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…
- abstract thinking
- social cognition, empathy, perspective-taking
- mastering new concepts
- anxiety reduction
- therapeutic effects
- conflict resolution
- leadership skill development (control of impulses and aggressive behavior)
- gross motor experiences
- fine motor experiences
- physical challenges
- self-help skills
- attention regulation
- communication skills
- story telling
- emergent literacy
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;
- allowing for the practice of skills.
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.