Play as an Integral Part of Early Learning

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Play as an Integral Part of Early Learning
Playing is a much needed activity in early childhood. The reason is that “play” is the building block of a child’s intellectual and social skills. While children need physical activity to stay healthy and fit they also need unstructured, child centered, imaginative play that they control. Many parents enroll their kids in many structured activities such as baseball, football, and etc. Even though structured activities are important, children in their early years of life need unstructured play in order to prepare themselves for school. Play is intended to support the development of the whole child. Play is essential to development because it contributes to the emotional, social, physical, and cognitive well-being of children and youth. Play supports emotional development by providing a way to express and cope with feelings (Piaget, 1962). In addition to expressing feelings, children also learn to cope with their feelings as they act out being angry, sad, or worried in a situation they control (Erikson, 1963). Pretend play allows them to think out loud about experiences charged with both pleasant and unpleasant feelings. A good example is Alexander, a 4-year-old whose dog was recently hit by a car. In his dramatic play in the pet hospital, his teacher heard him say to another child, “I’m sad because the car hurt my dog.” Here he was trying to cope with unpleasant feelings from a frightening situation. Play enabled Alexander to express his feelings so that he could cope with his worry about his dog (Landreth & Homeyer, 1998). Smilansky and Shefatya (1990) contend that school success largely depends on children’s ability to interact positively with their peers and adults. Play is vital to children’s social development. It enables children to do the following: practice both verbal and nonverbal communication skills; respond to their peers’ feelings while waiting for their turn sharing materials and experiences;...
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