Excerpts From CPI’s Interview With Susan Linn

Susan Linn The Case for Make Believe book cover

Excerpts From CPI’s Interview With Susan Linn

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The Importance of Play Based Learning

Susan Linn is a leading expert on the impact of Big Tech and big business on children. A renowned author, psychologist, and award-winning ventriloquist, she advocates for play-based learning.

Link to the full interview here.

Excerpts from ChildsPlay International’s Interview with Susan Linn, Ph.D, author of “Who’s Raising the Kids? Big Tech, Big Business, and the Lives of Children”

Susan Linn’s book, The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World, is a classic. She emphasizes the importance of play-based learning (learning through play). Her most recent book, Who’s Raising the Kids? Big Tech, Big Business, and the Lives of Children, was hailed by the New York Times as “rich with details that paint a full portrait of contemporary child-corporate relations.” 


Susan Linn author of Who's Raising the Kids

“Susan Linn is a hero of our times.”

—Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences


Children Are Born Knowing How To Play

It’s important for people to understand that children are born with the capacity to play and create … — neurotypical children are anyway. If it’s allowed to flourish, it’s a natural part of childhood. Also, it’s the foundation of learning and creativity, constructive problem solving, self-expression. It’s how children wrestle with life to make it meaningful. Children play about what’s going on in their lives if they’re given the opportunity to do that. I think that a phrase that a lot of people use is that play is the work of childhood.

The Importance of Play

It’s important to differentiate between work and play. When you’re working, what’s most important is the final product. When you’re playing, what’s most important is the experience, what’s happening in the moment. Play can be an important part of work, having the opportunity to create. We talk about playing with ideas, and I think that work, as I said, can embody periods of play, but once the product becomes more important than the process, it’s no longer play.

Adults Should Give Kids Space To Play

It’s important for children to have the time, the space, and the inspiration and the safety to play. You can’t force somebody to play, and you can only play if you’re safe, if you’re physically safe, if you’re psychologically safe. 

It’s important for adults to recognize that play is a way of exploring the world, that when they encountered children doing what seems to an adult meaningless activity or not productive activity, to take a step back and let children explore whatever it is that they’re doing, as long as nobody’s being hurt. Yes. Part of it is stepping out of the way to provide safety for children and tools, simple tools. I don’t mean like saws, although I guess you could. Woodworking is certainly creative, but [so are] blocks or sticks or leaves or something like that. It is important to celebrate children’s creativity, but it’s also important not to overdo the reward for it.

In The U.S., Toys Do Too Much

Girl in Peru drawing

In the United States, we really do a lot to prevent children from playing. The toys that we give them often inhibit, rather than encourage creativity. The toys do way too much. They’re too noisy. They deprive kids of voice and of being able to initiate. In other parts of the world, child slavery, child constriction, hunger, all of those things can restrict and inhibit children’s play. But I do think that around the world, adults can be encouraged to step back, to make sure kids are safe and, and to see what develops again, as long as nobody’s being hurt.

Kids Play Less Creatively with Media Linked Toys

Play comes naturally to neurotypical children. When it comes to creative play, less is often more. Children play with whatever is at hand. If there’s sticks available, they play with sticks, and they transform the sticks into other things. If there’s mud, they dig rivers or they play bakery or do something like that.

 [As] the saying goes, a good toy is 90% child and only 10% toy. 

So, a toy that is really good for children in that it encourages play, is a toy that basically lies there until somebody does something with it, or somebody transforms it into something else. Again, in the United States and other developed countries, one big inhibitor of creative play is commercial culture and commercialized culture. Kids play less creatively with media linked toys, for instance.

A child pushing a button to make a toy do back flips is not playing, really. Right. The push in commercial culture is to market toys that do more and more and more of the playing for children, thereby depriving kids of opportunities to express themselves, to create, to build their own worlds.

What Should Kids Play With?

When asked, “What would be the ideal toys or toy materials or playing material that you would get for that group of, of children?” Susan answered:

Art supplies, blocks, balls, stuffed animals, maybe animal figures, high preference always not to have licensed toys. Anything that isn’t the end but is the beginning of play, that encourages expansiveness in children, and then if you can be outside, water, sand, places to run around. Kids play more creatively in green space.

Play Is Basic To Learning

Kids are not empty vessels waiting to be filled up. They’re active learners.  Kids learn when they play with water. You learn which way it flows, playing with blocks. You learn about gravity, or even math. So, what we want, and I think what kids need to be successful, is to be interested in the world and to be curious about the world, and to feel competent in generating ideas. That comes from play. For me, I think about D.W. Winnicott and what he said that it’s in play. and maybe only in play that we can really be ourselves.  He equated play with creativity, and he equated play and creativity with health.

You learn math, or the foundations of it, from playing with blocks or trying to build a house or trying to construct whatever, or to make, to dig a river and then figure out how to get the water to go down it, and then to put in an island and figure out how to get the water to go around the island. You know, you’re learning all that stuff. Math isn’t just two plus two. There’s a deeper foundation to it. It’s really important to my colleagues who teach math that there’s a deeper meaning to the math that’s being taught.

Link to Susan Linn’s website here.


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