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A Study On The Role Play Development Teaching Essay

Play is almost universally recognized as an integral factor in children's learning and development. For example, Macintyre (2001, 4) quotes Isaacs' 1933 description of play: Play is "the crucial component in children's development," and adds that everyone "concerned with young children" should "recognise and value the different kinds of understanding developed through play" (Macintyre 2001, 3-4).

Although different play activities promote children's in different ways, Keenan (2002) identifies a number of areas of development that are impacted or enhanced by play, including cognition, language and communication, social, and emotional. The recent Curriculum guidance for children from three through the reception year (Foundation Stage) ephasizes learning opportunities and experiences ; for example, "the area of language and literacy was broadened to include communication and emphasized the importance of developing literacy through play" and "advocates play and exploration as a basis for literacy learning in the early years" (Miller and Smith 2004, 122). Within the Early Years curriculum, role play is an excellent example of a play activity that promotes many areas of development.

Before examining the ways role play promotes development in children, it is helpful to define both play and role play. Macintyre (2001, 3) defines play as activity that is enjoyable, gives pleasure, and undertaken by the player freely, that is, it can be abandoned at any time without blame. Play further has no preconceived outcome; the agenda can develop as play goes on (Macintyre 2001, 3). Additionally, play allows the player to develop skills which are important in non-play situations, such as development of social skills (Macintyre 2001, 3). Children around age three and four begin to enjoy imaginative role play in twos or small groups (O'Hagan and Smith 2004, 36).

As a particular play activity, role play is a type of imaginative play, where children assume roles outside their real world place. Role play allows children to construct proximities between themselves and others in their lives. Piaget's theory of development contends infants first engage in pretend play around eighteen months, acting out imaginary activities and using real objects to represent imagined objects, such as pretending a television remote is a telephone (Keenan 2002, 123). Children may participate in limited role play at this point if directed by an older person.

However, cooperative role play, where children instigate their own roles and story line, are rarely undertaken by children before three years of age (Keenan 2002, 200). According to Vygotsky, children engage in pretend play roles beyond their current stage in life, such as taking on adult roles, such as a parent, teacher or doctor, or roles as adolescents or older children(Keenan 2002, 135). Through pretend play, children place themselves in a zone of proximal development, where they play at a level which is in advance of their real capabilities (Keenan 2002, 135)

Cognitively, role play promotes development in several ways. First, it allows children practice in ordering their thoughts and develop understanding. "Piaget believed that children were active agents of their own learning and that the major task for them was to develop an ability to organize experiences and learn from them in a way which enables them to make sense of the world (O'Hagan and Smith 2004, 10). Role play activities are "the highest form of symbolic play, encompassing two types of cognitive operation which are necessary for conservation, namely reversibility and decentration" (Umek and Musek 2001, 56).

Children are able to freely leave the roles they take on, as indicated in the free participation concept introduced in the definition of play above. This 'reversibility' indicates cognitively children are awareness that they can abandon their assumed role and return to reality at any time (Umek and Musek 2001, 56). The cognitive ability of decentration involves children's understanding that the person in the role play scenario is really them, yet is also simultaneously the role undertaken (Umek and Musek 2001, 56).

Cognitively, this means children must "preserve the imaginary identity of toys or play materials despite the fact that they are perceptually and/or functionally inadequate (the issue being the conservation of identity)" (Umek and Musek 2001, 56). In such pretend play, "children learn that the objects they use can be separated from their normal referents, and that they can stand for other things" (Keenan 2002, 135). This object will typically be similar in some way, such as size or shape, to the pretend object in the role play, causing the children to practice analogous thinking skills where they related an item not available to them to another available object (Keenan 2002, 135).

The development of language and communication skills are recognized as "closely linked to children's thinking and conceptual development" (O'Hagan and Smith 2004, 18). In addition to cognitive development, role play offers important development opportunities in the areas of language and communication. This can be intentional, such as when parents or other older players in the role play intentionally support vocabulary development by introducing names of things during the context of play (Keenan 2002, 154). However, the opportunity to talk and verbally interact with others in the role play further presents a powerful way of learning even when no intentional instruction occurs (O'Hagan and Smith 2004, 18).

In role play, children learn to use language as a form of symbolic representation, and also "communicate symbolically through dramatic play" (O'Hagan and Smith 2004, 25). Such symbolic play encourages the development of language comprehension (Umek and Musek 2001, 56). Fantasy role play encourages explicit and expressive speech due to its symbolic nature.

"Role enactment and the use of various objects have different functions in play and in real life, therefore the child-player-must define these symbolic transformations verbally, so that they have a clear (recognisable) meaning and are comprehensible to his or her playmates" (Umek and Musek 2001, 56). In this way role play promotes the communicative skills of its players. "The symbolic elements of fantasy play, like role and object transformations, enable the child to use lexicographic meanings and explicit speech" (Umek and Musek 2001, 56).

Socially, role play typically involves several other children and/or adults. Keenan (2002) discusses Parten's theory that such cooperative play is "the most complex form of play," as it includes behaviours such as social pretend play where children take on pretend roles (Keenan 2002, 200). The children involved in the role play talk to one another as part of the play, developing their imaginative situations in a co-operative manner. Umek and Musek (2001, 56) report Smilansky's (1968) contention that role play activities promote the child's social development.

"When children use role enactment, they have to reach a consensus about the play theme, the course of events and the transformation of roles and play materials. This can only be achieved when individuals transcend their egocentrism and develop the ability to empathise" (Umek and Musek 2001, 56).

Children further build relationships with the other children or adults with whom they play. Although such relationships are often temporary, such play causes children to "express a preference for certain friends and play regularly with them;" during the Early Years period "there is usually, but always, some preference for play with children of the same sex, but there is still a good deal of mixed play" (O'Hagan and Smith 2004, 36). Role players "share symbolic meanings with each other and assign imaginary roles in their pretend play," both providing opportunities for social development (Keenan 2002, 203).

Co-operative pretend play also is usually based on the children's understanding of the social rules of their culture (Keenan 2002, 135). Therefore, a child behaving 'badly' in the role play will be 'punished' by the child in the 'parent' role. Vygotsky held that as such role play "was an important context in which children learned about the social world" (Keenan 2002, 135). "Children's play is constrained by the rules which guide behaviour in these roles, and, because of this, they learn about the social norms that are expected of people" (Keenan 2002, 135).