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Discuss the Importance of Play in Children's Learning and Development, Focusing on the Period from Birth to Six Years.

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Task 2 & 3:


Why children play and how important it is? How does it have impact on children's learning and development? What are the roles of parents or caretakers and practitioners in children's play? What are the key outcomes of play? This essay will try to address all these questions to the readers.

Why Children Play?

Montessori has developed the idea of four planes of development in order of birth to 6, 6 to 12, 12 to 18 and 18 to 24. The period of the first plane, birth to 6 is also described by Montessori as the absorbent mind of young children. It means a tremendous physical and psychological growth, exploration and development. Especially birth to 3, young children are capable of absorbing huge amounts of information about the environment through their five senses of taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing. In the process, children acquire languages, develop motor and cognitive skills, copy the social skills of the adults around them, and acquire expectations about how the world will treat them. But what is the medium to learn those skills? Lindon (2002) says "all children play, unless their living circumstances are very harsh or the children are very ill." Play as a way for children to learn is recognized in pedagogy and has been the learning and development requirements of the statutory framework in those developed countries. Play is actually a medium of children's learning and development.

What is Play?

Definition of Play

Play can be described as any activity from babyhood to early teenage years which finds enjoyable and interesting and is valuable in itself for that reason. "Play is a process by which children can gain an understanding of who they are and how they relate to their worlds. Play provides a context for their physical, intellectual, social, linguistic and emotional learning and development." (Macleod-Brudenell and Kay, 2008).

Roles of Play

How play takes impact on the children? What are the roles of play? Tamis-Lemonda, Katz and Bornstein (2002:229) has discussed the role of play in children's five areas of developments summarized in Figure 1 as below.

Roles Areas of Development

Psychological Regulation of arousal, expressing emotions, resolutions of conflicts

Mastery Attention span and task-directed behaviour

Cognitive Acquisition of information and skills, creative, divergent thinking, representational abilities

Social Giving and receiving, taking account of others' thoughts and intentions in decision-making

Culture Means of transmitting social roles and cultural values

Figure 1 The role of play in five areas of development

(Tamis-Lemonda, Katz and Bornstein (2002:229)

These five areas of development of infants represent interactions with different types of people through play. It explains how a child successfully accessing the community after birth and entering curriculum of education settings by three. Meanwhile, Smilansky (1990) has identified five basic forms of play and summarized in Figure 2 as below.

Form of play Examples

Functional or exploratory play A baby chewing, throwing and shaking a rattle.

Constructive play A baby or toddler building with plastic bricks; a 4-year-old making models with play dough.

Dramatic play A 3-year-old pretending to parent a doll; a 4-year-old dressing up as Spiderman and acting in role.

Socio-dramatic play A 5- and 6-year-old dressing up and acting out scenes from a favourite film.

Games with rules A group of 7- and 8-year-olds playing Tiggy-off-the-ground in the playground; a family group of children aged 5, 7 and 8 playing a board game.

Figure 2 Smilansky's five basic forms of play

(Macleod-Brudenell and Kay 2008 : 200 figure)

Each role of play does not correspond to any form of play engaged by children. Roles of play can be developed through different forms of play and can be briefly elaborated in the subsequent part of this essay.

How children play from birth to 3?

What they learn in play?

Initially, babies play as part of their interactions with their carers or parents in everyday routine such as feeding, bathing, changing nappies, etc as opportunities to play in exchange for noise-making or eye contact. It is a functional or exploratory play to secure psychological attachment between babies and parents. Babies will also grasp and then eat or bite every object they can touch which is also an exploratory play and such play is performing a cognitive role to acquire information and skills. Morris-Coole (2009 p.14) says "It is through manipulation of the objects/materials that children will extend their understandings." As babies get older and physically more competent, they will request opportunities for physical play such as slide, jump, ride, swing and climb supported by parents or caretakers. The babies are developing manipulative skills and explore their environment through their senses. They are expressing a mastery role to have attention span and task-directed behaviour through a functional play.

When they



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