The importance of play for the childs development
This literature review collates evidence on the importance of play for the child's holistic development in early childhood. Concepts, theories, benefits of play, social policies, curriculum standpoints and the continuous conflicting debates which are related to this area were studied. A discussion of my personal experience which correlated to the literature review is also included. Selected literature was researched from peer-reviewed journals, books, articles and other materials relevant to this topic. The terms play, child's development, creative arts, theories and curriculum texts were chosen to evaluate this theme.
It is a well-known fact that since time immemorial children kept themselves busy in play activities. Historical artefacts which can be interpreted as toys were found in various places of the world, including Malta. The National Museum in Valletta, hosts stone balls and beads which are thought to date back to the Neolithic phase (ca 5200BC). This indicates that play was always important in a child's life and as a consequence, educators delved into past studies of philosophers and early childhood education pioneers, who interpreted different views about 'play' (Saracho et al., 1998; p.5, Wood et al., 1996; p.17, 20). In order to understand better the importance of this topic in a child's early years, an overview of different views of key theories, and definitions was researched.
Different theories and definitions of play
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Early pioneers, scholars, and philosophers such as Plato, Comenius, Locke, Pestallozzi, Froebel, Steiner, Montessori, Freud, Erikson, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner all focused on the importance of children's play and its relation to child's development (Anning, 1991).
The first discussion of play appeared in the works of Plato (427-348 B.C.E.) the ancient Greek philosopher who maintained that one can get to know more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion. He also acknowledged that play is an effective tool for children to develop their cognitive and social skills which would prepare them for their future life (Quinn, B.,Â Foshay, R.,Â and Morris, B., 2001). Comenius (1592-1670) in particular, believed in impulsiveness of play which boosted up child's creativity, while Locke (1632-1704) viewed 'play' as a necessary and important part of personal development (Cassel R.N.,1973a 10(1), 42-45). Similarly, Pestallozzi (1726-1847) believed that children learn through experience and activity, (Wardel, F., 1995, v 50 n3 p.68-73). Froebel's (1782-1852) pioneering work suggested that children learn best through play, free self expression, social participation and creativity and saw play as a process in which children showed their inner self (Anderson, C., 2010, v65 n2 p54-56) while Montessori maintained that sensory stimulation during play helps the child construct and guide his own learning. (Soundy, C., 2010, v22 n4 p18-25). Both Steiner and Froebel believed in free play, where the child had the opportunity to choose the topic of the play without constant interference or involvement by an adult. (Brehony, K. J., 2001) But on the contrary to Froebel, Steiner believed that play is not limited only to toys but included cooking, painting, and action songs (Edwards, C.P., 2002, v4 n1 Spr 2002). Steiner and Montessori had similar views, in particular that of helping the children realise their full abilities through play ( Edwards, C.P., 2002, v4 n1 Spr 2002)
Studies show that educational theorists also recognised the importance of play. According to Sigmund Freud, children employ 'pretend play' to help them cope with everyday problems (Elkind, D., 2001 n139 p27-28). Play helps them change the 'unpleasant' situations that would overcome all their difficulties (Saracho et al., 1998; 7). On the other hand, Erikson (Lillenry. O. F., 2009) described play as a primary motivation to develop socially and emotionally. In yet another definition, Jean Piaget (1886-1980) who has influenced educators for the past three decades (Wood et al., 1996; p.20; Tyler, 1976; p.227). from anna) viewed play as having a strong influence on the intellectual development of the child.
Furthermore, Piaget argued that the purpose of play for the child is, that it gives fulfilment and allows development involving accommodation and assimilation (Taylor., J.B. 1996; v7v5 p.258-9) ericp. The theoretical model, which Piaget applied to his theories, was the concept of schema. Schemas are evolving structures which change from one stage of cognitive development to another (Nutbrown.C., 1994). Piaget's definition of the child during play is of a scientist working actively on tangible objects, imaginary events, in a stimulating environment, while processing, constructing knowledge and understanding (Wood et al., 1996; p.21). Piaget's study implies that while the child is active in play he absorbs information, and cognitive development occurs (Blenkin et al., 1981; p.28). According to Smith et al (1998), Piaget's approach provided the most complete explanation of how play is the most significant factor in intellectual development. In a similar approach to all other theorists, Vygotsky also points out that play can serve as a powerful tool for learning and development (Nicolopoulou, A., Barbosa De Sa, A., Ilgaz, H., Brockmeyer, C., 2010, v17 n1 p42-58). However, Vygotsky challenged Piaget's' conclusions. While Piaget's theory states that a child will develop and learn while he interacts with the environment, Vygotsky implies that a child learns best through social interaction (Saracho et al., 1998; p.7). anna As studies reveal, Vygotsky placed more weight on play as serving an important role in the socialising development. His theory of the 'zone of proximal development (ZPD) specifies that when guided by 'experienced' individuals the child moves on to the next level of cognitive functioning (Smolucha et al., 1998; p 53, Wood et al., 1996; p.55). This adult-child joint play activity fosters development in both adults and child (Ferholt. B. & Lecusay. R., 2010; v17 n1 p.59-83). eric The level of development that can be reached with an adult, is far greater than what can be achieved alone (Ford 2004). Vygotsky also implies that while the child engages in play, the ZPD is created and "the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102). In contrast to Vygotsky's and Bruner's theories, Piaget's studies took another different approach. In Piaget's theory the teacher acts as the facilitator for the young 'scientist', whilst Vygotsky and Bruner's ideology is that the child and adult work together in order to develop new schemas. INSERT Jerome Bruner is one of the most important figures in education and his theory of play influenced other educators (Takaya, K., 2008, v39 n1 p1-19). Nevertheless, each of these different theoretical positions make an important contribution to our understanding of why these theorists work has become increasingly popular in today's education. (Wood et al, 1976; Crain, 1992; Broadhead, 2006).
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In yet a further definition of play, is given by Pellegrini (1991) and Saracho (1991) who used Rubin, Fein and Vanderberg's (1983) ideology and implies that play dominated by child's activity, while being spontaneous free of rules, and controlled by the players themselves. An equally significant description of play is given by Herbert Spencer, (1820-1903) an English philosopher and sociologist, who defines play as a channel or vent to let out the surplus energy which reduces tension, whilst Karl Gross (1861-1946) in 'The Philosopher of Art', alludes to Plato, when he maintains that play is the process of preparation for adult life. Similarly, Tina Bruce (2001, p. 112) believes play to be "the highest form of learning and development in early childhood." sarah. This point is also sustained by the work of Moyles (1989) who maintains that play is vital for the growing child as it is an excellent learning medium. Sarah Certainly there is no shortage of limitations and misconceptions within these views and definitions. Although the description of play remains highly popular, it is however important to note that many writers encounter difficulties when it comes to find a precise and conclusive explanation of play. (Moyles, 1989; Greig, 1998). Greig (1998) also highlights that the most difficult factor of defining play is due to the 'ambiguity' of the whole concept. sarah As Smith (2000, p. 80) pointed out "the boundaries of play are fluid" and therefore it is difficult to provide a definite meaning. sarah Similarly, Peacocke (1987) argues that the misconception of the word 'play' causes parents to have a false impression of its learning and developmental ability. Brierley (1987) points out that, if a task is easy or unimportant, we as adults refer to it as 'child's play'. This was also supported by Moyles (1989) who argues about the importance of a different terminology for the word 'play', as it is usually used to signify something trivial, when in reality it is the core of learning. sarah
Despite these limitations of the concept of play, its popularity in its beneficial contribution towards the child's development remains high. Educators and pioneers who advocated the use of play in education, emphasise that children expand their knowledge and developmental skills as they play alone, with others or when they interact with the environment (Clover, 1999 in Ashibi, G.S., 2007, Vol.35, no2, p. 199-207 ). It can be said from the above analysis that all these theoretical positions make an important contribution to our understanding that play is vitally important not just to children's emotional and social development but also to their intellectual development.
This review of literature depicting the work and theories on early childhood education clearly shows how the educators sought to establish the uniqueness and importance of play in childhood as a fundamental stage where they acknowledged its significance to learning and development (Wood et al., 1996; p.1). insert Further research in this study about the benefits of play, proved that they are consistent with the repeated arguments in the history of theories of play, which emphasis the power it has on children's physical, emotional, intellectual and social development (Saracho et al., 1998; p.7).
The importance of play during childhood
Play helps the child flourish the skills which are very important to later growth and development (Leoeng, D. J., Bodrova, E., 2005, Vol.13, Iss. 1; pg.37).This study seems to strongly indicate that there is a connection between play and the development of cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills that are necessary to learn more complex concepts. Play is also attributed to the growth of memory, adjusting behaviour, language, symbolic recognition, (Leong, D.J.Â andÂ Bodrova, E.,Â 2005, Vol.13, Iss. 1; pg37)Â and other skills such as literacy, problem solving, negotiation, turn-taking, cooperation, and social understanding ((Ashiabi, G.S., 2007, Vol.35, no. 2 pgs 19-205). The intention of the following literature is to give substantial evidence that free play including Steiner's ideology, within a Montessori settings, is the key to the development of physical, cognitive, and social skills, for all children.
Play and social development sarah
A child being separated from his parents for the first time to attend kindergarten tends to be unsociable, and shy. At this time he has to learn how to mix with other children and develop social competence. As Smith (2000) highlights, it is through play that children establish healthy relationships with others. Active participation in free play does not only support the child's development of a sense of 'self' but also enhances the development of the child's ability to team up with his peers. (Gerhardt, 1976: p.236 ) (anna) In order to fit into society, children have to learn how to accept and get on with others. (Reynolds, 1987; Woolfson, 2001). Sarah Connolly and Smith (1978, v10 n2 p86-97) observed pre-school children during free play sessions and noted the period of time the children had been attending the nursery school. They found that sociability in play was more correlated with time spent at the nursery than with the child's age (Connolly, K., Smith, P. 1978, v10 n2 p86-97). Studies all imply, that play is an important activity of early childhood (Smolucha et al., 1998: p.42), Insert where peer interaction is important for social-cognitive development (Creasy et al., 1998: p. 12; Soundy, C.S., 2008, in E.C.E. J.2009 36:381-383).
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Play is a form of social behaviour, which requires children to act and react to different circumstances while engrossed in solitary, parallel or social play. During play, children experiment and practice new social skills and behaviours (Creasy et al., 1998, p.126). INSERT, test their assertiveness, tackle conflicts, take decisions, and make choices and mistakes (Tyler, 1976, p.242). INSERT Play also helps to increase child's ego, peer-group identity and build up abstract frameworks (Wood et al., 1996, p.145). Social competence is promoted further through the development and refinement of certain skills, such as sharing, cooperation, problem-solving, and perspective taking (Creasy et al., 1998; p.126). Insert Social and cognitive play are inter-related, when even in the simplicity of working together in sharing paper bits and pieces to make a collage, children do not just socialise but also develop intellectual skills (Seefeldt, 1976b; p.178). INSERT
Play enhances Intellectual Development
Children have an innate capability for learning, and play is the medium through which most learning takes place (Manning and Sharp, 1977; Smith, 2000). During free-play children are confronted with high levels of cognitive tasks. As children enjoy playing it has been established that 'pleasure' is the factor which helps in absorbing knowledge (Bruce, 2001). Imposing rules on their play creates a conflicting anxiety, between doing what brings enjoyment and what decreases the rules that limit that pleasure (Pellegrini, 1998; p. 225). In this situation the child learns to deal with aggression, assumed leadership, respect, love, and anger. Observing peers who find new ways of tackling problems builds respect, empathy, and understanding of one's own skills as well as those of others. Fisher (1996) points out that a child engaged in an intellectually stimulating activity is just as 'active' as the child pedalling a tricycle. In a similar fashion, vigorous play interrelates to the physical development of the child.
Play promotes Motor Development
In a society where families live in high blocks of flats, the amount of play space is restricted. It is crucial that nursery schools provide space and play equipment for the child to develop his fine and gross motor abilities (Lester and Russell 2008). Psychologist Jane Healy's study shows that physical play is essential for those children who live in inadequate environment (Healy, J. in Schroeder, K., 2007. Vol 72, iss 5; pg 73-74). Active play is associated with gross motor skills. It is a known fact that physical activities during play promote a number of health benefits including organ growth and muscle building. It is also said that through physical activities, the child 'understands and listens' to his peers ideas while this creates roots of democracy (Gerhardt, 1976; p. 258) and help child develop a perception of friendship which will also help him solve emotional problems (Saracho, 1998; p.240; Lillard, 1998; p. 14). For years, therapists have used play therapy as an intermediate for helping children with emotional problems.
The use of Play in therapy
Play therapy is based on Freud's theories where he implies that 'play becomes the mirror to the subconscious' (Moyles J.R., 1994; pg90). Play therapy is used with children from special areas, especially with children with disabilities or post-traumatic stress (Porter, M.L., Hernandez-Reif, M., Jessee, P., 2009, v179 n8 p1025-1040). The way the child plays is a reflection of his unconsciousness, since through play the child expresses his deepest conflicts which may be the root of his present condition (Manning and Sharp 1977 p. 13). In addition to this, they highlighted how children suffering from stress would find interacting with others difficult and state that. "children cannot learn effectively unless they maintain their emotional and social equilibrium." It is within play, that children come to terms with their own lives, and develop the ability to cope with stressful situations (Smith, 2000; Bruce, 2001). The therapist uses psychoanalytic techniques together with play to help children with certain conditions, express and overcome the feelings of fear, anger or stress (Smith, 2000; Bruce, 2001). This is not just beneficial for children with emotional problems but also for children with other diverse special needs.
The importance of play for children with special needs
As mentioned in other paragraphs, play may enhance various skills, facilitate academic learning and be used as a therapy for all children (Myck-Wayne, J., 2010 Vol 13, n 4 p. 14-23). An equally noteworthy benefit of play is, helping children with special needs (Tuominen, W., 2005, Vol 35 Iss.10; pg 77). During play, peers serve as role models and these children learn to socialise and interact with others at school and in their community (Tsao, L., McCabe, H., 2010, Vol 13 n 4 p 24-35). Similarly, play can also promote interpersonal skills through observational learning and imitation ( Mastrangelo, S., 2009, Vol 42 n1, p 34-44). When play is integrated with music, drama, puppetry, miming and drawing, it will meet the needs of all the child's developmental areas namely, communication, physical, cognitive, social, emotion and adaptive development (Darrow, A. 2011, Vol 24 n 2 p.28). Having considered all this, one has to conclude that since the establishment of Froebel's kindergarten, and Steiner's ideology it has been recognised that play and expressive arts are the most suitable way in which all children learn and develop (Pinar, 1998; p. 167) ANNA CONTINUE FROM HERE 10 3. 11
The benefits of play and creative arts
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Play and arts have been a part of early childhood programmes since the establishment of the kindergarten by Froebel, and subsequently integrated in the early childhood curriculum of other theorists-educators (Saracho et al., 1998; p.4). insert There are no studies that suggest that growth, development, or learning are nurtured by a 'serious' climate (Tyler, 1976; p.241). A classroom is meant to be full of playful learning or 'creative' play (Tyler, 1976; p.241) and any school curriculum should be tailored to increase pupils' enjoyment of learning (Guidance for Curriculum Managers in England, 1999; in Silcock et al., 2001; p.42). These statements augur that the teacher determines the creativity of play and expressive arts in a classroom (Tyler, 1976; p.238).
Expressive arts have always held an important position in early childhood education. The kindergarten of Froebel, and Steiner's ideology which introduced children to a variety of playing activities, began a long tradition of including expressive art in the learning programme. (Nutbrown. C., etc check_ and insert in ref_ This powerful relationship between art and play help the child to strip away rules and restrictions. Children are keen to explore and experiment with materials; they are sure to find drawing, painting, singing, miming, puppetry and modelling intriguing and gratifying experiences (Seefeldt, 1976b; p.177). Insert Review of the research and writings point out the interaction between play and art and see it as a developmental link which is exercised by the child whereas 'through play and arts, children develop the ability to cope with the world and cultivate their creativity.' (Sarachao et al. 1998, p.8) insert Similarly Freud (1959; p. 143,144) believed that there is a specific link between childhood play and creative arts:
'should we not look for the first traces of imaginative activity as early as in childhood? Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or, rather, re-arranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him?
These interactive activities are important factors to the development of the 'whole child' enhancing the cognitive and psychomotor development (Wood et al., 1996; p.75). Getting acquainted to the arts enriches their cognitive development (Wood et al., 1996; p.143). Insert and it also enables the child to identify, observe, discover, recall and compare; judge and imagine (Shelley, 1976; p.205). INSERT It also helps the child manifest his emotional skills (Tyler, 1976; p.233). insert It reveals the unity of learning and cognitive development (Wood et al., 1996; p. 143). insert Recent research has shown that involvement in role play positively correlated with later success on tasks of mental representation (Kavanough et al., 1998; p,94). Insert In role-play, creativity and imagination are both important procedures which help to direct, influence and generate the complexity of the activity. (Wood et al.,1996; p.147). This author continues to sustain that the roles children create, do not just involve actions and speech, they also generate feeling states which link both affective and cognitive processes. Similarly, music can also be included with joyful learning. When children clap, count or sing to themselves, they demonstrate the sensor motor intelligence where the repetition of action, guides the repetition of word or thought (Shelley, 1976; p.205). INSERT Eisner, (1979) Insert argues that, far from being a 'fringe' activity, artistic expression makes its own unique contribution to the process of learning and in the child's more general cognitive development (Blenkin et al., 1981; p. 188, 189). INSERT But however, as in many areas of childhood the subject of how a child learns and develops is full of debates. As in the case of play-based learning, there appears to be a tendency that policy-makers and parents sometimes, view creative arts in class as unimportant and not completely academically beneficial to the development of the child (Moelock, Bown, & Morrissey, 2003, p.41). But this is not always the case as this research on policies and curriculum standpoints in various countries demonstrated. insert from file.
Policy and curriculum standpoints about play and creative activities in nursery schools
Following Steiner, Frebel, Piaget and other pioneers, play nowadays is an integral issue of the curriculum in an English nursery school. The English Curriculum encourages self-initiated free play in an exploratory environment (Hurst, 1997; Curtis, 1998). Yet one should also point out that Piaget's theory somehow influenced the present Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS, 2007) INSERT FROM LAST ASSIGNMENT curriculum, as this pursues a stage and age approach to learning and hands on activity or play. In a similar manner, Froebel (in Brehony, K. J. 2001. 6 vols) states that creative play is the 'work' of the child and an essential part of "the educational process." By the 1960's 'play activities' had been officially approved in the UK as this extract from the Plowden Report (C.A.C.E., 1967, p.193) indicates:
'We know now that play - in the sense of 'messing about' either with material objects or with other children, and of creating fantasies - is vital in school. Adults who criticise teachers for allowing children to play are unaware that play is the principal means of development in early childhood.'
It clearly implies that free play is the best method of development in the child's early years. At the same time it states that:
"in play, children gradually develop concepts of causal relationships, the power to discriminate, to make judgements, to analyze and synthesize, to imagine and formulate".
The Birth to Three guidance documents also reminds educators that children need to explore with all their senses.
There have been many debates about the education of young children in recent years, mainly due to the implementation of policies such as Supporting Families (Home Office, 1998), as well as initiatives such as the National Childcare Strategy and Sure Start (Pugh, 2005). However, a review of research and theory reveals that play faces the problem of not being recognised within the curriculum. Studies also state that the commonly-held view that early teachers encouraged learning through play was more myth than reality (Wood et al., 1996; p.5).
Continuous policy changes and the constant increase of the material surplus in the curriculum appear to conflict play (Bell, 2001; p.141). Policy-makers are still faced with many dilemmas in the way they conceptualize play with its relationship to learning. The President of Alliance for Childhood, Joan Almon in Schroeder (2007, Vol.72, Iss. 5; pg 73-74) argues that policy makers are not fully aware of the importance of play. Political issues suffocate the possibility of early learning experience and emphasise on formal methods of academic learning (Schroeder, 2007, Vol.72, Iss. 5; pg 73-74). With increased emphasis on academic skills, creative activities have become blurred (Leoeng, D. J., Bodrova, E., 2005, Vol.13, Iss. 1; pg.37). Young children may not have the ability to learn from any formal instruction, but learn through social interaction, creative play and exploration (Dockett, Perry, 2002, Vol.3 No 1., pp 68-69). Similar views are expressed by Raban (2002, Vol.26 (3), pp. 7- 8) who states that:
'pedagogy in early years settings has become more formal, not least, for example, as a result of doubt about the expectations of Ofsted inspectors and the impact of initiatives such as the Literacy Hour'.
Play and art activities are being segregated from school as play is being given the implication that it is something supplementary. Reeves from 'The Guardian' (2002, p .13) implements that:
'trends in education policy are making things worse. The national curriculum is inflexibly enforced, is like an unreasonable edict from head office. The testing virus is out of control and emphasis is given to 'proper' subjects such as maths and science, while art, music and drama are further downgraded.'
Myra Barrs (2002), the author of the article 'Best for Bambini' recognises the atmosphere of pressure which exists in the introduction of formal education at a very young age. She insists that the obsession of policy makers to begin formal education at a young age impose pre-school testing and assessments. Noting the compelling nature of this article this question remains controversial. While most early years organisations are in agreement that children should not start formal teaching at an early age, there are many others, who see an early start of formal education as a child's potential advantage in today's competitive world. A view that contradicts this is articulated by Dockett, et al., (2002 Vol. 3, No 1. pp. 68-69) who contends that :
'children under the age of four or five may not have fully developed the cognitive and social skills that facilitate learning from formal instruction. Such research has led some to question the value of formal education at an early age and to suggest that a focus on social interaction, play and exploration might be more valuable'.
In an article by Henderson, in The Times (1999, p. 12) relates that studies in educational achievement show that Italy and other European countries where the statutory education starts at six or seven surpass those children who start formal learning at a younger age. A further research on this literature revealed that in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland although children are encouraged to learn through free play and not taught any reading or writing until they reach the age of seven, score in the top ten for reading standards (Synodi, E., 2010, v18 n3 p185-200)
This approach is also similar in Hungary, Switzerland and Austria where there are strict guidelines not to start on literacy and numeracy until the age of six and seven. These too do twice as well in reading tests than children who are exhibited to formal teaching at a young age. (Henderson,1999, p.12). In Singapore's educational policy, academic skills are given much attention and many parents are still uncertain of a play-centred curriculum. As a result, children are deprived of free play and many children have not acquired social skills (Tan et al, 1997). file write in full Similarly in Malta, adults view play and arts not so important to the academic development of the children (The Times of Malta, Editorial supplement 2001). Insert Children start pre-school at the age of four where the main aim is to prepare them for more formal instructions in grade one class. It is also understood that the main aim of the curriculum in the kindergarten level is to enhance the holistic development of the child where each area of child's development is considered important (The National Minimum Curriculum.1999, pgs 34, 35). The N.M.C. document of the Maltese Ministry of Education considers play as a natural process and recognizes it as 'the key pedagogical means'. (N.M.C. 1999, p.76). Creativity definitely enjoys privileged significance throughout the N.M.C. document. In formulating the document, creativity is not only linked to the expressive arts, it is also identified as the driving force that 'should' aid the teacher in devising classroom curricula. In the introductory message of the document the Minister of Education state:
'The process (of change) will be one of creative changes in each school and with each teacher - as they develop their own more detailed syllabus, resources and methods guided and inspired by this document.' (NMC. 1999, p.6)
Despite the previous arguments there are many reasons to think that play is the most valid way in which children learn and develop (Pinar, 1998; p.167).
Major issues and debates
It can be seen from the above analysis that psychologists and educators have demonstrated that play is unquestionably part and parcel of life of a growing and developing child. Nevertheless wrong concepts of play remain a growing problem. Cultural issues, socio-economic issues, and educational policies of a society could influence adults' perception towards the value and purpose of play. This analysis, unfortunately, implies why parents presume that children are not learning anything worthwhile if they "are just playing." Parents perceive that play in itself serves no productive purpose and does not work towards any particular goal (Moyles, 1991, pp.10). As a result many parents believe that making children learn at a young age will help them succeed at school (Schroeder, K., 2007. Vol 72, iss 5; pg 73-74) and that the knowledge of the alphabet and counting numbers are more important (Ashiabi, G.S., 2007, Vol.35, no 2 pgs 19-205). Piaget often argued that 'play' is often neglected by adults because they think it has no significant function (Piaget and Inhelder, 1969). DISS sarah Insert
According to Broinowski ,(cited in Bloch and Pellegrini 1989, pp.17-19) he remarks that "free play" of childhood is "at risk." At the same time he expresses his worries when he implies that children are being "hurried" to grow up and are growing up "without childhood." Parents and educators have raised their academic expectations for their children so, play, and do not contribute towards to the children's academic development. In this sense they send them to various organised extra curriculum activities (Bloch and Pellegrini, 1989, pp. 28-29, Chudacof 2007). Although these structured activities can enhance and have an important impact on the development of children,(Eccles and Templeton 2002) play Elklind (1980)challenges this by expressing his concern about the free time which is related with learning structured activities and not playing for the pure sake of enjoyment. play An awareness of this was shown clearly by Eklind (2008) playday who remarks that traditional play has been put aside to make way for new technology. According to his research in the 2007 pre-school children watch about two hours of television every day. But one argues is watching television a kind of recreation for little children or is it just a 'safe' haven for them while waiting for their parents to come home from work?
Some studies, however, have taken a different approach to the benefits of free creative play. Recent research argues that free creative play may not help to produce the maximum cognitive development. Sylva, Roy, and McIntyre (1980) in their report 'Child watching at playgroup and nursery school' state that there was a lack of challenging activity in children's free play, which subsequently tended to involve uncomplicated repetitive activities. Similarly, Meadows and Cashdan (1988) from file ?who also observed children's behaviour during free play sessions reported that during recreation, children seemed lost and inactive, while the conversation between adult and child was very limited. Meadow and Cashdan (1988) argued that supervised free play has limited benefits for children and that a high level of adult-child interaction during play is necessary to optimize children's learning.
However, the Russian collectivist culture has an entirely different concept towards play. Play is "serious work" to the Russian children. Most play activities include role-playing real-life situations such as taking care of baby, serving at table, cleaning up, clearing snow from the driveway, or caring for animals. In this country, children are learning something 'worthwhile' in the name of play (Bronfenbrenner, 1974, pp. 17-23). From file Are children being manipulated by adults under the false pretence of the word play?
Play is indeed the cornerstone upon which physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, creative, and language development are built on. It is vital to the development of all facets of the young child - personal awareness, emotional well-being, socialisation, communication, cognition, and perceptual motor skills (Hughes, 1999, p. 62-64, 68-69, 81-109 - 111). This study helped me focus on the holistic development of the child, with play as the main pedagogical approach. The kindergarten centres should provide the adequate environment that enhances learning. Montessori's idea of lots of positive sensory stimulation is consistent to what we are still learning today.
Unfortunately children are also being exposed to negative stimulation. Parents buy televisions and video game machines for their bedrooms. These technologies keep the child focused for a long period of time in a hyper-active stage. Children, who were pampered with speeded-up programmes and video games during their early childhood, would find it difficult to be attentive to teacher's monotone voice explaining mathematics in upper grades. And we wonder why children nowadays are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder!
Parental socio-economic status, influence the concept of play. One may argue that in the Victorian times children were expected to help their parents financially, therefore were limited to play. Ironically nowadays children are also being limited to free play by their parents, who consequently involve them in extra curriculum activities. Parents and adults need to understand that unstructured play enriches the child's repertoire of experiences and development. Play is an innate activity, but parents, and teachers, use play as a reward or a bribe to coax children to finish their work. Expectations in academic areas are high. In my opinion a good profile for a child six years ago would not be satisfactory for a parent in today's society. I have noticed that in Malta, parents who are college-educated tend to favour play activities and support the belief that play fosters child's overall development, but parents who are less educated are more concerned about academic activities and school-related skills in the classroom.
After this literature review as an educator, I have seen the need for some change in the Maltese kindergarten centres. Not all educators provide a Montessori settings or practice Steiner's ideology, neither are they ready to accept 'unstructured programmes' in their nursery classes. They argue that they feel the need to direct and supervise to avoid disorder. Since I have finished this study, I advocate Steiner's and Montessori's approaches and make use of blocks, clay, sand, water, drama, music, and rhythm instruments continuously. Other forms of play such as dramatic play, and story enactment, are encouraged, to allow children to use language and facial expressions to role-play their pretend characters. Not only do these settings and play activities encourage and stimulate children to enhance their language and literacy skills, but help develop awareness, empathy, and sensitivity to inclusion. And as George Bernard Shaw states, "We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."
The topic of how children achieve their overall development is an ongoing debate. After analysis of the review literature, it has to be admitted that further studies will have to be undertaken to determine the merits and limitations of play. The arguments I have presented suggest that parents and adults conception of the importance of play is still inconsistent. Results clearly revealed that there is a scope for more discussion.
Despite this, research of theories and pioneer's ideology have provided me with clear evidence that children's play is vital for their social, intellectual and physical development. Children correlate free play with independence, liberty and choice, however this study helped me realise that play of this kind is limited. Academic commitments and busy lifestyle has hindered free play and this has affected the stability of child's overall development. My interpretation is that structured play does not offer the same learning experience, as it is initiated and directed by adults. But, upon reflection, as Vygotsky implies, adults should have an important role in play as their involvement can foster development. Ginseng (2006) acknowledges the value of the academy in a child's life and gives merit to extra curriculum healthy activities, but parents should find a balance between academic work, organised activities and unstructured play. As a result children will be given a unique opportunity to enhance their skills. And as Saracho et al., (1998, p 8) highlights, let 'children continue to play because it is a most enjoyable experience for them'.
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