The significance of play in children’s development has been a topic of great interest among educators and researchers. Some parents would prefer their children to put more time in academics rather than play as they consider playing a waste of time. However, in actuality, play is a joyful and exciting activity for youngsters. Game is an instrument for a developing mind to familiarize oneself with the world while testing the physical and social boundaries. It is evident that children learn and discover their surroundings through play. Therefore, the relationship between education and play creates a complex phenomenon. There is no doubt that play is a crucial part of young children’s learning and development.
As children grow up, they change their approach to interaction with toys and other people. These alterations are called stages of play, which are usually divided into 6 phases. They include unoccupied, solitary, onlooker, parallel, associative, and cooperative stages. At the unoccupied stage, which lasts from birth to the age of 2, babies are making a lot of random movements with no apparent purpose or just grabbing and observing objects around them.
Then the solitary stage comes when children play independently, as they are not engaged in playing with others. They may interact in a conversation a little, for example, if someone asks them about their play, but on this stage, children are mostly immersed in playing alone. This is not the sign of poor social skills, but the necessary step in the young mind’s development. The onlooker stage is just as important. During this period, a child is preoccupied with watching other children play; however, he or she is not quite ready to participate just yet.
When children are satisfied with all the information they learned through previous stages, they come into a parallel stage. Throughout the stage, a child plays comfortably near others; in the same playground, kids might even share toys. However, they are still playing separately and are not interested in doing activities together. Associative play is the next step when children are engaged in the same activity, but they are still doing their own thing.
They may talk to each other during the game, take turns using the same objects, but each has an entirely different idea in mind. The last but not least stage is cooperative. This is when children start working together to play out a story to reach a particular goal. A child is engaged in both activity and communication. For example, two or more children are involved in building the block tower; they come up with a plan on how to make one and then cooperate. This is an essential step in developing social skills and the ability to participate in complex scenarios.
Nevertheless, some researchers present 5 types of play. They include locomotor, social, object, language, and pretend play (Smith & Pellegrini, 2020). These types of play are not presented as stages of children’s development; they are divided by the kind of activity they are engaged in. Locomotor play involves exercises and body activity, such as playing tag or simple sports, which supports the training of body endurance. Social play includes not only games but communication between children and adults as well. In some sense, it is similar to the cooperative stage of play. Object play involves interaction with toys.
For infants, object play means grabbing objects, shaking and dropping them. Language play appears when toddlers learn how to talk, and then they try to experiment with sounds and words. Their babbling may sound random and meaningless, but it is an important type of play to develop language skills, such as the use speech sounds, vocabulary, grammar, and using language according to an acceptable context. Finally, pretend play involves creating a make-believe story, where everything is something else than it is. For instance, children often play tea-parties, mummies, and daddies, or pretend to be superheroes. Simple actions later develop into longer stories and social interactions.
Another critical aspect of the play is gender differences. This topic is still considered controversial among researchers and the public. Moreover, it has generated a lot of discussion from biological to social sciences. The study by O’Connor, McCormack, Robinson, and O’Rourke (2017), for example, registered the play patterns of children in Ireland aged 0-14 years. The researchers conclude that considerable gender differences are present within kids’ activity choices.
As evidence illustrates, boys mostly enjoyed construction play and physical activities. Besides, more boys than girls enjoyed television and played with electronics. Furthermore, an exceeding amount of boys frequently participated in organized sports, but girls took part in spontaneous sports. In addition, girls were more involved in creative activities, such as art and music, as well as in activities based on social interaction, like pretend play.
Regarding the issue of the connection between culture and play, it goes without saying that culture has a great impact on how children organize the environment around them. During play, children discover how to communicate with each other in ways that are suitable in social situations. They act out those events according to the rules that were established by society, culture, and ethnic practices.
Since an early age, children explore the world both in and out of the classroom. During these crucial years, they are also finding out their identity and how they can interact with other individuals. For this reason, play should be regarded as an important classroom activity that contributes to developing a range of fundamental skills. In other words, “play is a highly acceptable form or learning” (Guirguis, 2018, p. 48).
Teachers should pursue further knowledge and critical understanding of play as a part of their ongoing professional development (Aronstam & Braund, 2016). For the purpose of implementing play efficiently, it should have a place in the curriculum. According to Bodrova and Leong (2019), teachers may pretend that a puppet asks the questions they put to the children; however, such methods should not replace child-initiated play. Rather than substitute, the teacher’s initiative should be more of a foundation.
There are a lot of ways a teacher can enable kids to engage in playing. For example, they can apply playful moments into their classes, such as singing songs or making children visualize the topic that a teacher tries to describe. Moreover, a comfortable classroom contributes to productive games a lot. It should include a safe play area and organized simulated materials such as toys. Even more significant is encouraging students’ freedom to explore on their own. Teachers need to offer opportunities to play and direct kids in their activities. For instance, they can support their ideas and creative thinking during imaginative play, or allow children to play what they want.
In conclusion, play enables children to use their imagination while developing communication, physical, and cognitive skills. The studies above demonstrate that play has a beneficial impact on children’s development: thus, it should be a vital part of the curriculum in schools. Such activities allow children to discover how the world around them works, how to cooperate and interact.
Aronstam, S., & Braund, M. (2016). Play in Grade R classrooms: Diverse teacher perceptions and practices. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 5(3). 1-10.
Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2019). Making Play Smarter, Stronger, and Kinder: Lessons from Tools of the Mind. American Journal of Play, 12(1). 37-53.
Guirguis, R. (2018). Should We Let Them Play? Three Key Benefits of Play to Improve Early Childhood Programs. International Journal of Education and Practice, 6(1), 43–49.
O’Connor, D., McCormack, M., Robinson, C., & O’Rourke, V. (2017). Boys and girls come out to play: Gender differences in children’s play patterns. The proceedings of 9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies. 4713-4719.
Smith, P. K., & Pellegrini, A. (2008). Learning through play. Encyclopedia on early childhood development, 24(8), 61.