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There are four formally identified types of play:

  • Exploritary Play (Hutt) is a precursor to problem solving skills;
  • Practice Play(Piaget) highlights that constant repetition of actions help in mastering them;
  • Sociodramatic Play (Garvey; Similanskey) is where social interactions have at their core the creation and sharing of rules in imaginatively created situations;
  • Symbolic Play(Piaget; Vygotsky; Bruner et al) which includes imaginative and creative play and in which children pretend that they and other objects are transformed into something or someone else.

The above examples outline the types of play, but do not address what play is. By choosing different parts of each theory and combining them together, Pelligrini defined play in three dimensions – “play as disposition, play as a context and play as an observable force.”  So, when we are able to observe a combination of these three dimensions in children’s activities, we can say play is taking place. Play that links sensori-motor, cognitive and social-emotional experiences provides an ideal setting for brain development.

What then, is the role of the adult in play?

Adults who work with and interact with children, especially parents, should try to encourage children to make discoveries for themselves and make choices about what they want to do and why. For children to make a choice on something, adults must provide opportunities for them to do so. However, most children will usually choose the option with which they are most familiar, so it is important that the adult provides a range of activities, tasks or learning experiences, that will engage the child and is appropriate for their needs and abilities.

As adults, we can help play be enjoyable, productive and safe. We can, and should, make a contribution to the children’s social, fantasy and role playing as well as helping children to sort and order. In fact, it has been argued that this adult-child interaction is crucial for a child’s development.

Perhaps the most obvious contribution made by adults is the amount of time we spend playing with and talking to children. At any opportunity, we should be continually conducting active dialogue. The dialogue should be based on topics present at the time or about which the adult and child have knowledge. Interaction should always allow scope for development and flexibility. We need to be careful not to inhibit the child’s flow of language and imagination by asking too many intrusive and closed questions. Instead asking open-ended questions involving who, what, why or how to encourage communication and language skills and also to develop a higher level of thinking and reasoning.

It is therefore apparent that we have a critical role in children’s learning and that all such roles interrelate. Children exhibit capacities that are shaped by environmental experiences and the individuals who care for them.

Play contributes to the development of the ‘whole child’. In my opinion, we should offer holistic play experiences in which one specific learning area cannot be in isolation as so much learning is taking place, encouraging the development of the whole child. We need to recognise that learning is a gradual process and should provide children with a mixture of free play for them to access learning independently and adult initiated activities to enhance and extend their knowledge. Parents shouldn’t feel this is another thing to add to their ‘to-do’ list, it’s something that is a natural process in children’s lives and routines but can be massively enhanced by the positive interactions adults can provide.

Laura x

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