Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Education


"You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again."
~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762

Play has always fascinated me. Children learn so much in the process and we as adults can facilitate or hinder their learning simply by not understanding what is going on. Granted, there are many types of learning environments and not all children "play" the same. But I do enjoy to see the learning process take place. I am glad to be apart of it. Here is some information about play I have found useful.

The Many Types of Play

Sensorimotor Play
This type of play is seen most often in stages of infancy. Usually, when one is exploring the environment as well as discovering how their body works in relation to it. It involves the different senses; for example, auditory, tactile, sensory, and visual experiences.
Practice Play
This particular type of play involves the repetition of new skills as they are being learned. One could think of it as practicing for mastery and it is continued throughout our lives. About one-third of a preschooler's play is practice play, compared to about one-sixth of an elementary school child's play. Such play contributes to the development of small and large motor skills needed for later game playing or competitive sports. Some early childhood activities include painting, running, swinging, coloring, and mastering daily routines such as clean up time.
Symbolic Play
This is also called dramatic play, fantasy play or make-believe. A child will transform an object into other objects and act toward them accordingly. For instance, Jenna wrapped a bear in a blanket and said it was a crying baby.
Symbolic play is at its peak at about 4 or 5 years of age. This type of play obviously helps to develop any preschooler’s imagination and creativity as well as helps a child develop needed social skills.
Social Play
Social play revolves around social interaction with peers. Basically, if it involves other children, it's social play. Various games can be attributed to social play, games like Hide-and-seek or “Catch”. This type of play will help your child learn how to interact with others and develop friendships.
Constructive Play
This play occurs when a child uses their imagination and skills to create a product. A child can put on a performance, learn problem solving skills, or build structures. For example, artwork, magic shows, and sculpting with clay all involve constructive play. This type of play is important because it develops problem solving skills, promotes creativity, and builds a child's sense of self worth. 
Games with Rules
Usually games involve multiple numbers of children, competition, and rules. This type of play may appear with preschoolers, but is found more often in elementary school children. This type of play can build self esteem if the child is proficient, but it can also be harmful if the child is ridiculed or driven too hard (by parent, coach, or even peers). Age appropriate games and the right environment help the child  learn to enjoy competition and challenges, which will be very important when applying for entrance to college and  job situations.
Play Therapy
Children have a difficult time trying to articulate their feelings through words. Psychologists have determined that a child expresses a great deal through play. This is the idea behind play therapy. Allow the child to play in a controlled environment and observe their behavior. This also allows a child to work through some internal conflicts you may not be aware of. Observing their play may provide insight into the inner feelings or concerns. This may help as you attempt to understand why a child is behaving a certain way. It is important to let a let a trained clinician assist young children when concerns arise. When in doubt, ask a child's parent to simply check with their Pediatrician.

*In the following section the descriptions of the types of play were taken from, John W. Santrock's text Life-Span Development,6th edition

3 comments:

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you for this summary and analysis of play. I totally agree with you about the importance of play in childhood. Play truly is the important work of childhood.

Barbra Stephens said...

Thank you, Dan.
We do feel it is important to have an answer for concerned parents when they wonder why their child "plays" all day in a program.
Being well informed about our job gives us professional polish.

Unknown said...

Playing is part of their development of cognitive thinking, social-emotions as well as physical behaviors. Children usually learn faster and better in an environment where they are allowed to explore, discover and play.

Very Involved Parents