Child Play

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Play and early childhood education is not just a way to fill time for children who are too young to go to school. Some people think of play as the “work” of children (Berger, 2000).Through play and early childhood education, children build the foundation for later learning as they solve problems and increase their understanding of themselves, other people, and the world around them. Being in a stimulating environment, such as an early childhood center, provides a child with the much needed support to develop skills for dealing with emotions, expanding language and vocabulary, and an array of other skills. Putting children in environments where they are not stimulated can be harmful to their development during the play years. For young children, “play” includes a variety of activities that are fun and interesting. These activities include quiet play, creative play, active play, dramatic play, games, and manipulative play. Play may be structured or unstructured. Structured play has rules or a specific way of doing things. Games such as active games, card games, and board games are examples of structured play. Unstructured play includes activities such as dress-up play, doll play, building blocks, running and climbing, and riding tricycles. These activities are sociodramatic and rough-and-tumble play (Berger, 2000). A child may play alone or engage in social play by including other children or adults. Social play has a critical role in helping children learn to interact with others. Some research has identified stages of social play. Children pass through these stages as they grow, becoming capable of more interactive play as they develop. According to Berger, Onlooker play occurs when a child seems to be playing alone while watching others’ play activities. Solitary play occurs when a child plays alone or near another child with no interaction between them. Berger states that Parallel play refers to children’s play when they are near each other and using similar materials but with little or no social interaction. Associative play is similar to parallel play but involves some social interaction. Cooperative play includes common goals and collaboration, and may involve complex negotiation, collaborative decision making, and rule setting (Berger, 2000). While we were at the VCU child development center, I witnessed children playing outdoors. I saw some cooperative play in games such as hide-n-seek and duck-duck-goose, where the children played the games by rules that were taught to them. Most of the play witnessed was unstructured play in which the children decided what the wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. One little boy sat in solitary play building mini castles out of sand, while another large group of children just ran in circles around the playground screaming. Many kids just sat back and watched as others played games, while they sat in the sand box occasionally scooping sand which demonstrated onlooker play. Lastly, a group of children sat in a corner observing flowers or bushes having conversation about them, which demonstrated associative play Children’s play sometimes has less to do with other people than with finding out about the world. Young children naturally explore their environments in playful ways that help them understand the physical environment and their own bodies. This type of play is sometimes called sensorimotor play. As they vary their actions and interact with toys and other objects, children discover what their own muscles can do, and they gain practice of the movements that they need for everyday life. They also have affordances to learn about gravity and other principles of the physical world. What children learn through play is also very much affected by the quality of the early education care program that they are in. When searching for child care, every parent wants to leave their child knowing that they are handled by a warm, nurturing adult, who has knowledge of how children grow and...
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