Play is a vital part of sensory-motor development as these are interlinked processes of learning and development. Play encourages healthy child development, it’s how a child feels safe, active and happy. Play allows the child to be socially observant, creative, imaginative, theatric in his/ her expressions, insightful and co-existent. Play is responsible for the intellectual development of the child. According to Howard Gardner, intelligence can be typified into eight and it has been observed through research that plays an intrinsic part in the development of linguistics, logical-mathematical skills, bodily-kinesthetic senses, spatial sense, inter and intrapersonal skills, naturalistic and musical senses in the child.
For children work and play can coexist and act as interconnected learning tools. Play encourages the development of academic skills (such as language & maths), social skills (like communication, conflict resolution, problem solving and cooperation) and personality (including their likes and dislikes, strengths and interests) in children. Throughout the six stages of play, children learn their place in the world.
According to Parten, the first stage of play is unoccupied where the child is easily distracted and plays in a scattered fashion allowing him/her to practise manipulating materials, mastering self-control and learning about how the world works. This is the phase where children freely choose their play, and their environment and learn to express their needs or emotions. In this phase the caretakers in the nursery allow the child to explore objects, toys and food, along with teaching the child to express through crying what s/he needs.
In the second stage, the child learns to play on his/her own, where they may not encourage or identify the presence of anyone else in their surroundings. This stage of solitary play where the child keeps busy by themselves is crucial as they are able to explore freely, master new personal skills like a new motor or cognitive skills, and prepare themselves to play with others. This is in itself a stage of insight learning, where the child recognises what they need or prefer through trial and error. This is where the nursery provides the child with his/her own safe space, as a trusted environment is vital for the child’s exploratory phase of personality development.
In the third stage, the child learns to observe how others play and recognise the presence of others in their environment. An active part of this phase is spent by the child in looking at others as an onlooker which allows them to learn about the social rules of play and relationships. Playgroups in this phase encourage observational learning by allowing children to visually explore different ways of playing or using materials. In this stage, as they learn about the world in general they are very much interested in joining playgroups.
It is these play groups that enable the child to smoothly transition into the next phase of parallel play, where children play next to each other without interacting with each other. This is the phase where children engage in creative play, where they try to apply what they have observed others do while adding their own imagination and experiences into the play. In this phase, the kindergarten helps prepare the children to engage in social interactions, work side by side on the same activity, practise skills and learn new methods to engage together. In this phase, children are taught coexistence by the teachers in their preschool.
As this phase progresses, there occurs a significant shift in the child which signals their transition into the stage of associative play. In this phase, the child’s focus shifts from the objects of play to the people involved in playing by their side. Associative play is a type of social or theatrical play which allows children to begin practising what they have observed through onlooker and parallel play. In a group play session in their preschool, children can start to use their newfound social skills to engage with other children or adults during an activity or exploration. The school acts as a safe space for a child’s egocentric exploration and emotional expression. The child learns to express, in a theatrical fashion (of crying or tantrum behaviour) their immediate needs and discomfort. The child is also taught basic values (such as expressing gratitude, appreciating something or someone, saying sorry and please, making requests and asking for permissions) while engaging in this sort of play, as they engage in exchanges of items of play with each other. Children learn to distinguish right from wrong, acceptance and denial in a safe space from encouraging adults in their preschool.
As the child learns to communicate their needs and empathise with others, they recognise the need for cooperation and coordination between players. This leads to them transitioning into the phase of cooperative play, where they learn to adopt shared group goals, establish rules for play and also resolve conflicts that arise within the playgroup. The child also actively learns to adjust to their play environment and design to control the environment based on the needs of their co-players. It is in these play groups that children learn vicarious, goal-oriented and controlled play. They learn to take turns during play and wait patiently for their needs to be met. It is the teachers in preschools who can support children engaged in cooperative play by staying close and helping them learn healthy expressions of emotions and teaching them problem-solving skills.
Throughout these stages, the child learns to creatively and effectively use existing resources while they play. They engage in the stages of group formation in the last two stages as they form groups, set common goals, decide rules of engagement, engage in shared activities and resolve conflicts peacefully through the art of negotiation.
– Madhumitha Nivi