PastWhy Play? From Sandbox and Discrimination to International Sharing and Caring: Creating a Play Life. Learning from Edgar Klugman

 By Jim Johnson, Ph.D. and Changkee Lee, Doctoral Student

Department of Curriculum and Instruction The Pennsylvania State University

Edgar Klugman is Professor Emeritus of Wheelock College, Charter Member and Facilitator of PPPIF for many years and Co-Founder (with John Lee of The Learning Curve Company) of Playing for Keeps; which is now A Leadership Initiative of the Association for Children’s Museums. What follows is a summary of the 135 minute phone conversation with Edgar, which took place on Friday October 3, 2014. This interview was conducted and written up by Jim Johnson who is ECE Program Coordinator and by Changkee Lee who is an advanced ECE doctoral student. Both are affiliated with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at The Pennsylvania State University.

Edgar Klugman spent his childhood years in the City of Toys, Nuremburg, Germany, where the annual International Toy Fair is held to this day. Edgar attended a Froebelian kindergarten, learning through playing with blocks, making books by cutting and pasting and other such collaborative activities. He loved playing inside and outside, and remembers how German tradition at that time, included trying to control youngsters’ behavior through ‘fooling them’. He remembers being told stories like that of the stork bringing a boy baby when cubed sugar is left on the window sill, or a girl baby is brought when refined sugar is put out. There are also many stories meant to scare or trick children into listening to their parents’ rules. For example, Struwwelpeter (1845) was meant to scare kids away from sucking their thumbs. This illustrated book by Heinrich Hoffmann Doners (1809~1894), graphically and frighteningly relates a story about a boy who disobeys his mother by sucking his thumb when she leaves to go shopping. He is punished when a tailor arrives with larger-than-life scissors, cuts off his thumb, shedding blood all over the page! This is very frightening to a young child who sucks his thumb!

The social policies in Germany at the time of Edgar’s childhood were scary. Events in the 1930s had a huge impact on Edgar’s childhood and play, the effects of which profoundly affected the course of his life and career. The Nazi regime ruled Germany in a brain washing campaign against the Jewish people and other minorities, leading to restrictions that discriminated against him as a young person. He was barred from the public playground sandbox where he loved to play. He could not learn to swim until later in life because the community swimming pool was closed to Jews. The children in his neighborhood would come after him because he was Jewish.

EdKlugmanWhen Edgar was 8 years old, he lost his best friend Hansi whose father became a ‘brown shirt’, a member of Hitler’s Nazi Party, and forbade them ever to see each again– even though they had already established a close relationship, and were next door neighbors. At the age of 9 or 10 years old, Edgar was not allowed to travel with a group on his bike or hiking. The Germans feared that Jewish people would resist the oppression if they were allowed to congregate in groups. Consequently traveling long distances, like to his grandparents (60 km away) became a solo activity on a bike.   He had to travel through villages and was always greeted by the sign “JEWS NOT WANTED HERE.” The fear of being ‘caught’ was always present. It was a time when a young Jewish boy feared for his safety on a daily basis.

However, the discrimination also led Edgar to find other ways of playing, becoming more innovative and resilient; it caused him to rebel, to hate discrimination and the loss of basic freedoms. All his life he has been seeking to improve human and cultural relations, and peaceful play. The seeds for this were planted many years ago in Nuremberg, Germany. His motivation to participate actively in the creation and shaping of a just and equitable world for all has grown and strengthened whenever facing experiences with discrimination throughout his life. He lived in many places, including 3 years in Afghanistan, 1956-1959, as a member of a team of educators from Columbia University. Where ever he lived, if somehow discrimination occurred or injustice was seen, his early memories were stirred. “Seeing discrimination and injustice still present today in many ways,” He said, “Can spur one to revisit all those memories, and it can rekindle the drive to do something about it.”

When Edgar was 13 years old (8/24/1939), his parents put him on the Kinder-transport train. He travelled 48 hours to England. The Kinder transport program assisted in temporary relocation of Jewish refugee children, between 10 and 16 years of age, who were affected by Hitler. The Kinder transport helped 10,000 children to move to England from Nazi invaded, European countries (primarily Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany). Children were evacuated to small rural towns. Edgar went to northern England, away from London in order to avoid the frequent bombing the city saw. Children lived in foster homes in small groups with surrogate or house parents. Edgar arrived ten days before WW2 officially began. He saw a black curtain covering the windows; he thought he may have arrived at a movie theater only to find out that war was imminent and this was the blackout curtain. This was a time he truly grew up and was forced to become independent.

Another story Edgar tells, concerns his Oxford English, learned in Germany. He used it but was not understood by the English he encountered while in transit, as it was considered “strange” English. The boys Edgar met at the group home, predominantly from Austria, spoke German, though a different dialect. The fact that he came from Germany, and the other kids came from Austria was an initial shock for both of them. The Austrian children had preconceived ideas about all Germans and thought he was responsible for the war because he was German. He was faced with discrimination in

Germany because he was a Jew and then in England because he was a German. The boys eventually became aware that they were all Jewish and that they should support each other.

The boys played together but they were all having a very different and restricted life in another culture. Their house parents, who came from Austria, were prejudiced and discriminated against the German boy, Edgar. The interpersonal discrimination he felt in England was due to nationality rather than religion, but it was the same feeling none-the-less, which interferes with the children’s growth and development. The prejudiced house parents were fired finally and new house parents were hired who were much better. The new house parents sent the boys to the local community Church of England school. Edgar offered that dialect differences stand in the way in any country especially affecting foreigners. Upon arrival at the Church of England school, Edgar was corrected by the headmaster for his Oxford English since the language pattern in Northern England was different from that of London or anywhere else.

On April 1st, 1940, when he was 14 years old, Edgar arrived by boat in New York City. His quota number was called while in England. He had a visa and was allowed to enter by the American government, according to the immigration laws of the United States. When he phoned his brother, Werner, from the boat, who had a job in NYC, he reached an Hungarian lady where Werner lived. She answered, “Woina’s at Woik” in her best “New York-ese” accent.

Edgar learned much from the various settings in which he lived. He learned from an early age to adapt to new situations, to invent ways to use the indigenous resources, knowledge base and to learn what you can or cannot do in a particular setting for religious, class or cast reasons. This concept is important for immigrants who have to accommodate to the new patterns they find. Even in play, Edgar is able to accept the different forms that children bring into the classroom and elsewhere, and adapt them to make them his own. He learns with the children and people he meets.

Edgar also learned from Caroline Pratt’s model of education at the City and Country School. Each grade contributed to the whole school; One class ran a store. Another class learned how to use the printing press and made all the printed materials for the school. The school setting helped him understand that when children’s interests and needs become the focal point for the school curriculum a teacher can learn from the children how to best create a child centered classroom.

Edgar shared many informative topics relating to play that he has found important and influential in his continuing career. For example, “Spiel Gut” translates as “good toy” a seal awarded by an interdisciplinary team of 40, representing different disciplines (e.g. medicine, engineering, environment and other occupations). The expert panels meet regularly selecting and recommending good toys. Spiel Gut’s headquarters are located in Ulm Germany, birthplace of the International Council for Children’s Play in 1959. He told us about BRIO Toys and their pro-social, pro-humanity mission and the Lennart Ivarson Scholarship Awards with the 2012 recipient Dr. David Whitebread. Plan Toys in Thailand, make toys from rubber trees no longer producing latex. Their toy designs are creative and produced to last. They employ local people who are paid a living wage. Plan Toys from the beginning conducts the industry in an environmentally conscious way. They also publish materials for parents, educating them about play and learning in contextually appropriate ways.

Edgar discussed connections between his earlier experiences with Spiel Gut, BRIO and other companies and founding Playing For Keeps. He also discussed his current work on intergenerational play in the City of Cambridge. He is part of a task force dedicated to having healthy playgrounds and recreation. He was approached by the City Manager to serve on this task force. One initiative that came out of the Task Force was an interactive art gallery presentation titled – Let The People Play. An exhibit consisted of a wall covered in “blackboard paint” (purchased from a Japanese company) that can be ‘painted’ with water.   After the water dries the surface can be painted with water again. This reusable surface reminded Edgar of the school walls in Afghanistan where he saw a similar phenomenon – daily murals were painted and then each evening it could be white washed over and ready for the next mural. It is marvelous how one’s past resurfaces in the present impacting the future.

From his involvement with the Transition Movement and the New Economy Coalition to his most recent creation of the intergenerational program “Project Read” on Cape Cod, to having served as a delegate at the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention, Ed continues to push courageously forward, policies and practices that serve to create “the better world our hearts know is possible” (also the title of a favorite book of his by Charles Eisenstein) for all beings on this planet and beyond.

Listening and thinking over all that Edgar told us made us realize how fortunate we are to be in dialogue with him and have access to his storehouse of memories and knowledge, insight and wisdom. He shared lessons culled from distant places on the planet and from over the decades. The importance of history and culture became very real to us. Goosebumps were felt as we listened to his words describing events in rich detail from the 1930s and early 1940s.

Perhaps the most important lesson, implicit as it is within everything else he was telling us, is that life is a gift to share. To care is to keep in touch with each other and to be fully present, not to hide from the flow of time but to enter into solidarity from different points along the life cycle. Play helps us all, and as we age it is especially welcome to help us maintain our mental openness and networks across the generations. It is a joy to reap the benefits of Edgar’s amazing life experiences and his creative thought connections. Our conversation and this article is testimony to this. Thank you Edgar Klugman!


The History of the Play, Policy, and Practice (PPP) Interest Forum Connections: 1985- Present

By Sandi Waite-Stupiansky, Ph.D.

Professor, Early Childhood, Edinboro University

SandiWSAs I pack up my office at Edinboro University and prepare to retire after 30+ years of university teaching, there are so many memories that swirl around my imagination. Last week, I boxed up the back issues of PPP Connections and passed them along to Karen Lindeman, one of the new co-editors of this little gem of a publication. In that box were the words and thoughts of the people who have contributed to and guest edited Connections. These folks have become some of my favorite people as we worked and played together to promote play. Knowing that we probably wouldn’t have crossed paths if we didn’t have our shared passion for the value of play in the lives of children and adults leaves me in a state of awe and thankfulness. It occurred to me that it’s not the pages of the publication, the number of workshops we presented, the dozens of business meetings and conference calls we participated in that make us strong. It’s the relationships we have forged at the individual most personal level. The web of a structure that has tied us together is what matters the most. No wonder we called our publication “Connections”! That was Ed Klugman’s foresight twenty years ago.

Where have we been over the last thirty years? We started as a caucus of NAEYC—just a few key folks who were crazy about play. The original group of three–Ed Klugman, Pat Monighan Nourot, and I–gave a presentation at the NAEYC annual conference resulting from a summer workshop on play at Wheelock College. During the presentation, we invited others to join our little caucus. Lynn Cohen and Walter Drew willingly heeded our invitation. Now a group of five, we declared ourselves the “Play, Policy, and Practice Caucus,” became recognized by NAEYC, and started our presence at the NAEYC annual conferences and Professional Development Institutes, sponsoring at least one workshop and one business meeting every year. Around 10 years into the process, we started the Research Roundtables under the skillful guidance of Dorothy Sluss, to showcase and dialogue about the research studies—large and small—being conducted by folks all over the country and world. In 2012, NAEYC selected our Research Roundtable for a “featured session” at the annual conference. How far we have come from the few passionate play folks to having national recognition for our play research by NAEYC!

Back to the 1990’s, we applied for and received a NAEYC Member Action Grant (MAG) to finance our publication, Play, Policy, and Practice Connections. The first issue came out in the summer of 1995. For 12 years we published Connections in hard copy and mailed them to subscribers, which was quite expensive. But in 2007, we went digital and started distributing Connections electronically.   Issues were available free of charge on the NAEYC Community of Practice website and through our email distribution list. Circulation grew from several hundred to several thousand. Paging back through the nearly 40 issues of PPP Connections, I marvel at the expertise, wisdom, and hard work that went into the hundreds of articles therein. It gives me shivers to think about the collective wisdom encapsulated in this small but mighty publication. I am so honored to have been a part of it all of these years and will watch with anticipation where the new editors will take it.

In 2001, PPP became one of the first “Interest Forums” of NAEYC. In an effort to make the caucuses a more formal part of the infrastructure of NAEYC, this new Interest Forum structure was put into place. The vision was for the interest forums to have their own website under the NAEYC umbrella, maintain visibility in the conferences and publications of NAEYC, and provide a venue for members to connect with others with similar passions and positions. After 13 years, the vision is still becoming a reality as the interest forums, which are made up of volunteers with few operating funds and an aging population, hammer out their identities in relation to NAEYC.   PPP remains one of the most active and visible interest forums due to the boundless energy of the cadre of folks who are passionate about play. The future is bright for interest forums that make the most of their relationship to NAEYC at the national, state and local levels, which PPP has worked hard to do under the guidance of Walter Drew.

The history of the Play, Policy, and Practice Interest Forum is one of energy and resilience.   As we pass the leadership on to a new generation, we do so with a sense of confidence that the work is going to continue to prosper, relationships will strengthen, and play will go on. It has to for the sake of our children!


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