The Evolution of Childhood

12May10

Reading time folks, as there’s a new book out, which is apparently very thorough on the role of play in human development.

It’s called The Evolution of Childhood by the American anthropologist Melvin Konner, and the critics are praising it to the hilt.

Here’s a quote nabbed off Amazon from Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding: “This monumental book contains the best description of what play is all about that I have ever read.”

Monumental is right: the book clocks in at almost a thousand pages, which means I’m very unlikely to read the whole thing. But it could be an interesting one to flick through if you’re interested in how play can help us develop.

According to a recent review in The Atlantic, Konner says that play, “combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology.”

But the reviewer, Benjamin Schwarz, goes on to say that play, according to Konner, “seems to have multiple functions—exercise, learning, sharpening skills—and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.”

So play fans, if you’re in an academic mood, this could be a good one for the wishlist. Maybe not for one sitting, but a handy one to dip into nonetheless.

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