Play as a Framework
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Through play, children explore and learn about their world as well as developing imagination, creativity, social skills, and problem solving skills. In this essay, I will examine the value of play in strengthening children’s learning development considering their physical, socio-emotional, spiritual and cognitive development. I will also discuss the value of play that is acknowledged by Vygotsky and Piaget considering play as part of learning. Moreover I will examine the teachers’’ role and teaching strategies in relation to theoretical perspectives of play.
Play provides open paths to literacy and numeracy. Researches highlighted that play is the foundation of counting, reading and writing through manipulating, pretending, and exploring freely without setting objectives. It is acknowledged by Gonzalez & Widmeyer (2012) researches where children’s free explorations offer opportunities to strengthen their numeracy skills through counting buckets of sand for their pretend cake and literacy skills through scanning picture books. It is further supported by Klien, Wirth & Linas (2004) where free play foster and extend children’s language skills. These language skills are tied to emotions which are expressed and explored through pretend play to express feelings. Te Whāriki (MoE, 1996) also highlights environments where children’s emotional needs are constructively fostered.
Play is an open vehicle for children to express feelings and emotions physically, socially and culturally. Manipulating the dough, squashing the clay back and forth, playing the role of mums and dads in the family corner, allow children to utter all sorts of feelings. Klien, Wirth & Linas (2004) stresses the importance of children negotiating and discussing the joy of free play through smiling, laughing, angry, and frustrating. These emotions encourage children to become effective problem solvers with competent choices to deal with their own conflicts in their own unique ways.
Unstructured play provides challenging opportunities for children to show their creativity and imagination. Klien, Wirth & Linas (2004) acknowledge positive effects of play where children engage actively and explore freely from applied rules. When girls play the role of mums, nurses or teachers, they are applying their home and community experiences in their play which supports their imaginative ideas. The excitement originates from play leads to feelings of competence and self efficacy that is highlighted by Gonzalez & Widmeyer (2012). It is further strengthened by Oliver & Klugman (2002) where constructive play encourages social and physical skills in a developmental age appropriate environment. Cooking and baking in the sand area, being a superhero, pretend play provides chances for children to relate their cultural surrounding to real life experiences. It is further supported by Dockett & Fleer (2002) where children’s pretend and unstructured play provide different perspectives when children apply their prior knowledge, imagination, home experiences and cultural backgrounds to their play and participation. Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett & Farmer (2007) researches emphasise the significance of play and participation where children learn social expectations of events. Te Whariki (Ministry of Education [MoE], 1996) also stresses environments where children experience free play without settings goals are pleasurable and enjoyable.
Through play, children have an opportunity to expand their world and make discoveries they might never make. As the child builds a tower in the construction area, s/he makes their own choices, sharing, turn taking, and work their own problems independently. Oliver & Klugman (2002) highlights the effective discoveries where children learn to respect each other’s point of view from their free explorations. Moreover children are encouraged to develop social skills through respecting peer’s feelings, negotiating with other children regarding the learning experience provided and providing spaces for other tamarikis to share their ideas considering the outcome. Te Whāriki (MoE, 1996) also acknowledge environments where children are encouraged to “learn with and alongside with others” (p.70).
Piaget and Vygotsky have different philosophies and beliefs on how children learn through play. Vygotsky sees play as an effective means of social experiences and cognitive development. It is acknowledged by Gonzalez & Widmeyer (2012) researches where Vygotsky sees play as a tool of mind with effective outcomes in the manipulation and exploration of infancy and toddlerhood. Pretend play, baking and cooking, role modelling different people and free exploration supports children’s imagination, social skills and represent a situation. Dockett & Fleer (2002) stresses Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development where children separate actions and objects from thoughts within play. Vygotsky’s belief is supported by Dockett and Fleer (2002) researches where children adopted roles and rules in their play that are related to their real life experiences. Moreover play guides children’s knowledge on what is crucial on social contexts. Discovering new words which further language development is more important rather than manipulative and imaginative ideas underpins Vygotsky’s beliefs (Dockett & Fleer, 2002).
However Piaget argues that exploration will lead to free play and rules are applied depending on the situation/game. Piaget’s three stages of play show that children learn about their world through sensory and motor actions. Dockett & Fleer (2002) highlights Piaget’s theory where as children grow older and experiencing stage to stage, children are becoming more aware in understanding their world. The process of assimilation that is highlighted by Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett & Farmer (2007), Piaget sees it as a major part of play. This is where children can take something and make it fit on what they already know and understand.
Dockett & Fleer (2002) also emphasise Piaget’s stages of development where children could/would learn from play. Pretend play that most of children always fascinating with, Piaget stresses it as symbolic play where children use language to present pretend play. For instance pretending to bake a cake in the sand pit and use their own language to explain the situation, Piaget believes that children are using mental representations and develop the ability to separate mental world from the real world (Dockett & Fleer, 2002). Piaget’s theory ties in Dockett & Fleer (2002) researches where repetitive play offer open opportunities for children to become more experienced about their social and cultural surroundings.
Without safety, there is no free play. It is the teacher’s role to ensure that the learning environment is safe, developmentally age appropriate and interesting for children’s free play. It is underpinned by Gonzalez & Widmeyer (2012) researches where teachers need to provide an attractive environment that would offer children opportunities to make effective discoveries and experiments that would strengthen their life skills. It is further supported by Klien, Wirth & Linas (2004) where teachers need to provide more relevant resources and materials that would encourage and support children’s exploration. On the other hand, Te Whāriki (MoE, 1996) promotes environments “where children’s play is valued as meaningful learning” (p.84). The learning atmospheres where children have the freedom to explore and being able to choose freely from a variety of materials/resources and create their own goals without teachers’ intervene.
Vygotsky states the importance of free play in social development through sharing and active conversations. MacNaughton & Williams (2009) stresses the importance of social interaction through play where children communicate and interact with peers in effective discussions. These open discussions enable children to share their own ideas and understanding relate to the pretend play that is happening. Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett & Farmer (2007) emphasise the cognitivist approach where children engage in problem solving experiences, discover and investigate explanations for events, happenings and interactions. It is further supported by Dockett & Fleer (2002) where teachers need to encourage children to be more confident in dealing with their own problems in unique ways.
An observation provides confirmation, improvements and extensions for children’s play. It is one of the main keys for free play so that teachers can figure out how to extend the learning. As children enjoy free exploration, teachers need to observe and document the child’s learning that’s representing the situation. MacNaughton & Williams (2009) acknowledge the importance of observations and documentation. It is a solid evidence for parents regarding their children’s progress in the room. Children should also have the opportunity to investigate big ideas and represent their understanding and imagination through drama and play. Te Whāriki (MoE, 1996) underpins role play as part of communication amongst adults and children. For instance as girls pretend to be teachers, mums, mermaids, they are actually communicating with their friends through playing different roles presented.
To conclude this essay, play and free exploration is the vehicle to teaching and learning. As children apply their imagination, prior knowledge and home experiences through pretend play, their social skills and cultural backgrounds are well developed and supported. Despite the arguments between theorists regarding ways that children learn, teachers and educators see how children learn in their own unique ways.
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Gonzalez Mena, J. & Widmeyer, Eyer, D. (2012) Infants, toddlers, and caregivers: A curriculum of respectful, responsive relationship- bases care and education (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Klien, T., Wirth, D., & Linas, K. (2004). Play: Children’s context for development. In D. Koralek (Ed.), Spotting on young children and play (pp. 28-34). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
MacNaughton, G., &Williams, G. (2009). Techniques for teaching young children: Choices in theory and practice (3rd ed., pp. 296-310) Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education Australia.
Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō nga mokopuna o Aotearoa/Early Childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
Oliver , S. J., & Klugman, E. (2002). Playing the day away. Child Care Information Exchange, 5, 66-69.