American Journal of Play Launches Play into Orbit

The Strong News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

April 6, 2016

For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Noelle McElrath-Hart, 585-410-6325,

Key to Astronaut’s Well-Being Could Be
Launching Play into Orbit
According to
American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, NY—Space offers the opportunity for new, exotic adventures, but it also entails isolation, confinement, boredom, sensory deprivation, and other psychological hazards for astronauts going on long missions. According to the latest issue of The Strong’s American Journal of Play, an emphasis on play in space can counter these threats to an astronaut’s physical and mental well-being. Authors Edith Ackermann, visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and honorary professor of developmental psychology at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, and Marianthi Liapi, research associate at the Technical University of Crete in Greece, argue that taking advantage of space’s weightless environment in playful ways can boost astronaut morale and improve their psycho-physiological states.

Most approaches to health and wellness focus on the physical aspects of survival, and so prescribe exercise regimes to combat bone loss, muscle atrophy, and other de-conditioning effects of the zero-g environment. Ackermann and Liapi argue, however, that these programs tend to ignore psychological stressors such as anxiety, depression, homesickness, and irritability—emotional states that can also threaten the success of a mission. And so most approaches overlook a powerful antidote to the isolation that astronauts encounter: play. The authors write, “In an extreme environment where every mistake can be detrimental, if not fatal, the importance of play, spontaneous or organized, has been under-rated in the past.”

Ackermann and Liapi note that adults often associate play with childhood, and playfulness with childishness, which seems to run counter to the high seriousness of space exploration. But they point out the developmental similarities between an astronaut exploring the new frontier of space and a toddler learning to navigate the world, and suggest that mission planners should insist upon more play. The authors provide insight into the ways that their Microgravity Playscape Adaptation approach—which they originated in previous works—can be used by space travelers to engage in useful play. The authors align widely recognized types of play, such as organized play versus spontaneous free play, to four areas of a person’s development—personal, social, cognitive, and creative. They suggest for astronauts such types of play as roleplaying, gaming and puzzles, solve-it play, and fantasy play.

Ackermann and Liapi conclude that through play, “ aloft should be seen as a chance to strip away extraneous elements, get back to the purest forms of experience and communication and break free of the ultimate constraint—gravity.”

Additional articles in Vol. 8, No. 2 of the American Journal of Play include:

 “Inserting Child-Initiated Play into an American Urban School District after a Decade of Scripted Curricula: Complexities and Progress,” by Julie Nicholson, associate professor at Mills College in Oakland, California; Anne Bauer, research assistant and doctoral candidate at Mills College; and Ristyn Woolley, research assistant and doctoral candidate at Mills College. The authors document the reintroduction of play into the curriculum of an urban school after a 14-year absence. By analyzing field notes, teacher and administrator interviews, surveys, and other materials, the authors determine that teachers increased their understanding of child development and the connections between play and social and emotional development after inserting play back into the curricula.

 “We Don’t Allow Children to Climb Trees: How A Focus on Safety Affects Norwegian Children’s Play in Early-Childhood Education and Care Settings,” by Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter, associate professor at Queen Maud University College in Norway, and Ole Johan Sando, assistant professor at Queen Maud University College. The authors analyze changing attitudes to risk-taking among early-childhood education and care practioners in Norway. They conclude these changes have led to new restrictions and limitations on the way in which children play and a newfound focus on safety, often at the expense of child development.

 “Blocks, Bricks, and Plants: Relationships between Affordance and Visuo-Spatial Constructive Play Object,” by Daniel Ness, associate professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and Stephen Farenga, associate professor at Queen’s College in Queens, New York. Ness and Farenga explore the strengths and weakness of different construction play objects (blocks, bricks, and plants) and their impact on spatial thinking. They argue that toys with free play possibilities may help establish the necessary foundation for professional disciplines such as architecture and engineering.

The complete issue of the American Journal of Play can be accessed freely online at Printed editions are also available for subscription and singly copy purchase.

About the American Journal of Play
The Strong’s American Journal of Play is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary publication that serves as a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. Published three times each year, the Journal includes articles, interviews, and book reviews written for a broad readership that includes educators, psychologists, play therapists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, museum professionals, toy and game designers, policy makers, and others who consider play for a variety of reasons and from various perspectives.