Reflections on Pretend Play, Imagination, and Child Development: An Interview with Dorothy G. and Jerome L. Singer

American Journal of Play, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Pretend Play, Imagination, and Child Development: An Interview with Dorothy G. and Jerome L. Singer


Dorothy G. Singer and Jerome L. Singer have been studying the imaginative play of children for more than forty years, chiefly at Yale University Currently Dorothy G. Singer is Senior Research Scientist Emeritus and Jerome L. Singer is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the university Both are Fellows of the American Psychological Association. The Singers also served for many years as codirectors of Yale's Family Television Research and Consultation Center. They have published widely individually, with each other, and with others, contribut- ing hundreds of articles, chapters, and other scholarly works. Dorothy G. Singer's books include The House of Make Believe: Children's Play and the Developing Imagi- nation (1990), Playing for Their Lives: Helping Troubled Children through Play Therapy ( 1993 ), Make-believe: Games and Activities for Imaginative Play: A Book for Parents, Teachers, and the Young Children in Their Lives (2001 ), and Play=Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth (2006). Jerome L. Singer's books include The Child's World of Make Believe: Experimental Studies of Imaginative Play (1973), Imagery and Daydream Methods in Psycho- therapy (1974), The Inner World of Daydreaming (1975), The Human Personality (1984), and Imagery in Psychotherapy (2005). Together the Singers wrote Television, Imagination, and Aggression: A Study of Preschoolers (1981) and Imagination and Play in the Electronic Age (2005), and they edited the Handbook of Children and the Media (2012), a collection that the Journal of Contemporary Psychology called the "most comprehensive resource available about all aspects of children's media." In this interview, the Singers reflect on their own early play experiences, their careers and long collaboration in studying play and child development, and the connec- tions that bind pretend play, imagination, and child development. Key words: child development and play; children and the media; daydreaming; imaginative play; make-believe play; pretend play

American Journal of Play: How did you first become interested in play?

Dorothy and Jerome Singer: We were in a day-care center watching children play wonderful, imaginative games, and we thought we should study this phenomenon and see what advantages it holds.

AJP: How did you meet and start working together?

Dorothy Singer: We met in a music store. In those days, you could take a record into a little booth and listen to it. I was in one listening to Bach's "Coffee Cantata," and Jerry was wandering the aisles looking for a place to listen to Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier." He came into my booth, and when he left, he asked for my phone number, and I gave it to him. He called me a few days later and took me out. I brought my best friend and he brought his. Our two friends fell in love with each other, and I shortly got engaged to someone else. Later, when I broke off the engagement, my friend wrote to Jerry and told him, and he asked me out again. We married six months later.

Jerry had been working in the area of daydreams and fantasy, and I had been doing experiments based on Jean Piaget's work. We first collaborated in 1972, on a journal article about personality. When we found that we could get along working together, we began studying play. We joined forces on play and later began studying television.

AJP: Jerry, can you tell us a little about your childhood experiences, especially as they related to fantasy?

Jerome Singer: I began reading when I was very young and read a lot of Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Rice Burroughs stories, especially Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars series. Eventually, I worked the Tarzan stories into my private, make-believe play, and then I started telling them to other boys in my neighborhood and building them into games that lasted for years. My friends even called me Tarzan. I also made up a lot of other elaborate make-believe games and played them both alone and with others. …

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