Understanding of child development

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Our understanding of child development is complicated because of the numerous and varied factors that impact it. These include social, linguistic, cognitive, socio-cognitive, and cultural aspects. However, it is clear that symbolic play is an extremely important and integral aspect of a child's development. Symbolic play can also be referred to as dramatic play. In these situations children enact scenes where they substitute one object for another. For example, a child will use a stick to represent a spoon or a fork when playing. This kind of pretend play takes on various forms: The child may pretend to play using an object to represent other objects, playing without any objects and pretending that they are indeed present. Or the child may pretend to be someone else, for example, his/her mother or care-giver. They may also pretend through other inanimate objects (e.g. a toy horse kicks another toy horse). In terms of age, sequenced dramatic play commences from approximately 2 years old. In this research I will focus on the effect of symbolic play in children of kindergarten age and how play affects their cognitive and language development.


Play consists of activities performed for self-amusement that have behavioral, social, and psychomotor rewards. Play is directed towards the child, and the rewards come from within the individual child; it is enjoyable and spontaneous.

Kinds of play The various categories of play cannot be separated from each other entirely as there is much overlapping across the categories. Both parents and teachers can benefit from an understanding of play and its importance for children of all ages. The following are some of the categories of play:

Symbolic play. Through symbolic play parents and teachers are able to gain an understanding of a child's problems as certain games can symbolically express a child's traumatic experiences. Children who, for example, are experiencing divorce in a family may express their anger or fear when playing with dolls. They might shout at the dolls and re-enact experiences in the home. Alternativly, children alter their abusive situations to loving ones in their play. What happens in this kind of play is that the experience is altered to something tolerable in the child's life. Both parents and teachers can gain valuable insight into a child's experiences or their interpretations of their experiences. Symbolic play could be useful to help children deal with all kinds of traumatic situations.

Dramatic play. This kind of play usually occurs when a child is fearful of something that could happen to them or something they have actually seen. Once again, dramatic play, when manipulated by a teacher or a parent, could be useful for helping a child deal with the emotional stress of separation from a parent.

Physical play. Physical involves all the games children play when they jump, run, skip, play ball or hide-and-seek etc . The benefits of this kind of play are twofold: Firstly, they provide a form of physical exercise which all children need for their well-being. Secondly, there are social benefits because children are interacting with others, playing by rules, and learning, for example, to share, to wait and to listen to opinions.

Expressive play. This form of play involves playing with materials such as clay, play dough, finger paints, crayons, watercolors, colored pencils, water, mud, and punching bags etc. Children enjoy sharing these moments with a parent and it is a wonderful opportunity to understand your child's emotional state of mind.

Manipulative play. Children learn manipulative play from an early age. They will, for example, throw a toy out of a cot, watch a parent pick it up, and then throw it out again. Children learn that they are separate from their parents and their environment in this way and they learn that they can have a measure of control over others and their environment through manipulative play. They practice this kind of play in a way that brings the parent and the child together into a game and therefore creates a positive interaction with each other.

Games. With older children, games usually involve more than one person. These include board games and card games. Children learn to play with others, follow the rules, share, wait and take turns. However, younger children do not enjoy games where there are rules and tend to change the rules to suit themselves.

Surrogate play. This is most beneficial for children who are too ill to play. Someone else plays on their behalf, whether it is painting or drawing. The ill child experiences the pleasure of watching the other person play on their behalf.

Functions of play

The following are some of the functions of play.

PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT Play helps children with body control, and develops their fine and gross motor skills. For example, an infant will try to grasp larger objects using their hands and then later move on to picking up smaller objects using only their fingers. Through the repetition of this process, the infant develops his/her gross and fine skills.

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: It has been found that children who suffer from stress or anxiety may be helped by role playing as this is a way of managing emotional stress or conflict. The world of fantasy is often an escape for children and a way of making sense of the real world. Additionally, a child's self-awareness develops as he/she explores an event through role-playing or symbolic play.

Positive interactions with children such as when a parent or sibling reads a story with a child, plays a game with a child, paints a picture, or rides a bike, teaches the child self-importance. It enhances the child's self -esteem. The child is also filled with self-confidence and a feeling of well-being when a parent shows pleasure in providing him or her with daily care. Children develop a vision of the world and gain a sense of their place in it from early interactions such as these.

COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT Play encourages the growth of knowledge in children. Through play they sharpen their abilities to solve problems, think, and remember; and they develop cognitively as they test their beliefs about the world.

Games help children to increase their problem-solving abilities. During the process of communication in games, their language is strengthened because they model each other and organize their thoughts and arguments. For example, children who play house create very involved dialogues relating to the running of their homes and their lives in these homes.

Furthermore, children also develop their understanding of shape, size and texture through play. When playing with toys of various sizes they begin to understand spatial relationships as they attempt to fit big into small and round into square. Educational resources such as books, toys and word games that show pictures and matching words also expand a child's vocabulary and at the same time develop the child's idea of the world.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT Newborn infants do not see themselves as separate from others and cannot differentiate between itself and others. As the infant begins to play with others and to manipulate objects, it learns that it is a separate being from other people and things. The infant learns that his/her smiles elicit smiles from the parent and his/her gurgles elicit equally pleasant noises and responses from the parent. As the child grows older and interacts with other children, he/she learns that patience, understanding, kindness and negotiation are positive actions and will elicit equally positive reactions from peers. They learn to co-operate and socialise, wait and share, amongst other valuable lessons.

MORAL DEVELOPMENT Through play, children learn valuable moral lessons in life. They learn what is right and wrong, and what is acceptable and unacceptable. During the course of early everyday life, parents teach children good manners and to control their aggression, amongst other things. Fairytales and children's books teach children that positive behavior is rewarded. While playing with friends, children learn the value of positive behaviors and quickly understand that being kind and generous, patient and honest in their game-playing, is rewarded positively by peers. The child learns to socialise in manner that is beneficial to him/herself and others