Why Is Play with Siblings and Peers Important for Children's Development?

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Why is play with siblings and peers important for children’s development? Research into the ways in which social experiences impact on childhood development has predominantly focused on the interactions between a child and their immediate caregivers. However, recent research has shown that relationships with siblings and peers also provide an important context for development and socialisation. As this assignment focuses specifically on play, as opposed to other types of interactions, it is important to clarify a working definition of play from the outset and also to specify which areas of children’s development will be considered when answering this question. Various types of relationships prevalent in a child’s experience will be outlined in terms of their different characteristics and how these are likely to influence development in particular ways. This discussion will highlight the specific roles played by siblings and peers and consider why these relationships are especially important for child development. Different types of play that siblings and peers are likely to engage in will then be identified and will also be shown to be important for children’s development in distinct ways. Finally, limitations of the current research will be considered. Play is an important means by which children interact with and learn about the world around them but it is an extremely difficult concept to define as it has different meanings for different people and in different contexts. It has even been asserted that it is futile to try and agree on a universal definition of a concept as ambiguous as play (Sutton-Smith, 2006). Whilst psychologists have often proposed only deterministic and utilitarian definitions of play, anthropologist, Huizinga (1950) presents the idea that play exists for its own sake. In any case a universal definition of play would have to be as flexible and all encompassing as play itself, taking into account the full range of forms conventionally understood as play, including social and solo play, competitive and co-operative games, intrinsically and extrinsically motivated play, etc. However, the question we are addressing is specifically focused on play between children and their peers and siblings and so for the purposes of this assignment we are concerned only with social, interactive play. In this case play requires a mutual understanding amongst participants that they are involved in play and that they are free to play or to not play. As such it is a highly skilled interactional accomplishment. It is interesting to note Millar’s suggestion that play is best defined as an adverb, used to describe the way in which an action or activity is performed as opposed to a particular type of action in itself (Millar, 1968). Using this as a basis, we can define play as being any activity which is entered into freely and playfully by all participants. Throughout their social interactions children may engage in play activities which help to progress their development in a wide range of areas. However, some developmental areas would also have been influenced had the play been independent or with an adult, for example, physical development such as gross and fine motor skills, personal skills such as perseverance and concentration or cognitive development such as understanding of material properties, number awareness, sound awareness, etc. Although recognising that vast opportunities across a wide range of developmental areas may be provided through play with siblings and peers, for the purposes of this question it will be necessary to focus only on the areas of development which are influenced particularly because of the socially interactive nature of the play. Interactive play with others has been shown by research to be important for children’s development, especially play with an experienced other such as a primary caregiver. However, it is helpful to isolate play with siblings and peers as...
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