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The Case for Make Believe

The Case for Make Believe

Making Play in a Commercialized World

By Susan Linn

© 2008

It all started with a duck.

A duck named Audrey.


Susan Linn developed an interest in puppets and ventriloquism at the early age of 6.  She became a children’s entertainer, then caught the attention of the late Fred Rogers.  She appeared on his show using puppets to assist children in dealing with difficult situations.  Her developing interest in child development led to her convincing Boston Children’s Hospital to hire her as a puppet therapist, she completed her doctorate in counseling psychology in 1990.  In the late 90’s she and some colleagues founded the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) and recently this group has been instrumental in shedding light on the fact that products claiming such brain boosting power such as Baby Einstein and Teach Your Baby To Read are not grounded in any research whatsoever and make are guilty of making false claims about their products.


Please note:  I’m using my usual format in that all of these comments are direct quotes from the book (with pages referenced) unless I start the sentence by saying FROM ME.  I listed all the chapter titles (to pique your interest!) but didn’t have comments in/on each chapter.


So once again, for your reading pleasure… highlights from this FANTASTIC resource:



From the Intro:


Pages 3 & 4:  The main reason “play” is not a money maker is that the satisfactions gleaned from it rely more on the person playing than what’s being played with.  Children who play creatively find multiple uses for objects. Toys that nurture imagination can be used repeatedly and in a variety of ways. When it comes to (playing) make believe, less is more.  It’s a threat to corporate profits.



Chapter 1

Defending Pretending



Chapter 2

Sold Out

Commercialism, Technology and Creative Play


FROM ME:  Beware of Batteries!


Page 37:  The “Amazing Amanda” doll has been said to “lead a child through play.” Yet children who have been given adequate opportunities to play since infancy don’t need toys to “lead” them.


Page 37: Ed Miller of the Alliance for Childhood pointed out that “dolls have always been able to ‘talk’ and ‘show emotion,’ through the power of a child’s imagination.  Those words and emotions spring from a child’s experience of the world, not from a canned script programmed into voice recognition software. (reference cited)


Page 37: from Joan Almon, Director of the Alliance for Childhood, “a good toy is 90% child and 10% toy.” (reference cited)



Chapter 3

Baby Scam

The False promise of Screen Time for Infants and Toddlers


Page 46:  Everything we know about how our youngest children learn points away from screens to what they do naturally – engage with the people who love them best and explore the world around them with all five of their senses.  Meanwhile research suggests that the more time babies spend with screen media, the less time they spend in those two essential activities.


Page 48:  The more TV babies and toddlers watch, the more they watch when they get older.


Page 48:  children are active, not passive learners who acquire knowledge by examining and exploring their environment.  They gain the skills essential to active learning through play.  For play and young children, play and active learning are indistinguishable. (reference cited)


Page 50:  Teletubbies was supposed to facilitate infant language development.   What it proved is that deceptive marketing can be lucrative. (reference cited)


Page 51:  Television has proven to be a poor tool for helping babies learn words. (reference cited)


FROM ME:  Babies don’t stare at screens because they are “learning” or “engaged” or “excited”!  They stare at screens because the content changes constantly and they literally cannot look away.  Mind you, this is done on purpose.



Chapter 4

My Love Affair with D.W. Winnicott


Page 60:  Winnicot gave us the notion of “good enough” parenting, the idea that parents do not have to be perfect to raise happy, healthy children.  He also linked play to creativity and mental health.


FROM ME:  Read his classic, Playing and Reality


On page 63 Linn shares that one of Winnicot’s protégées said of him: “you can only understand Winnicot if you already know what he is talking about.”


Page 66:  (FROM ME)  Dare I say this page contains, “Winnicot in a nutshell?”


Page 66: A basic tenant of his work is that play flourishes from infancy in the context of environments that are simultaneously secure enough to be safe and relaxed enough to enable creative expression.


Page 67:  Winnicot calls environments that DO THIS, “holding environments.”  The space is safe, yet allows for freedom of expression. A caretakers arms can be a holding environment, so can a classroom, so can your neighborhood.


Page 69:  Play is an end in itself and, paradoxically, it’s when we abandon ourselves to the process of playing that it contributes most to our growth and development.


Page 74:  It was Winnicot who developed the concept of “Transitional Objects.”



Chapter 5




Chapter 6

Joey, Olivia, and Emma


Page 111:  To enable freedom of expression in play we must define its limits. The limits of play become the container within which we are safely and therefore uninhibitedly ale to create.  These boundaries – a definition of the safe environment in which play takes place – are crucial for providing the sense of security necessary for honest self expression.



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Page 148: Because we don’t always know how literally we should take the details of children’s play, I find myself often paying more attention to the themes that emerge rather than the literal content.


FROM ME:  Chapters 5, 6, 7 & 8 read like individual case studies of some of the children Linn has worked with through the years at the hospital.  They will be of special interest for those of you interested in, or knowledgeable about, the discipline and art of play therapy.



Chapter 9

Wham! Pow! Oof!

How Media Violence is Killing Play


Page 157:  Revenge of the Sith (movie) is rated PG-13, yet the associated toys are recommended for children as young as age 4.


Page 158: of the 129 toys marketed with Transformers (movie), 117 were rated as suitable for children five and younger.


Page 162: A frightening or incomprehensible event can manifest like a huge obstruction in the realm of children’s fantasy life – like a chunk of something they ate that can’t be digested – preventing the fluidity and growth that generally characterizes children’s make believe.



Chapter 10

The Princess Trap

Make Believe and the Loss of Middle Childhood


Page 174:  If we were being true to the historical roots of Cinderella, she’d be Chinese.


Page 184:  Girls are reaching puberty earlier than in previous generations.  There is however, no evidence that their cognitive, social, and emotional development, or their judgment, is keeping pace. The frontal cortex – the area of the brain where judgment sits – doesn’t fully develop until we reach our midtwenties.  Immersion in 21st century commercial culture encourages children to leap directly from preschool to the preoccupations of adolescence – sexuality, identify and affiliation – before they can possibly understand what they mean.



Page 184: David Elkind has been writing since the 1980s about the price paid by hurrying children to grow up to fast – world-weariness, cynicism and a lack of wonder. (reference cited) At the same time cultural critic Neil Postman, was writing not only about the disappearance of childhood, but of the infantilization of adults. (reference cited). Children are taking longer to reach real independence.


Page 186: “Can KGOY and KSYL co-exist?” (A workshop offered at the 2007 Kid Power Marketing Conference)


*kids getting older younger (KGOY)

*kids staying younger longer (KSYL)



Chapter 11

Playing for Life

What We All Gain from Make Believe



Chapter 12

Sasha, Your Peas Are Calling You

Nurturing Play in a Culture Bent on Squelching It


Page 205:  Research suggests that more creative play takes place in natural green spaces than in traditional playgrounds. (reference cited)


Page 205:  We need to stop mistaking commerce for community.


Page 207:  The longer we can put off incorporating screen media into children’s daily routine the more opportunity they have for developing those skills and attributes that will prevent their dependence on it and allow them to play creatively.


Page 207:  The media and marketing industries are doing a great job convincing parents that screens are essential to child-rearing.


Page 209:  A nation really “At Play” would undermined Nick’s (Nickelodeon) profits.


Page 210:  Babies are not nagging to watch.  Toddlers aren’t subject to peer pressure.  Parents have more control over children’s activities in the first 2 years than in any other part of their life.  Allowing children at least a few screen-free years will give them a chance to develop skills and attributes that lend themselves to creative play and will help them resist becoming adults in thrall to commercial media and the products they sell.


Page 210:  40% of all 3 month old babies are regular consumers of screen media (reference cited).


Page 211:  Shortly after Coca-Cola gave a $1 million grant to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry the Executive Director said the relationship between soft drinks and cavities is “not clear.” (reference cited).  Parents lose access to objective sources of information….


Page 211:  Once Zero To Three partnered with Sesame Beginnings to make a baby video series, Zero To Three lost all credibility as an objective source of information on that issue…  (reference cited).  That Sesame Street Workshop convinced a well-respected academic researcher to consult on the series and accept funding for researching its effectiveness is equally troubling.


Page 213:  Play needs a public health campaign!





Pages 216 – 221: Linn ended with some great reminders and some REAL suggestions on how to promote balance in REAL lives of REAL folks.  She offered references, resources and pages of notes and suggested readings.




FROM ME:  Get it!  Great resource!  Easy to read yet full of good information!  A good one to be able to lend out for parents and others who might be “on the fence” when it comes to media, screens, TVs and single purpose toys.




Shared with you by Lisa Murphy, somewhere over the Atlantic

(en rte home this time!)

Sunday, November 13, 2011



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