This paper will focus on an observation which demonstrates a childrens use of imagination and pretence. This sample of play displays evidence of Harry, Jenny, Katie and Lucy’s use of pretence, role play and symbolic play, of which the main focus of this commentary will be role play and symbolic play. Children are able to detach themselves from reality during pretend play and at the same time get closer to reality (Wood & Attfield, 2005). They create roles, use symbols, and redefine objects, shared meanings, transferring real world knowledge skills and understanding from areas of their lives.
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In pretend fantasy play children become whatever they choose to be in this case mum, dad and child. According to Corsaro (2003) children often become ‘roles that exist in society’ and through the children’s shared knowledge of the adult world they are able to transform themselves. Harry, Jenny, Katie and Lucy are able to transform themselves in to roles of parents and child due to the knowledge they have gained through their own experience (9, 12). These children are able to draw upon their existing knowledge of their parent’s behaviour and actions which Piaget (1962) would refer to as schema (building blocks of knowledge). According to Corsaro (2003) dramatic role-play assists children’s social and emotional development and he states that many have seen role play as an imitation of adults. Corsaro continues to expresses that children do not just imitate adults in their play they take on the power and control of an adult through imaginative play. This can then be used in the future when they will be in charge of themselves and others. Harry and Jenny display this when stepping into the role of parents they experiment and imagine what it feels like to have power as a parent.
A very significant theme throughout this observation is symbolic play and is seen frequently firstly when the children use play dough to represent cakes (3, 5, 7, 13, 14,), a box to represent an oven (6, 12, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25) and later when Harry uses a building block as a telephone (30). According to Garvey (1990) objects operate and link the child with their environment and as a child matures their use of objects in pretence become more ‘appropriate’. Objects become more realistic and understandable to adults. Referring back to Garvey this is when play scenarios becomes more comprehensive. These children all transform objects to take new form to serve as a purpose to continue the play and it is very obvious to the adult eye what these objects represent when the play theme is known or observed. These children (with the exception of one who generally copied her peers) have learnt to make-believe and are using less realistic objects, they become more inventive and more imaginative, skilled pretenders where they have transformed a cardboard box into an oven (Garvey, 1990).
Harry speaks to an imaginary person on his imaginary telephone pausing allowing time for a response this was very realistic, he developed the theme of having to go to work after ending the telephone conversation. According to Garvey (1990) children use ‘roles and identities’ not just to the participants but also to imaginary ones and objects are changed and invented as they are needed and in order to engaged in make believe. Singer & Singer (2007) express that symbolic play enables children to have a clear sense of what is real and what is not real or fantasy. Jenny had the ability to switch between reality and pretence when using the phrase “Let’s pretend”.
Jenny initiates the play theme to Lucy and Katie. (1). It is obvious that Jenny has made cakes with her mother on many occasions (7) referring to Bruce (2011) Jenny is using her imagination in a play situation and rearranging past experience in new ways. It appears that Lucy seems to be confused by her suggestion by voicing her concerns “how” (2). Jenny demonstrates to Lucy what she wants her to do by cutting the play dough into moon shapes (5). Lucy is now able to visualise that the play dough will now change form and become cakes even though they are not actually real cakes. Vygotksy (1978: 86) states that when peers interact they can support less component peers in developing skills this is known as the “Zone of Proximal Development” (1978: 86). In this case Lucy is in the zone of proximal development and through peer support she can now successfully understand that the play dough is going to represent a cake. Jenny as a more knowledgeable peer in terms of being older has more experience, so she was able to support and instruct Lucy.
They are in the play room they have no ingredients, no oven and no obvious cooking utensils. There were no realistic objects for Lucy to use to make cakes. Lucy’s maturity level is not as advanced as the others and she finds herself in new situations which contradict her existing schemas, the existing schema must be accommodated in order for the new information to fit, fantasy play can help children make sense and test these ideas through assimilation (Piaget, 1962 & Kitson, 2005). Lucy being the youngest participant Fenson, Kearsley and Zelazo (1976 cited in Smith, 2010) state that younger children depend on more realistic objects during pretend play Lucy has not yet reached the stage they refer to as ‘decontextualization’ where children have the ability to use less realistic substitute objects.
This observation has highlighted the importance of pretend/fantasy play for children to be able to express themselves as well as enjoy this valuable time. Observations of this type of play provides valuable insights in to children’s social worlds, however within a pre-school setting this type of free play could be very difficult due to observe due to the amount of children within a pre-school class. In this type of small setting (in a child minders home) this task is easier to carry out and can provide important information about a child’s likes/dislikes, what makes them happy/sad and possible anxieties they may have but most importantly where they are developmentally. Freud (1961 cited in Moyles, 2005) states that children display their inner selves through fantasy play.
What I observed on this particular occasion was the children were left to their own devices without much supervision or interaction from their child minder. I can only assume this was due to my presence. The question is does adult intervention enhance children’s development? Hutt et al (1989) agree that adult interventions or participation is essential when attempting to improve cognitive development. Smith and Syddall (1978, cited in Hutt et al, 1989: 171) continue to suggest ‘that daily adult interactions in children’s play particular pre-school children can change their performance on tests of cognitive ability’. In the case of Lucy struggling to fit in to the play theme at the beginning due to a lack of understanding could have been an opportunity for her child minder to get involved with the play and support her through this (although Jenny did step in to help and the play continued) having an adult take part in these types of social-role play situations could according to Moyles & Heathcote (1989, 1984, cited in Kitson, 2005) can stimulate and deepen a child’s play experiences and adults can then create learning areas to suit a child’s needs. Also referring to Tina Bruce (1997) children are able to benefit when directed than if left to ordinary development.
To further support the idea that adult direction supports children’s development, Kitson (cited in Moyles 2005) states effective adult interventions can assist children create new forms of play themes, dilemmas and support children in extending their learning this can be done by not telling children what to do but offering them alternatives to explore. However Brostrom (1997) thinks that play should be free from force of an adult and this can stop child from playing. So rather than forcing play they should observe it more, create more stimulating activities to support it whilst providing materials to initiate more creative play to support children’s learning. Other things to consider are adults involving themselves more with children’s play without dominating the play but sensitively entering children’s worlds and respect the dynamics or the play themes. As the children’s play was ended suddenly Singer and Singer (2007) importantly state ‘that children need time, space and simple materials to engage in pretend play’
S.J, Hutt, Tyler, C. Hutt & Christopherson (1989) Play, Exploration and Learning
Smith, Peter, K (date) Children and Play: Understanding Children’s Worlds
Bergen, D, (2002) The Role of Pretend Play in Children’s Cognitive Development Volume 4 Number 1
Moyles, J (2005) the excellence of Play 2nd ed chapter 8 ‘Fantasy Play and the case for adult intervention’ by Neil Kitson Open uni press Berkshire
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tina Bruce (2011) Learning through Play 2nd ed London Hodder
Tina Bruce (1997) Helping young children to play
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