Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years


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Digital play in the early years: A contextual response to the problem of integrating digital technologies and play-based learning in the early childhood curriculum. Towards contemporary play: Sociocultural theory and the digital-consumerist context. Journal of Early Childhood Research , 12 3 , — Gutnick, A.

Digital Play: What Do Early Childhood Teachers See?

Always connected: The new digital media habits of young children. Hatch, J. Doing qualitative research in educational settings. Kafai, Y. Play and technology: Revised realities and potential perspectives. Fromberg Ed. New York: Routledge. Goldstein, J. Technology and play. Pellegrini Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lankshear, C. New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning.

London: Open University Press. Marsh, J. Journal of Early Childhood Research , 8 1 , 23— University of Sheffield: Literacy Research Centre. Marshall, D. Todd Eds. Understanding children as consumers pp. McPake, J. Pre-school children creating and communicating with digital technologies in the home. British Journal of Educational Technology , 44 3 , — Living in the iworld: Two literacy researchers reflect on the changing texts and literacy practices of childhood. English Teaching: Practice and Change , 10 4 , — Phelan, K.

Picture this … safety, dignity, and voice—ethical research with children: Practical considerations for the reflexive researcher. Qualitative Inquiry , 19 2 , 81— Platz, D. Time tested early childhood theories and practices. Education , 1 , 54— Plowman, L. The technologisation of childhood?

Young children and technology in the home. Children and Society , 24 1 , 63— Just picking it up? Young children learning with technology at home. Cambridge Journal of Education , 38 3 , — Robert-Holmes, G. Doing your early years research project: A step-by-step guide 2nd ed. Selwyn, N. Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational technology.


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Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 26 1 , 65— Sheridan, M. Play in early childhood: From birth to six years. London: Routledge. Silvern, S. Educational implications of play with computers. Vandewater, E. Digital childhood: Electronic media and technology use amongst infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Paediatrics , 5 , — Wilkinson, S. Focus group research. Silverman Ed. Wood, E. Reconceptualising child-centred education: Contemporary directions in policy, theory and practice in early childhood.

Forum , 49 1 and 2 , — Contested concepts in educational play: A comparative analysis of early childhood policy frameworks in New Zealand and England. The progressive nature of play has been documented from a cognitive, social and emotional perspective. Parten observed children aged two to five years in their preschool environment. Through extensive observations she noted 16 theorizing about play that play became increasingly social with age. Awareness of the bodily self was seen as an important precursor to self-esteem in that we cannot evaluate the self without first having a basic awareness of what that self comprises.

Activities are shared and children become aware that their environment and their sense of self are not only controlled by themselves but are influenced by others. They learn how to maintain a positive sense of self in the wider social world. Give yourself some time to think Observe a child or group of children engaged in play. Useful reading Lester, S. Smith, P. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. However, it is important to bear in mind that wide variations are to be expected. This variation is evident in the illustrations used by Sheridan to exemplify her observations where sometimes, the age of the child pictured does not match the age with which the section is principally concerned.

Note how Sheridan has captured the behaviours and skills she discusses within the illustrations. About the same time, when lying on their stomach holding the head and shoulders up steadily, they will open and shut their hands to scratch the surface where they lie, with some appreciation of the simultaneous production of sight and sound. A handheld toy such as a rattle can be clasped and brought towards the face, but sometimes baby may bash their chin and any glances made at it are fleeting. By about 14 weeks, baby develops increased control over head, neck and eye muscles simultaneously to hand grasp, and can hold the toy and steadily regard it.

At about 18—20 weeks they can reach for and grasp an offered rattle, look at it with prolonged gaze and shake it. They can clasp and unclasp objects alternately and bring objects towards and away from the mouth. By 6 months, muscular control, vision and hand—eye co-ordination are so advanced that baby can reach for and seize any nearby object. They have not yet developed voluntary hand release. They discover their feet and often use them as auxiliary claspers. Every grasped object is brought to the mouth.

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They are beginning to comprehend the permanence of people but not yet the permanence of things. When a toy falls from their hand, unless it is within their range of vision, it ceases to exist. Key observations 6 months A bell is grasped with both hands, the bell is transferred to one hand and then brought to the mouth.

At about 7 months baby is able to pass a toy from one hand to the other with voluntary hand release. From about 8 months, baby can sit steadily on the floor, stretch out in all directions for toys within reach without falling over, and is able to reach towards eye-catching objects. A little later, from imitation or discovery, they can combine two objects in some active way, such as banging a couple of wooden spoons together or rattling a spoon in a cup.

During this time, baby is beginning to develop an ability to differentiate between familiar people and unfamiliar strangers.


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Object permanence develops around 9—10 months, as baby will lift a cushion to look underneath it for a halfhidden play object. It is not long after that a developed ability exists to detect a hidden object. During this time, babies enjoy producing 22 observing the development of play 9 months Sitting competently on the floor, baby reaches sideways to take the pegs from their holes but is not yet able to replace them. All babies, as they become more mobile, increasingly seek proximity to their primary caregiver partly for the reassurance of constant availability and partly to seek co-operation in play.

Babies begin to find meaning in their homely world 9 months Having watched a playmate build a tower of blocks to knock over, baby tries to imitate. Grasping right hand and pointing left index finger are well shown. The attention, relationships and play of the baby are still engaged and satisfied mainly at the level of ongoing perceptions, but immediate, brief imitations indicate the possession of a short-term memory and baby proceeds with the establishment of a long-term memory-bank.

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For the latter, all sorts of memories become stored, related to significant somatic, cognitive and affective experiences, for the purpose of instantaneous recognition, retrieval and creative assembly when needed. Early play remains repetitive unless the primary caregiver indicates the next step. In these homely ways, a child learns during the first year that things keep their properties even in movement, but the behaviour of people tends to be unpredictable.

Babies must be able to move about their familiar world so as to acquire a working knowledge of its nature and its possibilities while learning to control their own behaviours and relationships within it, before they can communicate wishes, attitudes and intentions with regard to it. Babies are also able to recognize situational constancy in home surroundings. For instance, they know when the primary caregiver is out of sight for a short time, and they begin to tolerate extended intervals of time and space between themselves and the primary caregiver.

In the first 12 months baby has already travelled a far distance from early dominance by neonatal reflexes, to present individualistic manifestations of capability and personality. To achieve full potential baby must be supported to travel even further and more rapidly during the next couple of years. In this period children become increasingly mobile, inquisitive and wilful. They have an increased ability to attend to detail and a growing recognition of cause and effect. The child is no longer satisfied with mainly perceptual phenomena and quickly loses interest in events which are presented mainly as distant, repetitious or unrewarding.

This understanding is first manifest through their own experiences, and actions. The child is dominated by an urge to explore and exploit the surrounding environment: for example, when exploring cupboards, to manipulate, smell and taste the objects within, sometimes presenting them to the primary caregiver. Children at this stage are also able to manipulate blocks with a good pincer grasp. A few moments later the pencil was shifted to the other hand.

Young children during this period are still tied to everyday family realities where role play features in short episodes. They also begin to communicate needs and feelings quite effectively in a medley of 26 observing the development of play 12 months This give-and-take play involved not only playthings but linguistic interchange.

At this developmental stage of limited cognitive, social and language appreciation, a doll or animal toy is treated like any other plaything. As soon as children are mobile they should be provided with some playthings and a place for territory so that they may learn not only the satisfactions but the accepted conventions of personal and territorial possession, including the need to respect the rights of others. Between 18 and 24 months, with rapidly improving control of the body and limbs, a child engages in many gross-motor activities such as pushing, pulling and carrying large objects, as well as climbing on furniture, low walls and steps.

Sitting on a small tricycle, the child can steer it on course, but propels it forward with feet on the ground. A sense of danger, like understanding and use of language, is still very limited. However, a desire for independent action is boundless. Therefore, the child requires constant supervision to be protected from danger. Young children will play contentedly at floor level for prolonged periods with suitable, durable toys, provided they know that a familiar and attentive adult is near. The child will enjoy putting small toys in and out of containers and is able to build towers observing the development of play 29 20 months Enjoys the simultaneous sight and sound and muscular precision of the hammering activity.

Children are able to experiment for lengthening periods of time with water and sand, or malleable materials like clay and dough, using their hands and simple tools effectively, but as yet without the ability to plan or achieve an end-product. Drawings have no real pictorial representation and although one hand is tending to show dominance, such preference is still very 30 observing the development of play 18 months Crawling swiftly up the garden steps.

The usual sequence of movements — right hand, left foot; left hand, right foot — is clearly shown. These manifestations of unequal, shifting or perhaps non-simultaneous appreciation and control of laterality continue with decreasing frequency throughout the pre-school years. The child is still ego-centric but is actively building memories from mimicking the behaviours of those around them. For example, nearby cushions and coverings might be used opportunistically while the child plays for a few moments at pretending to go to bed. The child is able to put two or three toys together meaningfully — a doll on a chair; bricks in a truck — but seldom, as yet, makes one object represent another or uses mime to symbolize absent things or events.

From 15—18 months onwards a child also becomes increasingly interested in picture books, first to recognize and name people, animals, objects and familiar actions eating and drinking, getting into a car, posting a letter. Soon they can follow a simple story read aloud while exploring the pictures. Next they begin to make comments and ask questions. Some of this love of books and stories, which is very beneficial for language development, is associated with a continued need for close proximity to the primary caregiver, a normal phase of socialization.

The child can comprehend most simple language they hear. Also at about 21 months children begin to demonstrate their appreciation that miniature i. They clearly show this externalization or expression of previously internalized i. Constant sympathetic, but non-stressful adult encouragement to engage in every sort of spontaneous play is essential not only to the contentment but to the fundamental learning of children between 1 and 2 years of age.

Through manipulation of playthings, they first discover through their visual, auditory and tactile perceptions what they are and what special properties they possess i. This investigative behaviour is often evident during makebelieve play. From the age of 2 years a child is becoming increasingly skilful in every form of motor activity and may be able to ride a tricycle forwards, using the pedals, and steer it round corners. Skills of kicking, throwing and catching a ball increase. The child enjoys simple jigsaw puzzles and can match four or five colours and several shapes.

These developments are immediately reflected in their play. The child will still follow familiar adults around the house, imitating and joining in their activities, calling attention to their own efforts, demanding approval, and asking innumerable questions. The man is at the top of the lighthouse. During these mini-dramas they talk aloud to themselves, in appropriate terms, describing and explaining what is being done, instructing themselves with regard to immediately forthcoming actions or formulating their uncertainties.

At this developmental stage a child seems to realize their physical separateness before appreciating their own cognitive and affective individuality. For some time, therefore, the child remains convinced that the primary caregiver automatically apprehends what the child is feeling, needing and intending.

However, under 3 years or so, the child does not expect other children to share the inner workings of their own mind, but assumes their own right to exercise dictatorial behaviour. Each child has their own play materials and play space. Lego blocks used to represent food in a mealtime scene. From 3 years onwards children still need to play. The child is able to run freely, climb over and about the usual nursery apparatus, negotiate slides, crawl through barrels and jump on small trampolines.

The child is able to develop skills in riding a tricycle, confidently using the pedals and steering safely round sharp corners. The child now has observing the development of play 3—4 years 37 a clear appreciation of space in relation to their own body in size and shape, at rest and in movement. The child is able to carry large blocks, planks and boards with the help of co-operative playmates to build constructions in which to conduct a host of vivid make-believe activities.

Block building remains popular for many years, proceeding from simple towers to more elaborate structures, ingeniously planned and carefully executed. Later, these constructions are often taken into other, more complicated and fanciful play with miniature cars, furniture and dolls to form part of the settings. From 3 years onwards puzzles with a greater number of pieces are needed.

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Later assembly of a picture with many more pieces becomes all-important. It is not clear why some children perform in this fashion, but it may be that they are manifesting the commonly found sequence of learning which proceeds from general overview, through separate analysis of details, to final immediate synthesis into a well-apprehended whole.

Play with plasticine and other malleable materials can be enjoyable from 3 years onwards, and particularly with over-4s. Spontaneous drawings of 3s and 4s as distinct from copy-design become increasingly elaborate and diverse in colour, form and content, although they still remain chiefly concerned with people, houses, vehicles and flowers.

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The 3-year-old does not name the drawing until it is finished. At this stage, improvised constructional building, table and floor games, dressing up and make-believe play are greatly favoured. Children need opportunities through play for discussion, planning, sharing, taking turns and recognition of agreed rules. Interest in music-making, usually in the form of percussion instruments or simple wind instruments, often begins to show itself from 3 years Supremely secure, engaging in elaborate role and make-believe play.

Children can manifest unusually sophisticated tastes very early, not only in their listening, but in expression, recognizing and recalling tunes learned from adults and older children, or heard on the radio. Some may ask for and even manage to play such musical instruments as are within their capacity to manipulate. Children and their playmates informally communicate in a glorious mixture of words, exaggerated vocal cadences, facial expressions and telling gestures, and they understand each other perfectly.

Once free communication has been established within any group, the signs of leadership show up clearly, with the dominant child deciding who shall play the major roles and who shall be the subsidiary characters. The leader may or may not generously agree to later interchanges of roles and taking turns. Four-year-olds delight in rhymes, riddles, simple jokes and verbal teasing. They love having stories read to them, especially when they can simultaneously look at illustrations. Although they now appreciate peers to play with, they still enjoy being with their parents and siblings at home, continuing to learn by imitating, trying out new skills, listening, talking and asking endless questions.

A younger child would probably first spread them all out on the table-top. Appetite for adventure is not always matched by appreciation of the dangers: children enjoy taking risks that end in self-discovered boundaries! In play they show an increasing enjoyment not only of elaborate make-believe activities but of complicated indoor and outdoor games which require knowledgeable preliminary instruction, hard practice, strict adherence to rules and a sense of fair play.

This elaborate construction, assembled and dismantled every day, provides opportunity for every kind of outdoor play. For the next few years the separate interests of boys and girls are clearly evident in their spontaneous play, although in school playgrounds teachers usually organize and encourage mixed-play activities. A group of familiar friends on the roundabout in the park. A certain element of danger adds to the attraction of this swing. Using the secure base formed through attachment with the primary caregiver, they explore the environment, at first using their senses.

Through continued interaction with others, they gradually develop communication and social skills, recognizing a world outside of the self. With mobility and dexterity, they explore objects and their properties, utilizing them in increasingly complex ways. Through this expanding repertoire of play behaviour, children learn about themselves, about others and about the world around them, developing through play. Useful reading Hughes, F.

London: Sage. Riddall-Leech, S. Harlow: Heinemann. Through her observations, Sheridan illustrated how play changes with age as children gradually acquire new competencies that both reflect and influence their development. We saw how play progresses from that which is sensory in nature, to symbolic play, imaginative play and play that incorporates rules. Sheridan also detailed the increasingly social nature of play. We present these sequences here. Also remain mindful that wide variation is to be expected.

Immediately afterwards the top of the handle is brought to the mouth. It is difficult to decide whether this is fortuitous exploration or deferred definition-by-use. A few moments later the child found considerable pleasure in clicking them together. Having built half the tower with their right hand, they shift attention to the left. This interesting form of self-training is very common.

A moment later the pencil was passed from right to left, again marking paper. Mirror posture in left hand. The pencil grip near tip is more mature, but the production is still non-pictorial. Productions are still more in the nature of visuo-motor activities than representative pictures. The child asked to be given a letter to copy. They did not seem to realize that what had been copied was upside down. One used only black paint, the other several colours. The end products are both fairly age-characteristic. Originally reported these as self-portraits, but cheerfully admitted many inaccuracies.

The mature grip of right hand and the helpful use of left to steady the paper are well shown. They print their name beneath, working briskly and silently in happy concentration. The caregiver names toys and the child repeats the name, but still does not appreciate that the toys represent real-life objects. Although silent, they are busily engaged. The play goes on continuously from day to day. They had papered the walls and made all of the furnishings themselves.

However, in addition, it will include a discussion of variation in play according to gender, culture and adversity. Understanding variation in play is important because it provides an insight into the uniqueness of different cultures, facilitates culturally appropriate professional practice, and highlights the dynamic and ever-changing structure and social organization of families Roopnarine et al. Children across all cultures play in the ways described by Sheridan, developing a repertoire of skills to support play that involves the use of senses, objects, symbolism and pretence, and an understanding of rules.

As Hughes states, play is a true cultural universal and even children with substantial domestic or agricultural duties seem to find opportunities to play during their day Maybin and Woodhead, The literature surrounding parenting behaviour suggests that cultural variations exist in the nature of early interactions between children and their primary caregivers Darling and Steinberg, Of importance to the process of developing play skills, however, is that effective early parent—child interactions serve to ensure that the child feels emotionally secure and able to explore their social and material environment.

Effective early interactions are characterized by the provision of boundaries and emotional responsiveness. Darling and Steinberg remind us that parenting occurs within a cultural context, and the way that parents express emotional responsiveness and set boundaries in play often reflects parenting practice which itself is deeply embedded within a cultural context. Hughes describes how American mothers tend to set broad boundaries in play, encouraging children to take notice of and explore the wider environment, consistent with their promotion of autonomy and independence.

By contrast, he describes how Japanese mothers tend to encourage play that involves close and controlled social interaction, such as nurturing doll play, promoting a sense of dependency. Haight et al. The transmission of cultural values through play is also evident in the emphasis placed on play within education. In China, play has traditionally been seen as recreational rather than educational and not related to intellectual development Cooney and Sha, Variation also exists in the availability or suitability of play materials. Lindon describes how, in some cultures, dolls hold particular spiritual or ceremonial significance and as such might not be considered suitable for play.

Where toys are not available for play, children will often construct what they need from materials found in their environment.

Early childhood development

Play materials in Kenya among Massai children, for example, include toys made from wood, straw, animal skins and bone, stones, and other found objects. Sometimes props are not needed at all and play revolves solely around shared knowledge and understanding Haight et al. At the other end of the spectrum, the influence of our technological world is reflected in the replica toys made available for even the youngest children: for example, pretend mobile phones and baby laptops. The miniaturization of the technology associated with consumer electronics means that children may now interact with sophisticated materials as they play.

The festivities associated with Halloween, a celebration that involves dressing up as ghosts and ghouls and playing such games as apple-bobbing and trick or treat, originated in American culture but have since spread to many other parts of the world. Play in an East Indian context is often influenced by ceremonial activities, such as the celebration of Diwali, where children and families tell ancient stories through puppetry, music and dance, and celebrate colour and light through mark making and fireworks Roopnarine et al.

In a growing multicultural society, these celebrations are increasingly likely to be shared by children and families from a variety of backgrounds, through community activities and school experiences. The response required, however, relates to our biological sex. Arguably, gender relates to the characteristics associated with our biological sex, characteristics which are often learned via the process of socialization.

Distinguishing between sex and gender in research is important as findings relating to sex differences would suggest variation between boys and girls from a biological or genetic perspective, whereas findings relating to gender difference would include variation resulting from the process of socialization. As the development of play skills is largely a social process, unpicking that which is a result of biological sex and that which is a result of socialization can be difficult, if not impossible. If we consider the observations of Sheridan in relation to the social, physical, intellectual and linguistic competencies associated with the developing repertoire of play skills, then, from a biological perspective, boys and girls progress in much the same way.

Variation is more apparent in relation to what they choose to play. Research has consistently demonstrated that, given a choice of toys to play with, children show a preference for those that are commonly associated with their own gender: for example, girls choose to play with dolls, prams or tea-sets, while boys choose cars, trucks or building blocks Hines and Kaufman, Servin et al.

However, even at this young age, it is still difficult to conclude that the behaviour is a result of any differences due to biological sex. The gender of the child also influences the style of our interactions. Lindahl and Heimann studied the social behaviour of mother—daughter and mother—son dyads and found that mother—daughter dyads remained in closer proximity to one another and engaged in more physical and visual contact.

It may be that the close proximity and intimate communication apparent in interaction with baby girls lends itself to nurturing types of play while the emphasis on physical activity and opportunities for independence and exploration are reflected in boys choosing to play with mobile toys, such as cars and trucks. However, Lindsey et al. As well as imitating what they see in their home environments, a widened social network coupled with exposure to television broadcasting reinforces their gender knowledge.

Differences are manifest within more complex types of play, for example in the types of role-playing games in which they choose to engage and in the specific roles they adopt within this play. The patterns of preferential toy choice made in the first year extend into later childhood, where girls seek out information about human relationships and boys seek out action Kalliala, Research has consistently shown that across cultures, boys tend to engage in more of this physical type of play than girls Jarvis, Themes in role play among boys also tend to involve war or pseudo-violence, and much has been done in the United Kingdom to curtail this type of activity.

While the content of their play may differ, boys and girls across many cultures develop the physical, cognitive, social and linguistic capacities to play in the variety of ways described by Sheridan. Any differences in the predominance of play behaviour according to gender or culture, in the main, appear to emerge as a result of environmental stimuli and the assimilation of cultural norms and values: for example, through the availability of materials, parenting behaviour, peer interaction or exposure to the media.

Sheridan describes how, with adequate opportunity and support, children gain mastery over their actions, integrating sensory and motor experiences. This mastery builds esteem and confidence, and children spontaneously seek out new challenges. They use their existing play skills and emotional security as resources to support future development. Adversity and atypicality can alter or interrupt this process.


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In the case of adversity, children may not be provided with the opportunity to play or to create a strong emotional base through secure attachments. Webb and Brown demonstrated how regular interaction with others and being offered opportunities to play greatly improved the development of children who had previously been confined to hospital beds in Romania.

Alternatively, children may face such severe disruption that the prospect of a new challenge overwhelms them and they may stop playing or return to early play behaviours with which they feel comfortable. According to Hyder , the majority of children can be helped to overcome adversity through their own play. Of course, for some children, specialist support is necessary and complex trauma might involve children working with play therapists or psychotherapists. Here, play is employed more directly as a means of communicating and resolving emotional issues. Atypically developing children may have physical disabilities, sensory, social or intellectual impairment or a combination of these things, which makes integrating learning experiences more challenging.

Writing about deaf children, Marschark suggests that in a bid to view disability more positively, we can often dismiss what he terms self-evident truths, in that atypically developing children often experience a more limited world, their interactions are guided by different rules and constraints and these differences are likely to impact on their development in complex and numerous ways. From a developmental perspective, children with sensory, social and intellectual impairments often show a preference for more solitary or parallel types of play and engage in less imaginative role play or symbolic play with objects Hughes, Children can be helped to overcome adversity and to make the most of their play with considered support that builds on their strengths and abilities.

Considered support will undoubtedly involve parents and professionals working with children in partnership, providing for enjoyment of the here and now of play, as well as supporting developmental progress. It is important that we do not overemphasize play as a way of becoming, at the detriment to play as a way of being Sturrock et al. We must remain mindful that a sense of freedom, choice and control is paramount to the broad range of play experiences we offer to all children Howard, b.

Development of and through play reflects the increasingly effective integration of sensory and motor experiences, and these experiences are supported by social interaction. Information based on developmental milestones often feeds into targets for attainment, and it has been argued that this emphasizes a top-down or deficit model of development that focuses on the skills children have yet to achieve, rather than their current abilities Lindon, At a basic level it allows us to plan the experiences and materials we might make available for children; but, importantly, it also helps us to understand and support their development better.

The Birth to Three Matters agenda DfES, suggests that development is best supported through play as it enables children to explore the world around them and offers rich opportunities for social interaction. However, enabling children to learn through play relies on our understanding that play itself is a developmental process and, like other developmental processes, is subject to variation.

Throughout this book we have been reminded that while children learn in lots of different ways, the sense of freedom, choice and control inherent in play renders it particularly useful for development. When children are at play, their development is enhanced. Remaining mindful of these characteristics can ensure inclusive and supportive play practice. If we seek to promote activities that afford a sense of freedom, choice and control, we can be more certain that our practice begins with the child.

Inclusive play practice is accessible to all children and allows them to demonstrate achievement, whatever their ability. Establishing a partnership with the child and their family ensures that we begin planning play experiences with as much knowledge as possible. Information gained from talking to the child, their parents or other professionals is combined with expertise in child development and play, to guide planning and provision. Once play is ongoing, a constant process of reflection informs developmental progress, future planning and our own professional development.

This might include planned, opportunistic, structured or unstructured observations and talking to children about their play, perhaps using photographs or artefacts as conversational prompts. It might involve thinking about time, space and materials for play or about our own role in play activities.

Can they develop new ones? Was this as planned? Was it effective? Useful reading Fromberg, D. Sussex: Routledge. Hyder, T. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Macintyre, C. Extending our discussion of reflective practice from the previous chapter, we will consider the role of adults in play, including parents or primary caregivers, along with a variety of different play professionals who may be encountered by children as they grow. Provisions for play Sheridan identifies four provisions as being of primary importance to enable spontaneous play: playthings, playspace, playtime and playmates.

Not too few or the child will lack stimulation, and not too many or they will become confused and unable to concentrate. The need for companionship proceeds as social communications improve. In commercial society, we can often feel overwhelmed with toys designed to have pre-planned outcomes that promote cultural materialistic values.

Items with such fixed purposes often appear to contradict the notion of spontaneity in play. Indeed, sometimes these items place a strong emphasis on developmental or educational outcomes rather than offering real play value. Hyun suggests that parents from European and North American backgrounds often value play for its potential to promote cognitive development and that this influences them when choosing toys for their children.

However, in Chapter 1, we saw how the same activity could be seen as play or not play by children, where the approach taken to the activity is more important than the materials themselves. Fabrics of different colours and textures stimulate the senses and at the same time provide endless ideas for dressing up. As Sheridan demonstrates in her observations, cardboard boxes can be climbed into and out of as children learn about their relative size, and they can be used to make dens or other constructions.

Children can make great use of household items and will often choose these over plastic imitations, preferring real saucepans and spoons in their imitative domestic play. Saucepans and spoons are also ideal for noise making. Random collections of providing for play Playthings 69 items in a box or basket invite rather than direct the young child to explore objects and their properties Goldschmied and Jackson, This emphasizes the value of offering children openended and often natural play materials that give them the opportunity to develop their play — introducing, modifying and changing ideas.

When choosing materials for play, it is useful to consider their purpose and play value and their potential for open and closed use. Of course, materials must always be safe for children and checked frequently for wear and tear. Time and space When creating time and space for play, it is useful to be aware that children become attuned to details such as where, when and with whom activities take place, and they learn to distinguish play from other activities through their experiences Howard, To encourage children to take a playful approach to a wide range of activities, adults can ensure that play is not restricted to a particular location, unnecessarily timed, socially prescriptive or secondary to other activities.

Time available for play need not be excessive and children seek out opportunities to play amid the busiest of schedules. If children are in control of their play, the potential for them to become bored, restless or prematurely interrupted is kept to a minimum. Children need space where they can play with others but also smaller, quiet spaces for their own solitary activity, providing opportunities for autonomy and independence but also a secure base to which they can return or retreat, as and when necessary.

Indoor and outdoor places are both important. Children seek adventure and challenge in their play outdoors; they explore places and enjoy transforming spaces to create imaginary worlds Tovey, As is documented in Chapter 1, play becomes increasingly social over time. Early interactions encourage social interaction and playfulness, for example peek-a-boo and imitation games. Early relationships are particularly important for the development of attachments which enable the young child to feel secure enough to explore their world.

Quality parent—child interaction involves listening to, respecting and supporting the child to encourage an exploration of strengths and limitations within secure boundaries. Young children often refer to playmates as their friends. Children develop a closeness to friends interested in playing the same games through shared play experiences. Initial friendship choices are based on proximity and being playmates. During this play, however, children develop the skills necessary to learn about themselves and others, enabling them to make friendship decisions based on personal characteristics.

Taking on a range of roles is important. A predominantly mediating or modelling role can influence whether children accept adults into their play on future occasions Howard, Engaging as an equal partner in play affords children an authentic sense of control and communicates that we value their own directed activities.

The nature of the dialogue that occurs is also important. Particular types of question posing can enable possibility thinking and creativity Chappell et al. Being sensitive, showing respect and taking an empathetic stance will allow the practitioner and child to establish a trusting relationship. The child will feel sufficiently safe to take risks that are framed by a shared understanding of boundaries. Play in different contexts The opportunities for development within authentic play activities cannot be neatly compartmentalized. Sheridan writes: Play provides opportunities to strengthen the body, improve the mind, develop the personality and acquire social competence, it is as necessary as food, warmth and protective care.

However, various play professionals emphasize opportunities differently. One of the first advocates of play in early education was Froebel — Froebel designed particular materials to support what he described as the occupation of play. As a result, his ideas are often interpreted as being structured and focused on skills development.

This was certainly true for Montessori — , who developed sets of apparatus to stimulate physical and sensory ability. Froebel, however, argued that play was the highest form of human expression and paid particular attention to the importance of open-ended play experiences for supporting personal and emotional development. Isaacs shared this view, and argued that the autonomy afforded to children in play supported a positive sense of self which, in turn, promoted intellectual development.

Publishing in the same era, Piaget, who argued that play was secondary to real learning, became better known. Of importance was that this pattern of development would unfold without the need for instruction and that children benefited from being active in their own learning. Vygotsky placed stronger emphasis on the social and cultural elements of play. He suggested that play served as the first form of language and communication and that during play children learned to understand the nature of rules and symbols. Indeed, he argued that, in play, children behave as though they are a head taller than themselves.

The ideas of Piaget and Vygotsky are synthesized in the work of Bruner Bruner challenged the Piagetian idea that children needed to be ready for certain types of learning. He suggested that almost any concept could be introduced to children in some form at any time, and that the three different modes of exploration could be used without restriction.

He argued that children needed to develop fundamental learning skills rather than facts, and that the best way to do this was via repeated exposure to basic ideas. In this spiral approach, children are able to extend their thinking, accruing skills and abilities that they can transfer to different contexts. Play therapy grew from the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud — In addition, she suggested children used play to replay events and explore ways of dealing with emotions.

A major criticism of psychoanalytic play therapy is the notion that play is representative of the unconscious mind and requires interpretation. Winnicott suggested that the process of play was far more important. This, coupled with the emergence of more humanistic approaches to therapy, has led to a variety of play therapy practices that are distinct from the psychoanalytic tradition, each involving different degrees of adult direction and interpretation see Wilson and Ryan, This emphasizes both the significance of the play process and the importance of a warm and accepting therapeutic relationship.

This approach is guided by eight principles that ensure the child feels their own initiated play activities are valued. The therapist recognizes this by reflecting back to the child what is being done, showing they are present and aware. There is acknowledgement but not praise, which ensures that the play proceeds in the way the child wishes, rather than promoting any compliance to social desirability.

Whereas therapies following the psychoanalytic tradition can be difficult to evidence, more support is available for the beneficial effects of this non-directive approach. There are parallels between non-directive play therapy and good practice in other professional contexts. This underpins the proposition of Hyder , who argues that, for many children, the challenge of adversity can often be met with opportunities to play rather than therapy. Recreational play Cohen suggests that the provision of recreational play spaces such as parks and playgrounds grew out of initiatives designed for social engineering.

He describes how playgrounds were initially provided to keep children off the streets, offering places where they could engage in purposeful physical and social activity. It housed waste materials such as timber, old cars and boxes. The first adventure playground was opened in in Denmark. Following its success, there was a prolific growth in playground provision. The opportunistic visit of Lady Allen of Hurtwood to the Danish junk playground in led to the adoption of the idea in the United Kingdom. These playgrounds came to be known as adventure playgrounds and were characterized by affording children the opportunity to play as freely as possible within safe limits.

The adventure playground movement recognized the need for children to satisfy their spontaneous drive to play and understood that play was necessarily child directed. Children needed outdoor spaces to take risks and try out new ideas, free from unnecessary rules and 76 providing for play constraint. Gill suggests opportunities for outdoor play might be reduced in modern Western society due to increased traffic, media scare stories about paedophilia and ever-increasing concerns about litigation among professionals who work with children.

Support for the need to increase recreational play opportunities is evidenced by funding for provision being made available via initiatives such as the Play Strategy DCSF, a. Outdoor play is also emphasized in current early years curricula and the Forest School movement Knight, Following a small scale study, Waters and Begley suggest that risk taking behaviours are supported by the Forest School environment as it promotes a permissive ethos towards physical challenge and offers a diverse natural environment.

The play activity that frequently occurs in outdoor spaces contributes greatly to bodily awareness, balance and co-ordination Greenland, Tovey describes how flexible play spaces promote risk-taking behaviour and allow children to explore the unknown. She proposes that managing risk is an essential, transferable life skill. Within the realms of early education, play has been described as a principal vehicle for learning and it is central to such curriculum initiatives as the Foundation Phase in Wales DCELLS, Given the amount of time children spend in the school environment, teachers and classroom assistants are arguably our most important play professionals.

Their jobs require extensive knowledge of play, learning and child development, and the skills to combine this successfully with the requirements of the curriculum. Balancing play provision with a need to show that children are learning can be hard work. We also have to balance the need for children to take risks with health and safety requirements, so many games and activities I remember playing are not allowed any more: conkers, marbles and climbing trees, for example.

A particular challenge is making sure that staff are well trained. In education, the focus of training is often on learning and not much time is spent on play. With my training and experience, I now value the process of play rather than focus on outcomes. Of course, we do some structured activities too but I try to make these playful by allowing children to take the lead. I feel more like an equal. There are often unexpected outcomes and this is exciting.

Playworkers are guided by a set of principles that emphasize the freedom and spontaneity of play and as such there is a focus on open-access provision, where children can come and go as they please. Playworkers use their extensive knowledge of play to provide and enrich spaces where children can engage in activities within safe boundaries. Positions might include work providing for play within out-of-school clubs, holiday play schemes or adventure playgrounds.

Teams of playworkers might be co-ordinated by a play development officer, usually an experienced playworker who has undergone additional training. I started with a playwork certificate but have since completed a variety of additional qualifications in community development, Forest School and youth work. Every day as a development officer throws up a new challenge. Variety keeps the job fresh and although I have an office base, I work at different locations to deliver training, attend meetings, run events and act as an advocate for play.

All this in addition to co-ordinating the open-access play schemes and my teams of playworkers. I meet lots of different people and like to see the positive contribution that our work has on communities. You really have to believe in what you do and have a thorough knowledge of the benefits for both the children and their communities. Specialist knowledge about the process of play and its developmental and therapeutic potential can be utilized in a range of contexts. It can be an extension to the playworker role; however, not all specialists in developmental and therapeutic play will have this background.

For example, developmental and therapeutic play is less likely to be open-access provision and activities may be developed to meet providing for play Developmental and therapeutic play specialists 79 particular needs. In addition, there is increased responsibility for the individual child or group, rather than a general responsibility for the play safety boundaries of the environment Lindon, The practitioner may be involved with the child in the context of another professional role e.

Kerri, developmental and therapeutic play specialist, UK I have been working as a developmental and therapeutic play specialist in a primary school for two years. My role is to make sure children get maximum benefit and enjoyment from their experience of being at school, in particular helping them to make the most of play. The school I work in has a large multicultural population and I help to make sure that the play of children from all cultures is nurtured. Through play, I work with children who are finding it difficult to integrate into the school, perhaps because they are new to the area, those who need help in developing their play skills, those who have low confidence or perhaps behavioural issues.

I have a dedicated playroom for one-to-one or small-group sessions and these might involve craft activities, clay, puppets or music activities. I really love my job as I get to do something I am passionate about — play. Every day is unique, rewarding and, of course, fun. On a typical day I could have two or three outreach appointments to visit children or young people in school for therapeutic play support.

The sessions are always child-led and it works really well. This may be the only aspect of their chaotic lives where the child or young person has control. In the afternoon I run creative play sessions for small groups of children within the refuge. Funding is very poor, though. I receive referrals on a daily basis. While the initial focus was on providing opportunities for play while children were hospitalized, the role has grown considerably in scope and complexity over time.

I have been in my current post on the paediatric ward for eight years. I am one of three hospital play specialists who, with five play-leaders, make up our play team.

Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years Play in Early Childhood: From Birth to Six Years
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