“Teacher Tom” Hobson’s Review of The Sacred Urge to Play
“Never in my wildest dreams,” writes Pennie Brownlee, “did I think there would come a time when parents and teachers would ‘forget’ how important play is in the child’s world. Not for one moment did I think we’d need a guide book for something as natural and built-into-children as play is.”
The world of childhood lost one of its brightest lights when Pennie passed away in September of 2023. Fortunately, she has left the world with her essential guide book for a world that has lost its way, The Sacred Urge to Play. This book first came into my hands shortly after its release in 2016. I have a large collection of books about early childhood learning and play, but this has long been my go-to whenever I’ve needed a refresher on just about any aspect of our work, from patterns of play and loose parts to tips and ideas for creating your own play-based wonderland. Sometimes I just pick it up to skim through the dozens of inspiring quotes and photos she sprinkles throughout the book.
What I admire the most about Pennie’s approach is that she shuns the flashy and trendy in favor of a more natural world, outdoors, few toys, and a sweep of time and space for all of us to experience childhood as we’ve evolved to experience it. It’s a guide book deeply rooted in what it means to be human, one that doesn’t waste time trying to persuade, but rather assumes, as she would with a child in her care, that we already know that play, and the urge to play, are sacred, and she is here to set us free.
As I return to this book again and again, I hear Pennie’s voice as if she was in the room with me, simultaneously intense and patient. On the one hand, she takes her time, slowing readers down to perform insight-producing exercises and reflections designed for those of us who are working every day with young children. On the other hand, there is no escaping the urgency and concern that we don’t allow childhood play to disappear entirely into the modern world of electronic distractions, over-scheduling, and drill-and-kill academic testing.
Pennie blends deep philosophy, psychology, and science with nuts-and-bolts advice making this an essential addition to the libraries of new teachers and seasoned veterans alike.