The Importance of Play

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Top of Form  |
Play: A Historical Review|
By Carolyn R. Tomlin |
“Play: The voluntary activity pursued without ulterior purpose and, on the whole, with enjoyment or expectation of enjoyment” (English and English, 1958).Early theorists, as well as those of the present day, have been fascinated by the way children play. How does a child learn social interaction with his peers? Does creativity and imagination foster a higher form of play? How do children learn to share and take turns?Theories of Play Theories of play were first developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Four theories affected the perception of why and how children play: the surplus energy theory, the recreation theory, the instinct theory and the recapitulation theory. In the surplus energy theory, advocates maintained that the child builds up an excess of energy, and that active play is necessary to get rid of the surplus. Curtis (1916) proposed that when a child or animal does not need to expend all its energy in obtaining food, shelter, or gaining a living that the leftover energy would be used for play.The recreation theory focuses on play as a way to recuperate from fatigue experienced from hard work. In other words, play restores energy and provides more benefit to the body than idleness (Mitchell and Mason, 1948).The instinct theory, proposed by Rousseau, suggests that play is inherited and that the child will engage in behaviors and activities instinctively.G. Stanley Hall, a leader of the child study movement, attributed play to heredity as part of the recapitulation theory. Curtis (1916) explained this theory as follows: “In this wild life of the savage there were certain activities, which were almost universal. It was necessary to pursue and capture his game, to find it while it was hiding, to strike it down with a stick or stone or shoot it with bow and arrow. Often he had to climb trees, to vault over obstacles, or leap across brooks. At other times, he was the hunted, and he had to flee or hide from such means as lay at hand. There were universal activities of savage man throughout the days of unrecorded history, and it is these same activities that survive in the play of the child” (1916, p.5). Observations and Theories of Play in the ClassroomThese four theories define how play affects child development. Within any group of young children, observers will notice all levels of socialized play. Some children will play along, being very shy and not seek interaction or show a need to be with others. Some will be content to play by themselves. Most of the time, these children will place their toys near others, but not share them with others. Other children may request toys from classmates, but not share the ones they claim. In another part of the playground, you may find children who have formed a group game made up of anyone who wants to play. Boys may only play with boys and girls may only play with other girls, and pairs of children may cooperate in imaginary play.One purpose of a child care program is to help children grow from egocentric individuals into youngsters who can work and play cooperatively. Understanding children's developmental stage at various ages is an important part of teaching young children. The following...
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