Functions of Child Learning Through Play

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In New Zealand, play is considered as an important aspect of children’s learning especially in Early Childhood Education. Dockett and Fleer (2002) explain that Play is considered as a potentially powerful medium for learning and a strong experience for those involved in it. According to Oliver and Klugman (2002), “play is the way a child explores his world, builds skills and exercises his imagination and learns through experiences” (p. 66).

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What did I do or think in relation to children learning through play before the discussions and presentation? :- Before discussions I did think that play is just for fun, amusement and good time pass for children. Earlier play was important for me, but wasn’t that important as it comes clear after the discussions.

What do I think now in relation to children learning through play :- Undoubtedly, play is the strong base for children’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. Importance of social confidence & long-term effects (MoE, 1996).

Physical play strengthens children’s gross motor skills through activities like riding bikes, swings, water play, running, climbing, kicking balls as well as fine motor skills by involving in activities of drawing, painting, cutting, playing with dolls. Play also holds significant importance for children’s cognitive development. It helps them in problem solving, reasoning and thinking while they are involved in plays such as puzzles, dramatic play, block play and storytelling. (Bruce, 2001) explains that language development through play is also fostered in children by verbal and non-verbal communication while expressing their feelings, interacting with playmates and listening to other’s language (Cited in New Zealand Tertiary College [NZTC], 2012).

According to Glover (2001), through play, children develop and extend their social skills and develop relationships when they interact with others. Playing in groups or pairs (Cooperative play) allows them to practice their skills of sharing, turn taking, self-control and co-operating while participating in dramatic and creative plays. Children extend and practice their knowledge of the wider world through role play such as: fire fighter, doctor, father, etc. During group plays, children get the opportunity to express and control their feelings, understand others feelings, learn to resolve internal fears and conflicts. Active participation of children in their own world fosters mastery and control resulting in providing the feelings of competency and self-efficacy. Play also helps children to discover about self-including likes and dislikes (Klien, Wirth, & Linas, 2004).

According to the principle of holistic development in Te Whāriki, learning and development includes opportunities for open-ended exploration and play. For example, children love to play in sandpit, water, papers where there is no limit of amount of things that they can do with them. Materials can engage them for hours as they watch the effects that their actions can have on them (Ministry of Education [MoE], 1996). This theory is also linked with goal 4 of strand of exploration which explains that “children experience an environment where they develop working theories for making sense of the social, physical and natural worlds.”(MoE, 1996, p.90) and learning outcomes also include knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Piaget believes that stages of development are directly related to stages of play (cited in Grey, 2010) .For example: Functional play (birth- 2 years) fosters sensory-motor skills in infants when they explore objects in a variety of ways using their different senses and physical abilities, can be linked to Te Whāriki, Goal 2 of Exploration strand and learning outcomes of “developing strategies for actively exploring and making sense of the world by using their bodies and all the senses” (MoE, 1996, p.86). Pretend play, which enables children to socialise, incorporate others in their play, use substitutions for real objects, respect other’s ideas and learn to negotiate.

Lev Vygotsky’s theory is another perspective to explain the impact of play on children’s learning in early childhood education. According to McNaughton and Williams (2004), Vygotsky’s theory explains that play generates imagination through which children understand their feelings and desires. It also gives importance to rules to follow during the play to make it successful and also emphasize the importance of the social settings in which learning takes place. According to Docket and Fleer (2002), Vygotsky believes that play held greatest developmental significance in early childhood years. Children have rules and roles during the play and they learn and develop within a social and cultural context, which can be further linked to goal 3 of Contribution and strand of Communication mentioned in Te Whāriki. In his theory, play is explained as social learning and sometimes play is directed by the social world and children transmit social and cultural information and knowledge (cited in Dockett & Fleer, 2002) . For example: If a child is playing alone and being mother, father or farmer, what these roles act and what social and cultural origin they have, varies with different social and cultural settings. It is also explained in goal 3 of Communication in Te Whāriki. Moreover, Vygotsky also emphasised that parents and educators assume an important role in children’s learning which is again a vital component of Te Whāriki as mentioned in goal 1 of belonging.

To summarise, Play is the central component in The New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum which fulfils all curriculum requirements and learning outcomes needed by the infants, toddlers and young children as mentioned in Te Whāriki. Moreover, above mentioned two theories strongly supports the role of play for development and learning of children in early childhood years. The strands, goals and principles of early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki also explain the significance of play in children’s learning and holistic development and make it a framework in early childhood education in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

What does this teach me about future my role as a beginning teacher?:- Early childhood teacher plays an important role in children’s learning and development. Children need a safe and secure learning environment in which they should be given opportunities to explore and understand their feelings, emotions, experiences from which they will construct knowledge. Teachers can offer children with a range of quality learning experiences which will encourage active learning, problem solving, effective communication, creativity, social adjustment and participation. To provide children with active learning environment, teachers should understand the individual child by knowing children’s background, family situations, parental expectations play experiences and prior learning experiences. Dunkin and Hanna (2001) believe that teacher plays various roles such as facilitator (by providing ideas and strategies to extend their thinking and reasoning), co-learner (by using open-ended questions, supporting them in difficult tasks and by modelling of language), co-partner, listener/decoder, observer, planner, while involved in child’s learning through play. They also emphasize that a teacher should also have formal or informal observation of child’s strengths, interests and stages of development and should discuss and share the observation results with colleagues and families/whānau. While engaging in children’s play, teachers should encourage them to express their ideas through communication. At the same time, allow children to play themselves to develop their own learning, providing different kinds of play such as physical, sensory, explorative, creative and individual and group play (Dunkin &Hanna, 2001).

To implement a play-based curriculum, the role of a teacher is very crucial. For example:

In physical play, young children need opportunities to further develop their physical skills and practice to control their body movements, teachers need to facilitate these opportunities with availability of space and equipment. By providing sufficient range of equipment and materials, time and space, a teacher can support to develop their concentration skills by explorative play. Teachers can be play-partners or co-constructors for sensory play such as by providing opportunities to explore a variety of natural materials (sand, water, dust etc.) (NZTC, 2012).

Teachers should also use strategies of problem solving, encouraging, praising and helping, questioning and suggesting (Macnaughton and Williams, 2009). They should use open-ended questions rather than direct answers and allow children to share their knowledge, ideas, beliefs and thoughts to extend their interests. Another very useful teaching strategy is following children’s Interest, where teacher can adjust the activities according to child’s lead rather than using own pre-planned activities.

Implication for my teaching role in future;- Play is very important aspect of children’s learning especially in Early Childhood Education in New Zealand. It focuses on the learning and holistic development of child through various types of plays (social, physical, sensory, explorative and creative) and creates the right atmosphere for children to learn life skills and paves the way for holistic development (MoE, 1996). As children spend most of their waking hours in Early Childhood Education in New Zealand, so teachers play central role in their lives. As a future teacher I will focus on encouraging children for play and will create an environment which is non-violent, inviting, informative, fun loving and homely. Therefore, I will follow specific and effective teaching strategies which are already discussed earliar in previous section, to enhance and extend children’s learning through play.

Reference List:

Bruce, T. (2001). Learning through play: Babies, toddlers and the foundation

years. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Dockett, S., & Fleer, M. (2002). Play and pedagogy in early childhood: Bending the

rules. Southbank, VIC: Thomson.

Dunkin, D., & Hanna, P. (2001). Thinking together: Quality adult-child

interactions. Wellington: New Zealand Council for

Educational Research.

Glover, A. (2001). The role of play in development and learning. In E.Dau

(Ed.), Child’s play: Revisiting play in early childhood settings.

Rosebury, NSW: MacLennan & Petty.

Klien, T., Wirth, D., & Linas, K. (2004). Play: Children’s context for development. In

D. Koralek (Ed.), Spotlight on young children and play. Washington, DC: National

Association for the Education of Young Children.

Grey, A. (2010). Developmental theories in early childhood education. In B. Clark & A. Grey (Eds.), Perspectives on early childhood education. Ata kite ate pae – scanning the horizon (pp. 46-54). North Shore, New Zealand: Pearson.

MacNaughton, G., & Williams, G. (2004). Techniques for teaching young

children: Choices in theory and practice (2nd ed.). Frenchs Forest,

NSW: Pearson Education Australia.

Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō nga

mokopuna o Aotearoa/Early childhood curriculum. Wellington, New Zealand:

Learning Media.

New Zealand Tertiary College. (2012). Play as framework for learning 1

study guide. Auckland, New Zealand: New Zealand Tertiary

College

Oliver, S. J., & Klugman, E. (2002). Playing the day away. Child Care

Information Exchange, 5, 66-69

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