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The Role of Play in Child Development

What is play? Play is “a recreational activity; especially the spontaneous activity of children. ” (Webster, 2010) Play is such a basic function and daily routine in a child’s life. Although the roles of play and the types of play change though age, it all incorporates in the growth and development of a child.

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When you think of play you don’t really think about or realize how important it really is in a child’s life. It consists of five elements, and these elements are the make-up and the meaning of play. The first element is that it is pleasurable and enjoyable. This means it must be fun!In order for it to be considered play, there must be a fun and enjoyable element to it. Play also has no extrinsic goal which means it is engaged for the sake of it, and not announced. This is what is so spontaneous about it, it isn’t planned or structured. You (and the child) are free to do what they want! Also, play is spontaneous and involuntary and made to not seem like work. Similar to the previous element of play, this one also means that is has a fun non structured feature to it. Play must also not be assigned. It is freely chosen by the player and they use their ideas and imagination to interact and start playing.The fourth element of play is that is involves active engagement. The player is active and wants to participate in the activity. If they act like they don’t care or they do not want to participate, this is not considered play. The last and fifth element of play is the make-believe aspect. This, to me, is the most fun! There is no literal component attached and their minds can develop freely. (Hirsh-Pasek) Play is so important in a child’s life for many reasons. For one, it promotes development. It promotes development because it assists with problem solving. This involves trying new things and having to figure them out.An example of this could be placing shaped blocks into the right hole. This is a fun game, yet endorses strategizing and processing. Children also develop during play because expand and use creativity (imagination). An example of this is Legos and crafts; games that have no rules and children can use their imagination to make anything they want! Play is also important because it builds attention spans. When you incorporate learning with games, the learning process is much more pleasing. It puts a “want” factor into learning and the materials learned are grasped much more easily (and its fun)!Lastly, play is important because it encourages social development. This includes peer relations and peer play. (Hirsh-Pasek) Along with the many purposes of play, there are also some basic types and functions of play. The first type of play is sensorimotor play. This is engaged during the infant stage and this is when they begin to explore and use visual play. During the second quarter of the child’s first year, they also begin using their motor skills. This involves touching, tasting, learning, and using senses to explore toys. For example, any kind of toy that makes noise or bounces.At twelve months of age children enjoy making things work and exploring cause and effect which is another big part of sensorimotor play. The second type of play is pretense or symbolic play. This is when a child uses something in their environment (whether that is a toy or object) and uses it to symbolize something. For example, putting blocks into a cup to represent ice cubes. (Santrock) The next type of play is social play. This is the interaction with peers. This increases during preschool years. The fourth type of play is constructive play.This is the combination of sensorimotor and symbolic play. This is when a problem or solution is created. This also increases in use during preschool years, while sensorimotor play decreases in use during this time. The last type of play is games. These are activities engaged for pleasure. It puts the rule component into playing and also establishes guidelines. (Santrock) This also helps with practice of turn taking and sharing (a key in learning to socialize). Some other types of play that are not the main types are: unoccupied, parallel, face to face, cooperative and solitary play.Although these are not the basic types of play, they are commonly seen among children and easily spotted in their play styles. Along with the many types of play, there are also a few functions of play. One of the functions of play is the ability to master anxieties and conflicts. Playing can relieve tension because of the relaxed setting and atmosphere. This also helps with coping with problems. Building with blocks and knocking them down is a great example of how play can relieve tension. This is fun and it lets the child show emotion. Another function of play is that it can work off excess energy.This is especially useful and important with children with ADHD. They have symptoms of hyperactivity and inability to concentrate, so play can help improve these issues by getting energy out and relieving any anxieties or tensions. Any kind of play can help children work off frustration and cope with their feelings. This is a form of play therapy. It is a simple way of kicking back and relaxing; doing something you enjoy. This can mean so many things such as coloring or playing with play doh. Play can also improve cognitive development because children can play in a relaxed environment and manner.This allows creativity, exploration, and independence comes into effect. When new things are being discovered, this is an open end learning opportunity. Lastly, play can help with children’s exploratory drive because they have the chance to safely explore new information. This leads to curiosity and the want to know about these new and unusual objects they find. Overall, with the many kinds of play these play types and functions are all an important role in the development of children. (Santrock) Some may ask though, does play really improve any skills? Is it really making an impact on children?The answer is yes! It not only improves social and cognitive skills, it also helps with creativity, physical needs, and emotional aspects. As far as cognitive development children can differentiate between fantasy and reality. They learn to use their imagination and know the difference between that and what it reality. For example, when children pretend with baby dolls, they are using their imagination when they feed them or change their diapers. This is a great form of pretend play, yet the child knows the babies are no real and can distinguish what is real from what is not.Play also expands their thought and creativity. Games such as arts and crafts allow so much creativity and experimenting. For example, in painting you are free to whatever you want. There are no limits. That right there expands creativity and thought. Language development is also improved with play; along with problem solving, listening and oral skills, communication skills, and role playing. Children can take risks with no boundaries, use their senses to explore, use their imagination, and create images with symbols. All are found in one form of play or another.It is also a great way for a child to express themselves. Nothing can be more expressive than a child’s free choice to do what they want. They have the power and the ability to make their own decisions, which is so exciting to them. (Gorden) Social skills is something else play will improve. They have the chance to meet new friends and interact with other children their age. This is a great way to socialize and improve social, communication, and security. For example, dress up allows the child not only to choose their own outfit, but it allows them to show their personality and haracterize themselves (show their own heritage or culture). Social skills also improve because it works with cooperating with others and working in groups. This is great practice for improving these skills. Another positive advantage of play is it helps with emotional aspects of developing. This includes self-confidence, building trust, resolving inner fears, and looking at things with different viewpoints. Lastly, play improves physical wellbeing. This is because play requires some, even if little, physical involvement. This also helps build fine and gross motor skills and releases a buildup of energy. Gorden) No matter what way you look at it, play improves so many different aspects in a children’s life, and it is ideal to involve them inn any kind of form of it. Although there are many functions and types of play and many reasons play is important, the way children play changes throughout a lifespan. Starting with infants, they learn to play as soon as they can grasp objects. They can be content and occupied with almost any kind of toy. Curiosity is what leads babies to determine what activities will suit them. They begin to recreate reality.This is also present when object permanence comes into effect. This is when babies begin to realize that objects still exist, even when they are not in sight or cannot be heard, or touched. In Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, infants begin to understand this process during the sensorimotor stage. For example, when a mom leaves her child at day care, that child sees the mother leaves and cries. (Hirsh-Pasek) Early childhood is when children start to learn and create symbols and concepts (also known as symbolic play). This is the time when they start creating new words and experimenting with language.Children at this age learn best through self-creating learning environments. This means finding problems and developing solutions (cause and effect). (Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, 2003, p. 216) The next stage is age’s eight to twelve (elementary school age). This usually starts around age three to five, and ends around eight to thirteen (or when they hit puberty). This is when a child learns to adapt to reality and start to develop as a person. This is the school age, so this is when play and fun can be incorporated into learning. This is also when play becomes more important. Hirsh-Pasek) Play then begins to change during the adolescent stage. This is ages twelve to fifteen. During this age and stage, children tend to lose interest in work and play. Instead, they become more involved with the component of love. A lot of changes including emotional and physical and there is a shift of interest. Play becomes a subordinate role in a life. For example, when a child enters middle school (particularly seventh grade) there grades tend to lower and their interest in school lessens. Play is not as an important role in their life at this time.Toward the later age range of adolescents, play begins to come back into the role in life. “Play becomes more institutionalized” (Elkind) In adulthood play also takes on another meaning and changes a lot. This is when play mainly means recreation or leisure; in other words, a break from work. The creativity aspect does lose some effect, yet adults can incorporate that into their play as well. For example: creative cooking, scrapbooking, and gardening. Play changes throughout a lifetime, yet one component that is important is the parent involvement in play. Hirsh-Pasek) Research has proven that “the level of children’s play rises when adults join in” (Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, 2003, p. 208). This does not mean parents joining in and controlling the situation, it means adding in new fun components or just joining in on the fun! When parents play with their children it also increases the variety of play. Because adults have access to more abstract objects, the level of play can increase with new objects and surroundings. For example, children tend to use their creativity and imagination a lot more.For instance, the parent can assist in teaching the child pretend play by brushing the dolls teeth or driving the dolls to the store in their red convertible. Parent involvement helps the child be more creative and have more options to explore. They can also assist with ideas and relate with the child without having any rules to follow (freelance play). (Hirsh-Pasek) Play increases knowledge in so many areas such as parent involvement and even in certain kinds of play . Children learn through play in four different ways: mastery play, innovative play, kinship play, and therapeutic play.Mastery play allows kids to construct ideas and concepts. This relates to the idea of permanent objects and how children know when objects exist even when there are no longer present visually. (Elkind) An example of mastery play is when a toddler begins to explore objects and realize the sound it makes when it hits the ground. Not only are the noticing the sound, they are noticing that the adult will pick it up when they drop it (testing patience). It is almost a game for the child to see how many times the adult will retrieve the cup. Innovative play is another component when a child uses repetition to practice a new skill.When a child goes down a slide and they realize they’ve accomplished a new task, they repeat the process repetitively. They recognize a new skill is learned and they are not only practicing it, they are rewarding themselves for their achievement. Innovative play also improves and helps children learn verbal and language skills because of word play. This is the understanding of word meaning and the understanding of riddles. Another type that also helps with learning is kinship play. This introduces children to peer play. “Children of about the same age and size are naturally drawn to one another. (Elkind) Kinship play is enjoyable because usually it is with kids of the same age or close in age. They can easily relate and form a bond. It is the beginning of social learning. Kids think that someone of their own size is easier to trust, rather than an adult. The last type of learning tool is Therapeutic play. This help develops ways to deal with stress. The game peek-a-boo is a great example showing the infants stress of not knowing where mommy is. When mommy reappears, the infant is once again happy. . The child begins to understand that if they wait shortly the mom will soon reappear.This is one of the first forms of therapeutic play used with babies. Another example of when a child gets older is when a mom is pregnant with a second child. The first child becomes jealous and starts to re-track old habits, such as wetting their pants again, or wants a bottle again. These habits change throughout the pregnancy and you see the child playing in a much more mature way, such as being nurturing and “motherly” to their baby dolls. The type of play completely changes. (Elkind) When a child reaches school age, many may think the playing stops here. This is not true. Play is incorporated in many school environments.First, it can be and is incorporated into the learning curriculum at schools. This is so schools can meet state standards. Play in school also helps students have fun while learning. This is such an important factor because if it isn’t involved in the learning process, than students have no motive or want to learn. To establish play, teachers must do three things: understand, focus, and reflect. This means to understand the value and importance of paly in a child’s development, focus on the process of learning and reflect on children’s observations or activities to see what needs to be learned and ow you can combine learning in the process. (Gorden) Another advantage of play in school is it promotes social development and skills. When games or fun activities are added in the school curriculum, this engages students in all types of social situations. They learn to share, take turns, and even make friends. This is not only in the circumstances of just t school, but this also pertains to situations with play at home. By playing and socializing at the same time, this helps children learn the interpersonal skills that are needed to grow and develop as a person. Elkind) It is also needed to develop friendships and relations with peers; particularly in school. Lastly, school age kids are also presented the opportunity to participate in school activities and sports. This is another form of play and how it is presented in school. This is the chance for children to develop hobbies and an interest in their own unique things. This may include basketball, soccer, cheerleading, or theater. Anything that combines a form of play and has an enjoyable property to it can be considered play. As you can see play has many positive aspects to it, but can a lack of play be harmful to children and how they develop?Well, expert advice states “play deprivation can lead to depression and hostility in children” (Hirsh-Pasek) Most of a child’s life revolves around structure and rules given by adults. Play is the one time where kids can have little to no control incorporated into the situation. Most of the time, this should be no structure and control from adults. This is a child’s “break” form the normally controlled daily environment. Kids need this break in order to master new skills they have learned and manage new emotional experiences. They also just need fun in their lives!According to Jaak Panksepp, a professor at Bowling Green University, play has an effect on the frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain that develops self-control. If there is no play, the brain is delayed in maturation. (Hirsh-Pasek)Lastly, play can release energy, and this is important because a build- up of energy cannot be good. For instance, children with ADHD, play can assist with compulsiveness and help students concentrate in school. The energy is released when they play, so don’t have an overwhelming buildup of frustration and emotion.It is important to incorporate play in a child’s life because without it, they can become developmentally and emotionally delayed. They would have no fun or joy in life. An influence in today’s society is the increasing role of media in children’s lives. People tend to think putting a child in front of a television for hours is a perfect form of play. This is completely false. Watching television and playing video games is not an adamant form of good play. Although today there is educational software available and learning tools, the most effective form of play is where a child is engaged physically in something fun.This could even mean playing board game. Sitting in front of a TV is not using any motor skills what so ever. This is not to mention the ongoing research of the effect of television on kids under two and their eye sight. “A recent survey of 1,065 parents assessing the role of electronic media in the lives of infants and preschoolers found that 25 percent of children under two have televisions in their bedrooms. Two-thirds of children under two use some kind of screen media on a typical day” (Elkind) These statistics do not surprise me at all.That is why play is so ideal because we don’t want these electronic devices to overpower the importance of play in a child’s life. The American Academy of Pediatrics advise parents against television use and exposure to infants and young children whose visual systems are no yet completely developed. (Elkind)I am not a parent, but I work with children daily, and I know the struggle of occupying a child while also getting things you need done. Sometimes this is okay, but it is very important to know that one on one play with your child is the most efficient and appropriate way to play and teach your child.Some examples of some media or programs out today are; Baby Einstein, Dora the Explorer, or any Leapfrog products. All include some form of play and learning material, but this is not ideal for a child to be exposed to daily. Overall, play is an important role in a child’s life. There are so many aspects, forms, functions, and reasons why play is important, and all of these fit into how children learn and the importance of it. Without play, children would have no fun in their lives. It helps children learn in so many ways and it is a key component through a lifetime.