This essay will explore the play provision in which the setting is providing. Strengths and weaknesses will be discussed and ways in which these can be improved; using research from different play pioneers and theorists to help deepen the understanding of provision and how to make sure it is always inclusive and supporting the holistic child’s individual needs. Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified by the UK government in 1991. Under Article 31 of the Convention it states that: “Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities” (UNCRC, 1991 p.4). The countries belonging to the United Nations, therefore, have recognised play as a right for all children. In 1993 Cohen (2007, p21) suggested that play started at the beginning of mankind. He reports that Greek and Roman children played with different objects. Greek children enjoyed making balls for pigs’ bladders showing their creativity side and Roman children liked to play with toy soldiers. They also took part in running and jumping games and piggybacked ﬁghts. Hoops were made out of the iron frames of wheels. Depending on the society in which children live, children’s play would be reflected. In the case of Greek and Roman children, physical activities took place alongside adults. During this period, play was never documented as it was not considered worthy of doing so. By the 18th Century play was valued. Rousseau believed that children should be able to roam freely and explore the outdoors ready to learn and read through play. He believed that children looked at play and work as a whole and that children should play as a right for it showed their potential. In 1998, Saracho and Spodek (2007, p23) describe two approaches to play in the 19th and 20th centuries; classical and modern dynamic. The classical theories were to explain the reason that play existed. The reasons being: - The relaxation theory in which individuals recharge energy that they exhaust in work. Therefore play is relaxation and a source of energy before beginning work again. - The surplus energy theory, in contrast to the relaxation theory, viewed play as a means of eliminating excess energy. Play therefore was regarded as an instinctive behaviour with no immediate goal. Herbert Spencer’s theory was heavily inﬂuenced by the work of Schiller. - Play as pre-exercise. According to this perspective play is an instinctive way of preparing children for adult life. Play experiences are similar to those they will experience as adults, and therefore children are rehearsing adult skills in their play. Groos adopted this view in the late nineteenth century, he believed play was functional and characterised by undeﬁned activity, pleasure and dominated by process rather than product. He believed that experimental play developed mental skills and self-control, and imitative play developed inter-personal skills. In contrast to the classical theories, the modern perspectives have a different view on the context of play. The theorists central to these perspectives are Freud, Piaget and Vygotsky. McLeod (2009) states that Piaget believed children’s knowledge was increased through engaging with the environment. He studied play primarily from a cognitive viewpoint. From Piaget’s perspective, learning takes place through two processes, these being ‘assimilation’ and ‘accommodation’. Assimilation is when new knowledge is accepted from the world and accommodation is adapting this new information to make links with previously developed understanding or schemas. Piaget believed that learning is a continuing process of adaptation to the environment. Piaget viewed the child’s development as leading learning, with play having a strong inﬂuence on development. Therefore play has an important educational purpose however Piaget paid less attention to the role of language in learning. McLeod (2007) states that Vygotsky believed all children’s learning happened within a social context. He was a social constructivist and in his theory he placed the support of others such as adults which is well known as scaffolding. These adults are as central to developing children’s understanding. Therefore, language makes a critical contribution to the development of the child’s learning. The adult has a distinct role in moving children on from their present, to their potential development. In contrast to Piaget, Vygotsky understood learning to lead development. He believed children create play that has purpose which in turn determines their affective states. Vygotsky stated that the child’s greatest achievements were possible in play because: ‘In play a child behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself’ (Vygotsky 1978: 102). Essentially then, the child moves forward through play activity. One approach to play in which the setting have shown some links to is Reggio Emilia. This approach believes that collaboration and documentation is vital to a child’s development. Reggio also sees the environment as the third teacher. The settings behaviour policy (2013 p.1) states that ‘We place great emphasis on our values of mutual trust and respect for all and for the community and environment in which we live’ This can therefore link into the fact of the environment acting as a third teacher as the children are able to use the outdoors area for a number of different occasions such as learning days and playtimes. The settings play provision supports this evidence as the main form of play which is offered is free play. Free play is when a child is able to choose what activity they would like to do, how they want to do it, when to stop and start something else. Free play does not have any external goals that are set by the adults and there isn’t a curriculum in which to follow. Although practitioners usually provide the space and resources for free play and might be involved, the children take the lean and the adult responds to cues from the children. The setting provide a set period of time when the children are able to access whatever resources they wish, including the outdoors, and they are able to develop their play and learning in this time, in their own way. Developing different hypothesis about life and make their own conclusions. The setting has a number of children that acquire challenging behaviour and therefore, supports the theory of Surplus energy. Today it is evident that children have fewer opportunities for outdoor play. The environment for outdoor play is generally underutilised and the role of the adult in this is frequently involved. In play children tend to seek out risks, because through these they develop their self-esteem and conﬁdence. They need physically challenging experiences to be able to develop these skills. Adults in the setting are now overly cautious and their fear reduce children’s opportunities to set themselves challenges and take risks. Early Education (2012) states that ‘Children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and carers.’ It has become evident that the behaviour in the children has seen to be more challenging when the weather is bad and the outdoors area is shut. Perhaps down to the fact that the children are then not able to access all areas of play in which they feel benefits them. The setting should therefore have an undercover area, or an area in which children who feel they need to work off any additional energy that they may have, can do so. This should be accessible for these children in all weather situations. If this is not available for the children to access, then it will slow down part of their development in which play helps to aid. Children are highly motivated to play, although adults’ ﬁnd deﬁning and understanding children’s play a challenge. All aspects of development and learning are related in play, especially their cognitive development. When children have time to play, their play grows in complexity and becomes more cognitively and socially demanding. Through free play children are able to explore different materials and discover their properties which will help them then to use their knowledge of materials to imaginative play such as role play. During role play, children are able to express their emotions and reveal their inner feelings which is a key time for the adults to be observing the children and ways in which they handle different situations. It helps to give an insight into each child’s interests. If a child is experiencing any traumatic experiences, play can help that child to deal with these in their own way which is helping them to maintain emotional balance, physical and mental health, and well-being. Free play not only lets a child to explore different activities but it also enables them to develop a sense of who they are, their value of themselves and others. Play also helps a child’s language and social development as they are learning the skills to communicate and share. Play England (2007, p.26) state that Early pioneers in early childhood studies such as Froebel, Montessori and Steiner, who were inﬂuenced by the work of Rousseau, influenced the early year’s curriculum. They all believed that childhood is a distinctly different state from adulthood and that adults therefore should not seek to prepare children for adulthood. This is therefore in contrast with the play as pre-exercise theory. Froebel, Montessori and Steiner all believed children are self-motivating that adults have a tendency to be too dominant and cut across this motivation. Montessori, however, did not believe in play or toys. Children in her kindergartens experienced real household tasks. Froebel believed that children were strong and conﬁdent and that through play they saw things through to completion. The setting supports Steiner’s theory as he believed that children need free, creative play to develop their spirit, their bodies and their minds and in the setting there are many different creative resources available for the children to access such as a craft area, outdoors area and role play. Steiner also believed it was important to provide real life tasks for children which will then give them a sense of belonging and connectedness to the environment and again this is achieved through the outdoor area. The setting offers the opportunity for children to take part in gardening and sorting out compost areas. The setting also allows children to cook different recipes based on ingredients found in the outdoors. Steiner also believed that educators needed to provide rhythm and structure in the children’s day. The setting has a visual timetable in order for the children to understand the structure of the day ahead. There is also circle time in which the children are able to communicate with both their peers and their adults and can talk about their own individual interests. These are then taken into account for future planned activities. However, if for whatever reason the setting is unable to stick to this plan this can confuse the children’s understanding of the day and put them on edge. It also makes it harder for practitioners to be able to take the time to observe and document the interests of children and therefore resulting in activity plans that aren’t quite suitable to the needs of the children. In conclusion, I feel that the play provision in the setting could use a lot more structure in the sense of planned activities which are more vital to the children’s development. These activities should be based upon their interests and although it is hard to find the time in the day to document these interests, I believe it should be made a priority as the children will not gain all that they could from their play time. I also believe that the outdoors area needs more accessible and more appropriate resources to help aid their development; not just in there cognitive aspects but also their social and language development. I feel the setting would see a vast improvement in the progress of the children if they were to use the free play time more effectively and make it more enjoyable for the children. Word Count - 2049
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