The central interest of this essay is to evaluate the role of play in relation to language and communication development. Developmental psychology is the main source to explore and explain this unique interrelation, because it offers vital information about the human behavior. For this reason several developmental theories occur from many scientists such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Sigmunt Freud, Albert Bandura and other contemporary scientists, who managed to clarify the aspects of child development from different perspectives.
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Initially, this essay illustrates the importance of play by describing its categories. Play theories are briefly demonstrated and divided into classical and contemporary. Thereafter, it mentions the characteristics of language through the aspects of two respectful scientists, Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, in order to understand the correlation between language and play development. It illustrates the existence of nine basic communicational skills and why non-verbal and verbal communication is so important. Also, this essay analyzes research which explains the direct relation between play, language and communication. Through detailed references, the idea that the role of play is salient in child’s development is supported. Next illustrates the importance of finger, mime and rhyme play to explain that even the most common games possess a significant role in language development. Last but not least, analyzes how play reinforces the literacy development and finally demonstrates the opinion of the writer.
The Importance of Play
Arguably, play is a vital part of the development of children which has many implications in their lives. Despite the difficulty of referring a commonly accepted definition, play is a vital part of the developing child (Sheridan & Howard & Aldelson, 2011). It is a fundamental action which occurs throughout children’s life and is divided to two categories, free play and structured play. Precisely, free play is an action where the child can choose the rules and the form of play, without the participation and the engagement of an adult. Hence, the child becomes the leader of the play (Tassoni & Hucker, 2000).
On the other hand, structured play is defined as an action which is directed by adults. Many researchers have claimed that free play offers more opportunities to children for learning than the second category does. At the same time, there are proponents of this view and others who do not adopt this notion. For this reason, Thomas, Howard and Miles proved by a study they conducted, that free play, in other words playful mode play, is capable of fostering children’s ability of learning. They state that through this mode children’s communication is benefited, because that playfulness creates the ability of enhancing miscellaneous types of behaviors. As a result, educational settings use this method to foster children’s language and communication development (McInnes, Howard, Miles & Crowley, 2009).
It is of importance to mention that there are play theories which are separated into two categories, classical and modern theories of play. Concisely, classical theories consist of the Surplus Energy Theory, Recreational or Relaxation Theory, Pre-exercise Theory and the Recapitulation Theory of play (Sheridan & Howard & Aldelson, 2011 & Stagnitti, 2004 & Tassoni & Hucker, 2000). Modern theories concluded by the Arousal Modulation Theories of Play, the Psychodynamic Theories of Play, the Cognitive Developmental Theories of Play and the Sociocultural theories of Play. The last category is divided into two sub-categories which are the Play as Socialization and the Metacommunicative Theory (Stagnitti, 2004). Moreover, there are five types of play, which are cited as physical play, play with objects, symbolic play, socio-dramatic/pretence play and games with rules (Whitebread, 2012).
The above five types of play help children to expand their abilities not only in language and communication domain, but also in the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development (Sheridan & Howard & Aldelson, 2011). According to the constant evolution of language and communication, play and its benefits in this domain must be analyzed in depth, in order to evaluate children’s developmental potentials through play.
Language and Communication
Language is a strong communication tool (Moyles, 1989) which fosters children’s abilities. Through language we can live the past again, evaluate the future and use this vital tool when we face complex situations (Crain, 2000). Also, many developmental theorists tried to explain, how children adopt primal abilities as they grow up and some of them, gave special emphasize to the language and communication development and how is related to play. They evaluate children’s development from birth to adulthood.
Vygotsky, claimed by his social constructivism theory, that language is the cultural tool which facilitates the processes of thinking and learning. It was his firm belief that children must comprehend language, in order to interact in the society. Hence, according to Vygotsky, play and language are interrelated (Moyles, 2005). Due to the fact that through play children master communication skills, they interpret the use of objects and imitate the attitudes and the habits of adults (Gray & MacBlain, 2012). In addition, he stated that children gain knowledge when they participate in social communication and consequently, they adopt new meanings. Therefore, according to Vygotsky, children act in the zone of proximal development (Whitebread, 1996), which means that every child has limited potential when accomplishing an activity but he can expand his skills with a suitable help (Lindon, 2001).
However, another respectful scientist did not lay emphasis, as Vygotsky did, on the importance of language during children’s development. Piaget, a Swiss scientist, stated that language mechanism is used by the young child only to express some basic satisfactions and not to foster more complex functions such as thought and logic (Gray & MacBlain, 2012). Furthermore, Piaget’s opinions did not promote children’s abilities; instead he undervalued them, by applying activities that were too complex for children competences (Whitebread, 1996). On the contrary, some scientists argue that children’s thought, started to function logically as they learn how to use language. This happens because language skills are difficult to be assimilated by young children, but when this gradually occurs, logic develops (Crain, 2000). Nevertheless, Piaget did not support the above notion by mentioning that logic derives from actions (Gray & MacBlain, 2012).
On the grounds that language is an integral part of communication, it is important to pinpoint some of the skills that children develop in this domain. In other words there are nine basic communication skills.
Initially, children learn to request reinforcement, to request assistance, to accept and reject offers. Furthermore, they respond to the order ”wait” or ”no”, they respond to directions, follow a schedule and finally they are able to do a transition from one place to another (Frost & Bondy, 2011). For instance, when children pretend to be a patient in a hospital, they learn when they have to wait their turn in order to be examined by the doctor and they give order such as ”wait”, “stay”, “come”.
Communication is a complex function. Before the emergence of words, children can communicate in a high level before adopting language production and language comprehension (Sheridan & Sharma & Cockerill, 2008). The above aspect describes the non-verbal communication type which is very important. Newborn babies communicate non-verbally to express their needs. Facial expressions, body language, proto-sounds and perception of feelings are the attributes of non-verbal communication (Whitehead, 1999).
Hence, adults start to communicate with children initially non-verbally and secondly verbally. Research argues that conversation between children and adults which contains a large number of open questions is essential because children have the opportunity to respond with spoken language. In other words, when children feel that they are active participants in an adult-child conversation, they feel playful which is salient for the development of language. (Howard & McInnes, 2012).
Fostering Language and Communication Skills through Play
To begin with, studies have proved that there is a strong connection between language and play. A research which had taken place in Japan in 1989, showed remarkable signs that play and language are correlated with each other. Specifically, the four children who participated in this research, were observed twenty times each in a free play mode, where the individual had a passive role. The intention of the study was to analyze early language development and play development (Ogura, 1991). Thus, six features of language were illustrated in order to analyze the findings better. These were the emergence of first words, naming words, vocabulary spurts, word-chains, nonproductive two word utterances and the emergence of productive two-word utterances (Ogura, 1991 p.278). Furthermore, that research divided play to thirteen subcategories. The findings showed that children managed to obtain the ability of naming words because they had been involved in preverbal communication. Also, children began to name objects when conventional naming act category of play appeared. Furthermore, words and sounds have a strong relationship each other. It was proved that children through the functional relational manipulation play and the container relational manipulation play, managed to adopt the above important function and the production of first words as well. Moreover, it was stated that the early language development is related to the subsitutional play. Also, this study illustrated that the environment is a major factor in the development of the symbolic play. As a result, language is being influenced by the social interaction. Moreover, children’s vocabulary spurts appeared with the subsitutional play. Word-chains appeared when pretend doll play, subsitutional play and pretend other play took place during the observations. In addition, the fifth language category derived in parallel with planned play and combinatorial symbolic play. The last language category was related to planned play (Ogura, 1991). Undoubtedly, this paper shows the unique interrelation between language development and play.
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Researchers evaluated the connection between symbolic play with play materials and symbolic play with play situation. Firstly, during children’s play with unstructured play materials, they found that children who are at the age of three to four years old could imitate the activities of adults. However, in structured play children were able not only to imitate but also to participate slightly in role play. At the age of four to five years old children’s unstructured play evolved and they started to express questions and ideas with the mediate tool of spoken language. On the contrary, in structured play they used more conversation. This study showed that in the first type of play children at the age of five to six used their body language and voice to clarify a situation. Also, both in structured and unstructured play, children preferred to play in sex groups. We can notice that structured materials are better for younger children because they do not offer limitations in their ideas while playing. In other words, younger children need to enhance their expressive ideas by playing with structured play materials to be adequately prepared for school (Umek & Musek, 2001).
At the same time, symbolic play related to play situation showed that phonetic imitation (Umek & Musek, 2001 p. 61) is promoted and that at the age of four children use social speech. Moreover, they use social markers, in order to speak like adults (Ervin-Tripp, 1973). Later, at the age of five children used metacommunication in their play. Metacommunication is very important because children can discuss about play. They stop in order to negotiate the next step of the game. Indeed, it promotes dialogue among peers. It is very important because it can be used as scaffolding to children’s language development (Andersen, 2005). According to this study, metacommunication levels are higher when children are older. Moreover, the same study proposes that is better and more helpful for children to play in mixed groups rather than in groups based solely on their age. Hence, children can play in the zone of proximal development. Therefore, they foster their language and communication skills. Again, this study shows us that play which is depended whether from materials or situation is correlated with language development.
Apart from the above studies there are play activities which enhance language and communication skills. For instance, children are benefited by mime because they develop an alternative thought. This occurs by observing a diversity of individuals demonstrating their thoughts. Consequently, they can think more complicated situations and they are able to express their ideas with an enriched vocabulary. Furthermore, finger play helps children to the counting process (Woodard & Milch, 2012). Moreover, rhymes can provide many opportunities in children to enhance their language skills. According to a study, rhyme awareness helps children to recognize phonemes which are very important for reading skills. The sensitivity to rhyme enables children to group words together with the same spelling features (Bryant & MacLean & Bradley & Crossland, 1990).
Play fosters Literacy
Vygotsky evaluated the role of make-believe play in children development and he argued that literacy is enhanced by play. He describes that children initially act spontaneously when they play, and the process of learning happens with their will. On the contrary, when children go to school they must change their behaviors to a planned and a structured environment. Vygotsky stated that make-believe play is the important mediate tool for children to adopt written language and to succeed in school (Roskos & Christie, 2007).
Furthermore, drawing is considerable as a necessary action for children. Research has shown that children can expand their ‘graphic vocabularies’ and they can represent their meanings, which means that through drawing communication is enhanced (Whitebread, 2012). Besides, Vygotsky’s research has shown that drawings in the early childhood are connected with the ability of writing and spoken language, which means that the meaning of children’s drawings is not only the drawing as a picture but the drawing as an expressive tool of their thoughts (Roskos & Christie, 2007).
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning, that in children’s play the repetition and the renaming of play materials fosters the ability of the direct relation between words and the objects they portray. The above function is called metalinguistic awareness and it has been proven that it is necessary for written language (Roskos & Christie, 2007 p.193).
It is clear, therefore, that the above essay illustrated the direct correlation between play, language and communication. Despite the fact that, it has been proven that play fosters the learning process, there are still opponents of this view, who state that formal learning strategies are better than playful approaches. However, this essay contradicts the notion of formal learning methods by supporting the opinion, that play does enhance language and communication by citing adequate bibliography to prove that. Children can reach high standards in the learning process of language because during play they are motivated and are not possessed with the feeling of fear (McInnes et al., 2009).
To sum up, due to the fact that play has been decreased from school settings, it is salient to ensure that play must exist in the preschool and in the first school years of a child, because “a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself” (Roskos & Christie, 2007 p.199).
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