids had experienced a very low level of
engagement. Beth described the next visit as the most successful yet:
after leaving Narnia, the kids engaged in hours of self-directed drawing,
writing, and pretend-play activities. During the last visit, some of the
kids refused to come out through the wardrobe (a literal one, used as the
door into and out of the play world). On this note, Sonja mentioned one
boy (JM), who in the middle of this last visit began to try to point out
to the rest of the group that the props in the play world were fake, that
they had been made by the kids earlier in the week. JM eventually asked
the teacher if he could leave the playworld so he could work on a drawing;
however, the teacher remained in character which made it difficult for the
kid to leave. Beth then helped JM “leave.” JM ended up sitting at the edge
of the group working in his drawing.

Alexander observed that for the playworld group there seemed to be a need
to have everyone “in.” Beth clarified that this seemed to be the case for
the adults but not necessarily for the children.

Sonja returned with some of the drawings made by JM. In these JM
references his real life in which he and his family will be moving to
Texas (he like 9/20 of the kids in the classroom is from a military
family). Sonja described this as a crisis for JM. She wondered whether the
playworld helped him deal with this crisis. On the one hand it can because
it allows him to externalize his fear, to be able to discuss it with
others, and to gain more security and power. On the other hand, Sonja felt
that the JM’s drawing expressed his need to have real boundaries, real
people that he could trust, not just characters in a story.

Beth defined the play group’s double crisis: how do the adults maintain
order when they are inside the playworld, and is it good for some of the
children to go into the playworld?

Christian, returning to the topic of JM, said essentially that we should
allow the boy to make his own decisions about whether or not he wants to
be in the playworld.

Kelli brought up the question of how to deal with the JM’s challenges
about the reality of Narnia while the playworld is in motion. She also
noted the fact that JM did become engaged in the playworld when the object
of play turned to planning how to save one of the characters.

Sonja brought up the fact that some of the children cry while they’re in
the play world. She believes the children should have that deep level of
involvement in the playworld, but she worries that parents might have a
different reaction.

Deborah asked if perhaps JM’s distancing from the playworld had to do with
his attachment to the teacher (who isn’t the teacher when he is in the

Beth suggested we view the footage of the day in which the teacher entered
the playworld and turned into the witch.

While Beth and Sonja set up the video, Don asked if there was any kind of
group discussion about the playworld with the kids.

Robert said that with the exception of the last two visits, there has
always been a group discussion after the performances. During the last two
visits the kids went directly from the performance into drawing and
pretend-play activities. Kelli and Robert discussed the point that the
drawings also served as artifacts to guide both one-on-one and group
discussions with the kids. Sonja added that the kids seemed to delve more
deeply into their ideas when drawing, that the kids tend to make up
stories as they are creating their drawings.

Don brought up group discussions as a marker between play and reality for
the kids. Sonja noted that there are moments during the play in which the
adults make it explicit to the kids that they are leaving the playworld
(e.g. taking off costumes together, walking through the wardrobe).

(We watch the footage)

Beth noted the fact that through watching the footage she realized that
the kids were actually very engaged in the playworld on a day when the
adults thought the kids were least engaged. This highlights the problem
that the adults don’t have the luxury of waiting a week to try to
understand the direction the kids want to take the playworld.

Mike returned to the question of how the Narnia playworld was going to end.

Sonja said there might be two or three more performance sessions. Beth
noted that the playworld in a sense will not end, that the kids engage in
the playworld everyday. The kids have been mixing the playworld with other
forms of play (e.g. recently inserting Star Wars themes into their
drawings and discussions about Narnia). This brought up the issue of the
kids sometimes subverting the play activity. Beth gave the example of a
playworld in Finland where the kids were engaged in pretend-play that was
structured so that they would have to confront a spy in a bar; however,
instead of confronting the spy, the kids got drunk! The teacher then had
to take on a very authoritarian role and put the kids in jail (Beth said
that talking about drinking in schools in Finland was like talking about
sex in schools in the U.S.)

Beth also noted that we as researchers could tolerate more chaos than the
teacher, who was more constrained by school rules. In fact it is sometimes
in the chaos that we see some of the most interesting behavior.
Furthermore, there is the problem that even within the playworld, where
the teacher has no authority, the characters (the two older siblings) that
do have authority, that take on the teacher’s role in the playworld, have
been subverted by other characters (the younger siblings) in the story.

Christian added that in the last visit the kids seemed to be ahead of the
adults in terms of advancing the plot. He pointed to an instance in which
one of the children recited a poem that Christian was supposed to recite,
a poem he had worked hard to memorize the week before the performance.

Mike returned to the question analysis. Sonja discussed her interest in
examining how the children position themselves in the classroom
conversations, in their drawings, in the playworld. Mike suggested an
approach in which we identified different configurations based on how the
children positioned themselves in the playworld. Trying to examine when
the kids, the teacher, and the researchers are being treated as
individuals or as a member of category. Trying to show how the different
levels of framing are being dynamically organized across time.

Sonja posed the question of whether the subject position delineates the
frame, to which Mike countered that one does not have total autonomy to
create oneself as a subject, that subject positions are “interactional
accomplishments,” which brought us back to the issue of our awareness
during the playworld, and our interpretation of the playworld after the
event. In the play world we are presenting open-ended frames in
interaction that we use as a resource to coordinate with each other. The
frames become frames when they are over. Mike notes that we are trying to
shape what it is that gets left behind once the frame is closed.

We ended with a discussion about the next meeting, agreeing to focus more
on theoretical issues, adding Kiyo’s presentation to the readings, and
agreeing to have question prepared before the next meeting.

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