How do children play?

At Summerhill the six-year-olds play the whole day long - play with fantasy. To s small child, reality and fantasy are very close to each other. … Small children live a life of fantasy and they carry this fantasy over into action. Boys of eight to fourteen play gangsters or Red Indians and are always bumping people off or flying the skies in their wooden aeroplanes. Small girls also go through a gang stage, but it does not take the form of guns and swords. It is more personal. Mary's gang objects to Nellie's gang, and there are rows and hard words. Boys' rival gangs only play enemies. Small boys are thus more easy to live wit than small girls.

It seems to be clear that boys and girls have different ideas about play. Boys play much more than girls do. Sometimes a girls appears to substitute a fantasy life for play, but boys do that. Boys do not generally play with girls. Boys play gangsters, and play tag games; they build tree huts; they dig holes and trenches and do all the things that small children usually do. Girls seldom organize any play. The time-honoured game of playing teacher or doctor is unknown among free children, for they feel no need to mimic authority. Smaller girls play with dolls; but older girls seem to get the most fun out of contact with people, not things.

--A. S. Neill