Play is prerequisite for growth and development throughout the lifespan. Normally we associate play with children but there is growing evidence that it is inextricably linked with happiness and identity. Probably the most persuasive evidence for the compelling nature of play in daily life is that provided by the Ethologists who have examined most mammals and demonstrated both the need for play to establish group affiliation and for peer acceptance (Gopink et al, 1999 p. 19) Without play the Macaque young, the chimpanzee and the gorilla all show the risk of group rejection, serious sexual difficulties and growth problems (Moyles, 1989, 2005).
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Adult view children actively engaging in play from birth at any giving time or day, which takes us to the conclusion that plays, is natural for the young’s. Therefore, play is not just something like simple and trivial element in the formative years of the future citizens; instead, it plays the most important role in the entire process of human development (Christie, 1998; Frost et al, 2001; Shore, 1997).
Hence, this study explores the importance of play as an instrument to effectively develop children in the modern world, and bring justice to developmental process of the young. Since play has long been considered as an effective medium of child development and it contains a universal appeal too. Now it is the be determined how much effective it could be in handling children life and imbibing the right attitude in children to develop better knowledge and understanding of the world amid changes social and learning environment.
The Importance of Play
Almost all theorists of child development from all across the globe agree to the fact that that play occupies a central role in children’s lives and in the absence of play they suffer from multiple roadblocks on their way to attain healthy, emotionally balanced, and creative life (Bruce, 1996; Moyles, 2005). Psychoanalysts too corroborate the above view and suggest that play is an essential catalyst for not only overcoming emotional difficulties or disturbances evolving out of social situation, but also for achieving the mastery of ego and skills necessary to handle everyday experiences.(Miller et al, 1989, p.25)
Bruner (1976, 1977) point out to the importance of play by saying ‘animals do not play because they are young, but they have their youth because they must play’ (Bruner et al 1976, p. 67; Bruner, 1977), constructivists consider play as a basic ingredient in the process of cognitive growth and development of application, while behaviourists suggest that it is the key instrument for competency building and for socializing functions in all cultures of the world. From neuroscientists’ perspective, play is essential for emotional and physical health, motivation, and love of learning (Keenan, 2002).
Findings from the research on brain and learning clearly substantiated the importance of play (Jensen, 1999, 2000; Shore, 1997), where the researchers found that active brains make permanent neurological connections that are critical to learning; inactive brains do not make the necessary permanent neurological connections. Research on the mechanism of brain also demonstrates that play has a big platform for development, a comfortable vehicle for increasing neural structures, and a means by which all children practice several skills that remain with them for the rest of their lives and help them to carry on the process of refining behaviour and their understanding of the world, such as impulse and emotion control, self-guidance of thought and behaviour, planning, self-reliance, and socially responsible behaviour( Piers and Landau, 1980 ).
What is more, play has been undertaken for pure pleasure and enjoyment, such joyful attitude towards play leads to better attitude to life and learning. The latter, can be considered sufficient to place play in a valuable medium.
The EYFS (2007b) says that play underpins all development and learning for young children (DfES, 2007b). While this message is loud and clear in all recent policy statement and research, many people still refuse to come to terms with this fact. Play is a natural habitat for a child. Leavers (cited in Tovey, 2007) suggest that it is when children are most involved that deep level learning takes place, such learning takes place at many levels.
Children and Childhood
The definition of a child as stated in the dictionary, is a “person between birth and puberty; an immature person” (The American Heritage, Fourth edition). Through spending time with young children, adults will come to the understanding that the dictionary did not give the child his/her actual worthiness in this world.
Children are busy, curious, have a huge love to investigate and explore, they like to smell, touch, and taste and get dirty. Through all that and a lot more, and their eagerness which drive them to follow the path of curiosity and investigation, they obtain an imaginative way of observing things in their world. This would lead to asking big questions for small people.
However, some adult hinder children from getting dirty, climbing, digging and so on. According to the researches on children mobility, point out that the freedom to play has declined to a ninth of what it was in the 1970s (Hilman et al, 1990). Furthermore, we live in achieve oriented culture that is driven to success focusing primarily to develop economic children for sake of the future. This focus along with the misunderstanding of the children and childhood leads to formal academic rules and instruction from an early age. Researchers indicated that when children are subjected to high level expectation and stress, which is not age appropriate would hinder their academic and social development (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997; Elkind, 1987; Hughes, 2003)).
Young children learn through their senses, and movement, which together provide essential firsthand experience of the world. We learn about a place by touching, feeling seeing, smelling, hearing it and responding emotionally. The connection between our senses and emotion can remain powerful and evocative throughout our life (Tovey, 2007).Play in not static, like life itself it flows across time and through space. Traditional models of play define play by categories such as exploratory play, imaginative play, socio-dramatic play, games with rules and so on. What starts as exploration of materials can quickly move into problem solving, then into a game with rules, then back to problem solving, then into imaginative play. Therefore, it is crucial that early childhood programs offer children the opportunity for active, gross-motor play every day, as a habit for life especially in relation to physical activity since the bases for exercise is established early. Stage theories of play led by Piaget have dominated thinking and even when these are at variance with what is empirically observed by the teacher, they have not been challenged until relevantly recently. Bower has demonstrated that even babies are brilliant thinkers. Her work on extending thought in Young Children has demonstrated, that it is possible to establish newly emerging patterns of activity and thought in young children (6m-2y) leading to social play through supportive and extended child’s play. (Bower, 1997 cited in Pugh, 1997). Blatchford has demonstrated the potent influence of cultural influences and the way in which oppression and discrimination affects many measured and observed skills within the classroom context ( Siraj-Blatchford, 2001) this work was influential in leading to the Children’s Act of 1989 in which the need for play was considered to be a basic right of all children. The United Nation Convention on the right of the child under article 31, stated that children have the right to ‘rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreation activity appropriate to the age of the child’ (UNCR,). It follows from this that adult must protect and support this right.
Most child psychologist however, have been reluctant to give up the idea that deficit oriented problem reduction as a foundation for practice and research. They have preferred to use the idea of play in various manifestation as and assets or a resource, one example would be the ways in which sex deference’s in play are associated with gender, developmental stages have been emphasised and children matched to these in terms of their typical types of play, for example, the under achievement of girls in physical sciences (Miller et al, 1989, Miller et al, 2002)
What is clear from these traditions is that for the average child play is what they do, and it serves a wide range of interconnected and undifferentiated physical, social and cognitive and emotional aspects. Critically play provides motivation and practice to rehearse these diverse functions for example in running a race or throwing a ball, children are also testing their courage and building their self-worth. The solitary play of the baby and his dyadic play with his mother give a new meaning to social play and endless interaction with others (Sander, 1977, in Sroufe, 1995, p. 153; Trevarthen, 2003), play becomes highly differentiated in contrast to creative play in which children are empowered to choose their materials reverse the usual adult -directed play of the educational context (Sutherland, 1992). For adults such play is frequently construed as a waste of time or as a challenge.
The work of Piaget has had great impact on English educational ideas. He emphasised stages and the classification of play, which occurs when the child moves from structures based on action in infancy to structures based on mental representation (Robson,2006, p.14) For Piaget the stages are invariant and universal, for example, elementary school children can role or hit a ball which they acquired in infancy, but this skill becomes integrated and combined with other action in order to win a game , for example, marbles (Sutherland, 1992,p.26)
Piaget has demonstrated through a series of experiments in which children played games with deferent rules of increasing sophistication, he demonstrated that children are symbolic creatures who understand increasingly sophisticated representation. By the age 4 or 5 most children, in fact, have an advanced theory of mind (Piaget, 1962 cited in Copple et al, 1984; Lillard, 1993a;Trawick-Smith, 1990; Ungerer et al, 1981; Vygotsky, 1978). Theory of mind can be supplemented by the endless creativity which children bring to the play context whether this is outside or inside. Mary Donaldson has provided overwhelming evidence of the capacity of young children to understand the view of others (Donldson, 1978).
Creative play in fact can occur anywhere, but it is peculiarly conducive to outdoor play which involves all the senses, problem solving and imagination. One side-effect is an appreciation of nature and probably the capacity to recognise temporal and spatial units more effectively; it is probable that children who spent time outside from an early age are more able to cope with stress (Wilson, 1997).
Educators have the responsibility, the power and the task of organising learning opportunity. Hence, it came to be recognised that play and learning are not separate from one another, and that for younger children especially, play provided an important medium not only for the acquisition of knowledge, but also for the development of communication and social interaction (Parker-Rees, 2007b). Piaget (1962), compared the trial-and-error characteristic of young children’s play activities with the manifestation of socio-cultural roles which was seen in the play of older children, and Vygotsky emphasised the influence of cultural ideologies on play: as well as facilitating cognitive development, play helped the child to understand his place in the world around him (Robson, 2006, p. 27)
However, the education system still demonstrates a gradual shift from emphasis on play to emphasis on ‘work’ as the child grows, and there is also a distinction to be made between free and structured play (Crain, 2003; Brown and Webb, 2002). The former is considered appropriate for very young children, but is gradually superseded by the latter, in which activities are structured and guided by adults. There are specific outcomes, in terms of linguistic, cognitive and social development, and the child’s play is directed towards activities which will facilitate these outcomes.
Nonetheless, there is still room for a great deal of variation within this broad construct. Some play will encourage interaction between the children themselves, other types will focus on adult-child communication; some will foster group collaboration whereas others are geared towards the child’s individual language development, or personal reflection.
Langdon (2005) also points out that highly contextualised play activity can help to develop communication even when the children do not speak the same language: shared cultural context, as described by Vygotsky (1933), is sufficient for understanding and communication to take place. Northern (2003) comments that language, movement and play are all interrelated within the context of play, and notes that there has been increasing interest in developing models of structured play in recent years, the earlier Piagetian (1962) models having concentrated more on free play and minimal teacher intervention. Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva (2004) maintain that both child-led and teacher-led activities should be included in play, since this offers a diverse range of communication models which can be practiced. Children have the opportunity to create their own imaginative scenarios, but at the same time the teacher is able to guide the play towards activities which will lead to the required pedagogic outcomes.
In addition, play is valuable not only because it promotes cognitive and linguistic development, but also because of its role in social interaction. Children who are engaging in group play are developing and reinforcing norms of social behaviour, as well as participating in verbal interactions such as questioning, discussing, negotiating and so on
(Pollard, 2002). These concepts of social interaction, which for a Victorian child would have been assimilated and practiced in the playground rather than the classroom, are integrated into the classroom environment and are no longer divorced from the ‘work’ of acquiring academic knowledge . Hughes (2001) state that there is a connection between children behaviour patterns and certain forms of play, such behaviour was inherited from our ancestors.
Yet, the arbitrary separation between the outdoors and indoors in the educational context is a mirror reflection of the external knowledge provided by the adult which the child is expected to internalize. Fear with the outdoors and its associated phenomenon for example fear of the dark, fear of insects and wild life is overcome if children are introduced to progressive outdoor play through their preschool or nursery.
The creativity which children bring to identifying their own goals and using their own strategies for reaching them may sometimes be inhibited by adult intervention. White (2002) has noted how confused people are about creativity and creative thinking. Critical thinking is traditionally associated with deductive reasoning, while creative thinking is considered to be divergent thinking (De Bono, 1992). Yet we know that creative thinking always involves some critical thinking. The characteristic of creative thinking is that they are able to produce original and divergent solutions, which involve fluency, flexibility and originality. Hutt (1979) noted that children’s play and especially games with rules are conventions which are social constrained and high ritualized. Ludic play is mostly concerned with self amusement, it is mode dependent, symbolic and involves representations of fantasy and pretend play. This is the essence of creative play. In contrast, epistemic play supplement ludic play and together leads to new knowledge, thinking critically is essential to problem solving, but creativity permits children to think of many ways by which they can solve a problem (Tyler, 2008). Creativity is always about having better solutions and this requires critical judgment. (Fisher, 1996)
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All children need time and a place in which to play, they also require uncritical acceptance of their imaginary world behind all formal skills such as writing and planning in the capacity for making representation and only through creative play are children able to acquire social representation. This provides the basis for a theory of mind (Louve, 2006; Moore and Cosco, 2006). According to Singer and Singer (1990), the period of early childhood is the “high season” of imaginative play, when the children depend more on make-believe situations.
Vygotsky (1968) underpins self-regulation as one of the prime catalysts of human development, while other researchers consider its successful attainment as an important achievement of early childhood (Meadows, 2006). For example, language and make-believe play are two such elements, where language builds the scene, and make-believe play helps to clarify the scene with objects. Thus the main concern would be to help children learn specific competencies related to the areas that would serve as the key drivers of their understanding of the world in the later period of their life (Meadows, 2006,; Wood, 1998; Wood and Attfield, 2005). According to the researchers, there are five such areas that need to be developed in this period; firstly, representational competence: This refers to the ability to associate/replace one element for the other, like using an eraser as a car or flapping the arms pretending to be a butterfly (Jones & Cooper, 2006; Singer et al., 2003, Zigler et al, 2004). Secondly, language and narrative understanding: This refers to the ability of enacting scenes from life-experience, or telling stories to their toys by emulating the parents (Fein et al, 2000; Jones & Cooper, 2006; Kim, 1999; Schickedanz & Casbergue, 2004). Then, Positive approaches to learning: This refers to the ability of wholehearted involvement in a chosen activity, where the elements like curiosity; motivation and a sense of mastery in doing something prove to be the success factors (Chang, et al., 2006; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Singer et al., 2006). Next, application of logic: This refers to the ability of understanding scientific concepts like cause and effect, mathematical concepts like quantity, classification, placing things in order (e.g., big to small or small to big), or inventing strategies (e.g., keeping small toys in a bowl). This ability is reflected in children’s activities like setting jigsaw puzzle or creating a structure (Ginsberg, et al, 1999; Ginsberg, 2006; Wyver & Spence, 1999). Finally, Self-regulation and social negotiation: This refers to the ability of self-controlled interaction with others in an effective manner, which forms the foundation of future social skills, emotional health as well as success in academics (Berk et al, 2006; Fromberg, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).
Through play children learn to experience different personality traits, temperaments and ways of doing things, but most critically by all means during role-play they are able to decentre or learn to adopt the view of the other (Creasey et al, 1998). In this manner they learn to deal with frustrations, take decisions and challenge themselves. The centrality of play to the young is demonstrated by the degree of seriousness and self-control that they bring to the play situation, since play helps children grow physically and become coordinated, so it can be an active form of learning that unites mind, body and spirit. It reduces tension and provides a healthy avenue for coping with daily stress and strain. Play therefore, is the most potent vehicle for learning and it helps children gain confidence and competence which is required for moving through the world (Trevarthan, 1995). Adults make the mistake of demeaning play or of taking over. Critically in nature play power is reversed and children become central.
According to Moyles (2005) play also offers opportunities for the child to acquire information that lays the foundation for additional learning. For example, through manipulating blocks they learn the concept of equivalence through playing with water they acquire knowledge of volume, which leads ultimately to developing the concept of reversibility. In addition, language has been found to be stimulated when children engage in dramatic pretend play. This is found particularly true in the housekeeping corner, where children tend to use more explicit, descriptive language in their play than they did when using blocks (Moyles, 2005).
The emotional value of play has been better accepted and understood than its intellectual or social component, because therapists have long employed play as a medium for expression and relief of feelings, play therapy in now routinely used in hospitals (Gitlin, 1998). Play offers the child an opportunity to achieve mastery of his environment. In this way, play supports the child using Erikson’s first two stages of psychosocial development, by promoting the development of autonomy and initiative (Singer and Signer, 1990). When the child plays he is in command. He establishes the conditions of the experience by using his imagination, and he exercises his powers of choice and decision as the play progresses. Hence play promotes autonomy and ego development (Roberts, 1996).
Moreover, probably the single most important purpose of play is that it makes both children and adults happy. Piaget believed that children were intrinsically motivated to learn and did not require extrinsic rewards to do so (Wood and Attfield, 1996). Since Piaget has had a particularly significant influence on the field of early childhood, his central tenet of viewing the child as an active explorer was seen as legitimizing the idea of learning through play (Robson, 2006).
The influence of Piaget and Vygotsky can be seen in our provision for young children. The idea that learning should be child-centred and play based, suggests that children should learn from concrete, practical experience and then incorporate principles of active learning rather than the passive transmission of learning (Paley, 2004). This is upheld in the new EYFS (2007b) in which the role of the adult is viewed as that of a facilitator guiding children in their acts or discovery and adapting to their individual needs.
Although Piaget considered the adult’s role to be that of a facilitator, his theories on children’s readiness to learn, raises questions about how proactive this role ought to be. His emphasis on children as individual learners, independently exploring their environment through a process of self discovery as they move biologically through various stages of development, implies that the adult role should mostly focus on providing a suitable context for this exploration and allowing the child to develop at their own natural pace.
Vygotsky on the other hand, believed that children are able to move their learning forwards with the help of others, which puts pressure on practitioners to diagnose ‘appropriate ‘ interventions and guidance to raise levels of competence (Edwards and Rose, 1994).With the introduction of the new Early Year’s Foundation Stage, the language about play has changed. The practice guidance places more emphasis on ‘spontaneous play’ and indicates that practitioners provide well planned experience based on children’s spontaneous play (Department for Education and Skills, 2007b). Practitioners are urged to observe and reflect on children’s spontaneous play and build on this by planning and resourcing a challenging environment. This should emphasise the notion of outdoor free play.
The Natural Environment
Bilton (2002) has summarised research which compared indoor and outdoor play. He has noted that children are social more inhibited indoors and benefit from a high level of learning outdoors. They are more assertive outdoors, concentrate better and prefer to play outside. In short, they respond to a sense to freedom (2002, p.116). Many Early Childhood specialist have called for more play in natural habitats and pointed to the way in which young children are drawn to all living things especially animals. Undoubtedly their perception is different from adults and most experience as sense of wonder at ‘elemental things ‘. They are fascinated by the natural world and have unique way of understanding it.
The United Conventions on the Rights of the Child recognises the right of children to live and play in an environment that promotes health development in a boundless way. Therefore, natural environment are the optimum habitat for young children, fantasy and pretend play, which are promoted by green or natural environment, and are superior to contrived indoor play spaces.
Sebba (1991) noted that children perceived the world through the gift of ‘primal seeing’ this permits them to see the magic of the world since they understand it in a tactile and exploratory way; they learn through doing using magical thinking.
Young Children and Nature
Playing outdoors allows children to experience their natural environment with all their senses. They can breathe fresh air and feel the invigoration of their hearts pounding as they charge up a hill. Children learn about the variety of creatures that may live in their area, explore the life cycle when they discover how a cocoon or squashed ant lives and experience fully with their senses how everything seems different after the rain (Tovey, 2007). Questions about nature arise spontaneously through outdoor play and provoke children into thought and, if properly supported by the teacher it will generate deep investigations of the world. It is vital that we allow children, that is all children to discover the world outside and learn to appreciate the environment around them. Children with disabilities can discover the world and appreciate the environment through outdoor play.
Play in the Natural Environments
Play in natural environment provided better opportunities for development and learning than playgrounds. It fostered growth in all developmental domains and it tended to be more varied, complex and creative, than play indoors. It promoted natural intelligence for all children regardless of their learning styles and abilities and reduced accidents and fights. Most important of all learning can occur through the lenses of nature. Young children want to interact with nature and be busy doing things. Louv (2006) has commented on the forces which have removed children from natural conditions and these include a growing practice of litigation, the marginalization of nature through the structure of cities and time pressure and fear. Parents overfill their children’s time in order to ensure that they are competitive and entertainment is substitute for play. Real creative play needs time and space (2006, p.117)
For the modern world the reduction of aggressive behaviour or accident is all important for social integration. Willson (1984) has used the term ‘biophilia’ to describe the urge to affiliate with other forms of life’, he goes further to associate biophilia to our ancestors’ which is integral to our needs, which are met in part by play. Gardner in the early 1980s has suggested that human intelligence can be divided into eight intelligences and one of these is naturalistic intelligence, by which he means sensing patterns in and making connection with the natural world. This encompasses acute sensory skills that comprise sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, a ready categorisation a basic elements of the natural world, enjoying being out of doors and nature related activities (e.g. birds songs), showing an interest in animals and plants and collecting nature related specimens, as well as learning and understanding ecological concepts (Gardner, 1999). Creative play therefore fosters naturalistic intelligence which has the effect of promoting academic performance. Adults can foster this by encouraging collections of seeds, shells and flowers.
What can be concluded from this evidence and what is so critical to play is that, learning about the natural environment is not reducible to the information produced, but encompasses the interaction between the child and the world. This summative or Gestalt approach to understanding the world is important. This can be seen in Wilson’s (1994a) study of 3-5 year olds in relation to their nature related thoughts and feelings. When young children were asked to respond to questions relating to pictures of natural settings and wildlife, many replied in matter of fact ways which showed quite high level of violence which seemed to be based on a lack familiarity with living things. This is led many early childhood specialist to hypothesize that the urban jungle in which many young children live results in a reduced use of the senses, low attention, high rates of physical and emotional illness and the development of unfounded fears (Wilson, 1994a).
Chawla (1990) suggest that a holistic environment is necessary to promote health in children and that it’s particularly important for the human young to have a sense of beauty and wonder which promotes its and their own wellbeing. Undoubtedly it is in the early years that children learn care for the earth.
Educational models connecting children with nature: International Perspective
No doubt that connecting children with the outdoor environment have had been establish in the early childhood education. Practitioners and caretaker have been using the nature to educate children in various way and topics. However, due to current global changes since the development of information technology, which lead to change in the society. One of which, the change in learning environment, which included a huge digital content and influenced humans to become increasingly digital and more attentive to filter the right information from there.
Researcher have advocated to the return to nature, those researches stated the commonality between children and nature. Froebel emphasised the importance of ‘children garden’ as an important medium for learning. The method he developed was based on the child need to play. According to him those places should be carefully planned outside e.g. watering seeds, taking nature walks and exploring the natural world with the adult (Wellhousen, 2002).
Danish forest school were inspired by Frobel to use outdoors as part of practical as social learning adopting and independent approach. The school developed and ethos of independency, where children are allowed to roam freely in the woods using the materials from the natural environment as toys and props. This will develop the child imagination and creativity. This is also aims to increase confidence and self-esteem in children (Maynard, 1007).
Reggio Emilia has also connected young children with the environment to serve as a third teacher. Indoor and outdoor environments, the use of natural materials in room decoration and creativity combined with lengthy periods in outdoor play are suggested by this approach (Hefferman, 1994). Critically, he understood the world of children in which they had 100 languages through which they express themselves through words, movement, painting, building, and playing (Edwards et al, 1993). The centrality of creativity in children’s learning is a main theme of Reggio Emilia approach as is the meticulous recording of adult child interactions dialogue is central. (Abbot and Nutbrown, 2001, p. 3)
The Role of Practitioners
Adults have an important role in helping play to continue. Sometimes this involves protecting the space and time fo