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Describe the ways in which play is said to promote children’s development

| January 25, 2013

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Play is an integral part of child development throughout the early years of every child’s life. This is because it permits children to practice their imagination while developing their mind, agility, bodily, cognitive, and expressive strength. Play is important to on-going healthy brain development.

Children are known to use play at the early stages of life to interact and make sense of the world around them. As they master their world, play assists children progress onto innovative abilities that lead to enriched self-confidence and the resiliency they will need to deal with challenges they may come across in the future.2

Above all, many believe that play is a simple yet effective enjoyment that is cherished as part of being a child. There are two categories of play that have been identified; Undirected play which is when children are allowed to play on their own, and directed play which is stimulated play through adult supervision or help. Undirected play lets children learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate by building their communication skills, to resolve encounters, and to learn self-advocacy skills.3,4

When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and finally participate completely in the desires they wish to follow.3,4 Rather, much of play encompasses adults, but when play is organised by adults, children comply to adult instructions and apprehensions and lose some of the advantages play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills.5 In contrast to submissive amusement, play shapes active, fit physiques. In fact, it has been proposed that inspiring unstructured play may be an excellent way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one vital approach in the resolution of the obesity epidemic.6,7

Furthermore, the act of playing is fundamental to the academic setting. It safeguards that the school setting attends to the social and emotional growth of children as well as their cognitive development. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviours, and problem-solving skills.8 Social-emotional familiarity is best combined with school learning; it is worrying if some of the forces that enhance children’s ability to learn are elevated at the expense of others. Play and unscheduled time that allow for peer interactions are imperative constituents of social-emotional development.

There are particular attributes that are developed in children through the activity of play which is why it is so highly regarded in the early years of the academic syllabus. The well-known psychologist, Piaget, identified play and imitation as an integral part of learning and development and outlined the benefits a child got from playing. He said play was used as a vehicle for overcoming egocentrism. This refers to the pre-school child’s inability to grasp another’s point of view by empathising. By socialising through play and social interaction, other individuals needs can become a focus for the child and therefore develop their cognition further from their own needs. Secondly, he has mentioned that it can be used as a means of accommodating and assimilating reality. Accommodating is when the child takes material into their cognition from the environment, which may mean changing the evidence of their senses to make it fit. Thus accommodating is a result of assimilation for the child as they ‘accommodate’ their senses through play to make them fit.

Piaget had come up with the notion that play is almost pure assimilation without the need to acquaint one’s self with external realism. For example a child who plays “airplane” with a rectangular block is usually unconcerned about the requirement of certain essential design to overcome gravity or to make use of air pressure. The child is merely assimilating the wooden block into existing schemata of airplanes.

The opposite of this almost pure assimilation is imitation, or the child’s serious attempt to accommodate to outer reality. For example if an ambulance arrives outside the school due to a child falling over. A couple of days after the incident the children were playing in the playground. A child acts this out and has an accident. The children took the roles of the paramedics and the people caught in the injured child. As they play this situation through, they were making a serious attempt to accommodate the reality which they had seen and heard about.
Assimilation and accommodation are both included in the interaction which unites the individual child to the environment and the child’s reality. The give and take in play and imitation is one way that the child learns about the child’s world.

Piaget’s theory on play goes on to develop these terms further by theorising that in both play and deferred imitation, the child is learning about symbols, or he is learning that one thing can stand for something else. A child puts on a hat and becomes a police man or a cowboy. The hat is the symbol for the role. Play itself is a symbolic representation of the child’s own inner world.

Last but not least Piaget supports his developmental stages through play. His preoperational stage which is when the child uses its senses to discover the world is achieved through the act of playing. The child learns through first-hand experiences by touching, tasting, smelling and later through actual hands on experiences with material, equipment and ideas. Play provides the child with real experiences to try out and develop cognition and physicality.

As shown above through much research and Piaget’s own research and theories, that play is a much needed part of children’s development and growing up. They are able to discover all sorts of ideas, objects, concepts and experiences through the act of playing. Playing in conclusion will always be regarded as a vital concept of life as it is taken seriously in academic situations as well as in the homes with the child’s parents.



1, Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA, eds. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000

2, Erickson RJ. Play contributes to the full emotional development of the child. Education.1985;105 :26

3, Pellegrini AD, Smith PK. The development of play during childhood: forms and possible functions. Child Psychol Psychiatry Rev.1998;3 :51– 57

4,  McElwain EL, Volling BL. Preschool children’s interactions with friends and older siblings: relationship specificity and joint contributions to problem behaviors. J Fam Psychol.2005;19 :486– 496

5, MacDonald KB. Parent-Child Play: Descriptions and Implications.Albany, NY: State University of New York Press; 1993

6, Burdette HL, Whitaker RC. Resurrecting free play in young children: looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.2005;159 :46– 50

7, American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and Council on School Health. Active healthy living: prevention of childhood obesity through increased physical activity.Pediatrics.2006:117 :1834– 1842

8, Coolahan K, Fantuzzo J, Mendez J, McDermott P. Preschool peer interactions and readiness to learn: relationships between classroom peer play and learning behaviors and conduct. J Educ Psychol.2000;92 :458– 465

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Category: Free Essays, Psychology