The act of play can have a dramatic impact on us. In all age-groups the enjoyment of “play” initiates important cognitive developments. This is especially true in childhood. When I see a child playing with others, It reminds me of times when I also played with my friends whether it be in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Many children are natural actors. They “pretend” to be someone, or pretend to be somewhere else, and exercise the imaginative powers within. This ability adopted more frequently in earlier decades due to the deficit of choices children comparatively advocated to what is found today.
Play and Cognitive Development
The relationship between play and cognitive development is described differently in the two theories of cognitive development which dominate early childhood education-Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s.
Piaget (1962) defined play as assimilation, or the child’s efforts to make environmental stimuli match his or her own concepts. Piagetian theory holds that play, in and of itself, does not necessarily result in the formation of new cognitive structures. Piaget claimed that play was just for pleasure, and while it allowed children to practice things they had previously learned, it did not necessarily result in the learning of new things. In other words, play reflects what the child has already learned but does necessarily teach the child anything new. In this view, play is seen as a “process reflective of emerging symbolic development, but contributing little to it” (Johnsen & Christie, 1986, p. 51).
In contrast, Vygotskian theory states that play actually facilitates cognitive development. Children not only practice what they already know-they also learn new things. In discussing Vygotsky’s theory, Vandenberg (1986) remarks that “play not so much reflects thought (as Piaget suggests) as it creates thought” (p. 21).
Emotional benefits of play include…
enjoyment, fun, love of life
relaxation, release of energy, tension reduction
Developmental benefits of play include…
social cognition, empathy, perspective-taking
mastering new concepts
leadership skill development (control of impulses and aggressive behavior)
gross motor experiences
fine motor experiences
Educational benefits include…
providing a meaningful context for children to learn concepts and skills;
making learning fun and enjoyable;
encouraging children to explore and discover together and on their own;
allowing children to extend what they are learning;
encouraging children to experiment and take risks;
providing opportunities for collaborative learning with adults and peers;
We didn’t have chuck-e-cheese, video games, digital video disks, or computers. We had to create much of our own entertainment without parental intervention. Ironically, at least one parent was home most of the time (our mothers), when we were home, but we did not have much interference upon our play times. We would stay out until the street lights would come on before we were expected home, as we would be outside much of this time. Rules have changed as well as the world. Parents are much more likely to supervise the activities of their children in these days then in my formidable years in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Of course my perspective is skewed towards that of a baby-boomer in western civilization correspondingly. Many children around the world have different perspectives, but what binds us together is that of being a child, and the developmental qualities that bring us together is our natural ability to act in play.
I find it an interesting occurrence when children who are taken out of their natural element, and have powerful influences exerted upon their behavior when they inadvertently align themselves with the all too familiar grievous behaviors of the adult and adolescent world, we see a change in them that is horrid. If where the teachings of our jaded philosophies are ridden with disharmonious embers of thought continue to pass along to generations and find a home in the disenchanted, then we miss opportunities to enhance our children’s betterment.
Unfortunately for some, the wisdom must be nourished in the span of a life, and will not take any hold over us if we do not ourselves challenge and question much of what is learned growing up. The lessons learned from children at play, or from those experiences in their childhood that are not greatly influenced by the daunting misbehavior’s of some, are the children that have special needs. Many of these children do not succumb to the pressures of other misguided children. They sustain an innocence that is pure in mind. They are less likely to embitter themselves if and only if they stay true to their natures. If they do not follow the discontented mistakes made by older people, then they are an example of our natural inclinations that reverberate within us when we meet the world. Bless the beasts and the children.
If we do things that are enjoyable, then we usually find our time spent delightful, hence our affability quotient is enhanced. Our happiness closely correlates in this relationship. On the other hand, when we find that we have little to look forward to, we then see a negative correlation, and our happiness quotient is greatly impeded. When we find that the things we like to do diminishes, we may have embitterment’s not fully reconciled.
When you have nothing to look forward to, you have very little to save you from pulling yourself up to see clearly. We become lost in the haze of a battle within. There are forces that keep us from doing things we enjoy, injuries that prevent us from enabling us to do a physical activity, perhaps our health is besieged by some ailment, or we surrender to some fear that prevents us from going forward with an activity? The misfortune of many circumstances that keep us from a treasured result can have tragic repercussions! A battle is being waged!
Think of World War I: you’re in the trenches with other diverging souls just trying to survive. I use the metaphor about being in the trenches because in a battlefield; scrambling around in routines that are essential only to your survival can be observed. (WWI trenches were dug and the soldiers would stay in them avoiding enemy fire, before the advance of enemy soldiers would make them move, or possibly the shells of artillery fired at them). The front is where many of these battles took place, with trenches dug to escape with life and limb. Avoiding the bullet onslaught or cannon fodder that would rip into flesh as bones shattered and tore through organs whilst the blood would spill. Sometimes we lead ourselves into a series of events that we must take an action, if we do not, we may instead mimic the leaves blowing in a random direction from the wind over the landscape.
The picture painted above is all too real for those that experienced WW I. Possibly one of your grandfathers, or great grandfathers served under such conditions. I paint this visceral picture in contrast with another reality; one that has direct implications to a mind under assault. The contrast to any action willed, the opposite of any action either becomes catatonic in its reaction or a paralysis of the will may come to be if intense loss is experienced. Take a moment and think on some activity that brings you great pleasure, something you have become good in doing, and has given you some esteem in the presence of your friends. Now consider you cannot again take part in this activity.
Extrapolate this experience to many other kinds of activities that you were once able to do, and it gave you a freedom, it gave you an immense enjoyment that is very hard to put into words. Think of all the people that suffer from not being able to act on their will, that they have an understanding that much of their activities must now be supervised, or that can no longer do what they once could do. A broken back, the loss of sight, a heart condition, or maybe simply just an age that cannot be ignored.
We all may have experienced something joyful, that we can no longer participate in on a similar level, or on some other related activity due to many impediments. The tragic consequences we may lead ourselves into after the recognition sets in and we realize that we can no longer do, act on, or take part in on some rudimentary level is heart breaking. This is the extreme example for a case to be made about apathy, and the psychological carnage it can lead us into. We have the ability to overcome, we have the ability to find other activities that can bring us joy and make some niche for ourselves once again during times of tribulation.
But knowing this possibility, many of us find little solace in other activities. Many of us become jaded and bitter, and do not see past the nose on our faces. Where would we be if we lose the ability to adapt, change and improvise? The power to heal our spirits and meet the world head on again comes from trials of failures that we learn as we continue our experimentation in finding hope.
For some people, they don’t try to embrace new experiences given their abilities and aimlessly wander. They often continue to lay in the trenches, not finding out that the war has ended, and they become ghosts of the past, clinging on to old notions of who they are, what they represent, or how they should fit in, (left country-less, pledging no allegiance to the victor of the outcome, and trapped into the past). Maybe they fixate on a time they identify with, so when things change, circumstances change, they become alienated and do not know how to move on from past perspectives?
The analogy can lead us to think on our own situations. How do we relate when we have lost our way when change takes its hold over our lives? When we cannot look forward to a once cherished pastime? When we have nothing to look forward to, when we trap ourselves in a pastime that we can no longer take part in, how do we react? It is very sad, but I think we find ourselves somewhat like the shell-shocked soldier who is petrified and does nothing to change their situation. They remain in the psychological trench they have dug out, and simply wait! They do not seek out new avenues, (or trenches for that matter), and remain in a perpetual disillusionment. Until they reach for help, they may just be psychological cannon fodder that takes up their time on an internal battlefield of the mind.
Have you experienced a loss in your life that has dramatically changed the way you can function? Are you handicapped, or can you relate to getting yourself stuck into a rut of denial that prevents you from moving on with your life? Are you in angst because you once could do something you love, and no longer have anything that gives you such joy, thus you are trapped remembering the past and your former enjoyments doing them?
If this is the case then can you empathize with a person who seems terminally locked into a psychological paralysis that will forever keep them into a state of catatonic ruin? We can heal, but effort on our part must be taken. We cannot survive by living in the past, we must reach for new challenges, despite the gloomy conditions we lock ourselves into. It is a very bleak world when we give up on having anything to look forward to. This means that no matter the time sequence; a day, a week, a month, or a year, we must all reach for something new to shed light on our captive spirits. The frustration and dire consequences may result in not being able to appreciate the diminutive pleasures in one’s life. If we do not awaken from our slumbers, than we may have some opportunity by watching our fellow captive soldiers in the trenches around us to spark or ignite new ways to try!
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