iPads, Winnicott and transitional spaces

D.W. Winnicott

It is creative apperception  more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living. Contrasted with this is a relationship to external reality which is one of compliance, the world and its details being recognised but only as something to be fitted in with or demanding adaptation …

This second way of living in the world is recognised as illness in psychiatric terms.

Donald Winnicott Playing and Reality, 1971 p65

I got an iPad for Christmas and have spent the past couple of weeks playing with it.

Just mucking around, really.

I’ve downloaded dozens of apps, some of which I think will be useful (iThoughts, Evernote) some of which are just beautiful (Flipboard), and others which will sit unused until I get round to deleting them.  I’ve played table tennis with my son and chess with my nephew, then watched two of my family members play digitized Monopoly. I’ve created an iThoughts mindmap of some of the characters of the novel I’m reading (War and Peace), and then a second to organize my thoughts about work for 2012. I got carried away, for several hours, by my discovery that I could import images into iThoughts, and so imported scores of them, some of which were simply aesthetically pleasing and a few which actually conveyed something of the concept or task I was trying to illustrate. I’ve been begun to populate my new Evernote account with websites and documents, and covered a Goodreader documents with dozens of meaningless annotations, just to see what can be done. I keep discovering stuff I want to tell my family about; occasionally they’re infected by my enthusiasm but usually they’re mildly amused.

I’ve been like a little boy in a sandpit.


For Donald Winnicott, British psychoanalyst and writer, play mattered.

Play, said Winnicott, is the process whereby we learn, and where the self is formed. It’s where the inner world of a person is brought into healthy relationship with the outer world of external reality.

… on the basis of playing is built the whole of man’s [sic] experiential existence. … We experience life in the area of transitional phenomena, in the exciting interweave of subjectivity and objective observation, and in an area that is intermediate between the inner reality of the individual and the shared reality of the world that is external to individuals. (p64)

This describes very nicely the playspace created by my engagement with the iPad: transitional, exciting, experimental, connecting inner preoccupations and interests with outer possibilities and affordances.


The therapist’s task, said Winnicott, was to help the patient to play. We might extrapolate and say that this is also the teacher’s task: to create the space where the student can make connections between the emotion-charged and highly significant inner world and the realities of the external world.

In three weeks, our students will arrive at university for their 2012 teacher education units. This year, some of the classes will take place in our media-rich Inspire Centre.

As teachers, we will have pressures to ‘deliver’, and the students will feel the pressure to comply. Will we have time to play?

I hope so.



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