Many Facets of Play Examined in the American Journal of Play

American Journal of Play News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

February 23, 2012

For Immediate Release

Contact: Susan Trien, 585-410-6359,
Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

From Nature-Deficit Disorder to the History of Halloween,
Many Facets of Play Examined in
the American Journal of Play®

ROCHESTER, New York—Nature-deficit disorder—a disconnectedness from outdoor play—may have grave consequences for today’s often sedentary, over-protected youth, according to an interview in the current issue of the American Journal of Play with noted journalist Richard Louv (author of the best-selling Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder) and conservationist Cheryl Charles (who helped launch the Leave No Child Inside initiative along with Louv). 

Louv, famous for coining the term “nature-deficit disorder,” says it is not a medical diagnosis, but rather a term to describe the human costs of alienation from nature: “These include diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” Charles describes childhood today as “virtual, vicarious, electronic, passive, and cocooned.” According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, children spend about 50 hours a week on average with electronic media, and increasingly experience nature through computer or television screens without human interaction. In addition, many are restricted in their play by overprotective, well-intentioned parents. These problems cut across all settings—urban, suburban, and rural—worldwide, and across all income groups; they contribute to childhood obesity and increases in violent behavior and depression. Louv and Charles point to various studies that illustrate the negative physical and psychological impacts of being deprived of outdoor experiences and conclude with suggestions for reversing the trend including refitting school play areas that incorporate nature, community gardens, and encouraging parents to join family nature clubs. (See full article at

Also in this issue of the American Journal of Play:

Gangsters, Pranksters, and the Invention of Trick-or-Treating, 1930–1960” by Samira Kawash, Professor Emerita in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. For most children in North America, Halloween is one of the most exciting holidays of the year. Some harsh critics theorize that ready-made costumes, store-bought candy, and begging itself turns kids into passive, unmindful consumers of adult schemes. Kawash examines the rich history of Halloween and finds that, in fact, children themselves have shaped trick-or-treating to their own ends. According to Kawash, trick-or-treating was first associated with “modern shakedown” gangster imagery of the 1930s, and the ringing of doorbells, a popular Halloween prank, was not always appreciated by adults. Handing a treat to youngsters offered protection against window soaping and other forms of annoyance and Halloween pranks offered youth a means to retaliate “for the powerlessness they experienced on the other days of the year.” The 1950s and 1960s saw a move to tame Halloween prankish behavior by inviting neighborhood kids to attend adult-supervised parties and community parades. After 1960, the emphasis shifted to the “danger of abusive strangers” and the “alarming spectacle of Halloween sadists poisoning candy and putting razor blades in apples.” Although most reports of Halloween sadism lacked authenticity and “functioned as urban legend,” parents moved quickly to protect children, “severely curtailing their after-dark movements, imposing supervision . . . and claiming the prerogative to examine and confiscate any suspected treats or candies.” Again, modern-day trick-or-treating is not entirely the passive, commercialized, adult-controlled celebration some critics claim it is, says Kawash; it continues to allow very young children to make demands on both their parents and strangers. “Complex processes of contestation and negotiation between children and adults have been a continuous feature of children’s Halloween play from the earliest days of gangsters and prankster tricks to the trunk-or-treating of today. Attention to the playful, creative, inventive energies that children bring to Halloween, even bounded and constrained by adult limitations, remind us that whatever we do, play happens.” (See full article at:

"Bakhtin’s Carnival and Pretend Role Play” by Lynn E. Cohen, Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education and Literacy at Long Island University. Twentieth-century Russian literary critic and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin developed an epistemology that linked carnival, authority, and laughter. Drawing on his work, the author investigates hidden parent-child interactions and children’s discourse in early-childhood play.

“The Play-Literacy Nexus and the Importance of Evidence-Based Techniques in the Classroom” by Kathleen Roskos, professor of Education at John Carroll University and James Christie,  Professor of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. The authors present a review of research on the role of play in young children’s literacy development and early literacy learning and what these findings mean for children, their parents, and their teachers.

“Play as a Pathway of Behavior” by Thomas S. Henricks, Distinguished University Professor at Elon University. Seeking to understand play as part of a more general theory of human relationships, Henricks, one of the country’s premier social theorists, separates play from work, from the formal legal and political rituals that govern us, and from the feeling of “communitas” that arises at festivals, ball games, and other civic events. Like these other three fundamental categories of human experience that Henricks identifies, play helps us negotiate the social world.

The American Journal of Play, an interdisciplinary scholarly journal devoted solely to the study of play, is published by The Strong in Rochester, New York. The journal is available free online at