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Play as a Learning Method: Characteristics and Essence of Play

Have you ever observed children playing? What do you think children are doing when they play with blocks, stack them to create a building, dismantle and begin again? It may surprise you to know that in this playful situation, their flexibility, creative expression, and emotions are challenged.

In the context of preschool education, the importance of play is generally accepted. Although theories of children’s learning keep changing throughout history, in most of the theories, however, play is viewed as an act of learning in children.

This article examines the concept of play, the characteristics and essence of play as well as stages of play in the pre-school years.

Definition of Play

You will notice that children tend to play a lot. It has been found that unless otherwise engaged, children spend most of their waking hours playing. Indeed, for many people and early childhood educators, in particular, childhood is closely related to play. Children express play in many ways and adults sometimes interpret what play is in many different ways.

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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child for instance suggests that there is a collective agreement about the value of play for young children, stating that a child should not have to work but should have opportunities for play and leisure activities.

Briefly defined, play is a natural, spontaneous, creative activity, voluntary, and intrinsically generated activity that brings fun to children. It is through which children learn several things. The beginning of playful activity can be observed from the period of infancy.

For children, play is a learning process wherein they learn about the world around them, learn various concepts, learn to adjust to others and work out fears, and master emotions. Contrary to the belief of many adults, childhood play is not mere pleasure; it is a serious business though enjoyable and creative. It is preparation for adult life.

Play: Infancy is day 1 to X years! X =?

Can you do this simple exercise? What age is the end of infancy? It is twelve months. By one year, a child has become a toddler.

You must recognize that play is as important to a baby as to an older child. The baby plays with his fingers and toes by moving them, feeling them, and tasting them. He/she starts grasping rattles and other objects in his vicinity, holding them, throwing them, banging them, tasting them, etc. He responds to playful tickling by the mother.

Through all these playful activities, the baby is learning:

  • About “me”, his boundaries, that is, where he “stops” and others “start”. In other words, he learns to differentiate himself from the world around him.
  • About different objects and their qualities and what he can do with them.
  • About relationships, responding to others, and mutual enjoyment.

To develop communication. When you talk to him, the baby responds by cooing, gurgling, and babbling. This is the first stage of language development.

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Play: One to Five Years

As the child starts to walk, he gains greater control over the movement and thus can explore larger areas in his environment. He is less dependent on others, more mobile, more active, and full of energy and curiosity and play is his most time–consuming occupation. By engaging in play, a pre-school learn:

Various concepts such as color, size, shape, volume, weight, etc. He becomes familiar with and learns the names of different animals, birds, vegetables, fruits, etc.

To use and develop his motor skills. This not only improves his muscular coordination but also gives him a sense of confidence, achievement, and a feeling of power and mastery, which is the basis of a healthy self-concept.

To express as well as control emotions like love, sympathy, hostility, anger, and jealousy, which are always in the foreground at this stage. Play provides an outlet for the release of pent-up emotions as much emotional energy is expended during the process.

To appreciate and enjoy music, art, and poetry. The child learns to observe and appreciate the beauty of the trees, birds, flowers, etc, in his natural surroundings thus, acquiring an aesthetic sense.

To expand his imagination and increase his creativity. Through make-believe play, a child learns to use images, assemble events in his mind, imitate sounds and movements, and discover new ways of using materials.
The different roles of people in society.

Through play, he is allowed to “try out” these roles by imitating his parents, teachers, doctor, farmer, policeman, etc.

Note The word “he” used in this text does not restrict the sex to only a male child, the child could be male or female. But for this purpose the “he” connotes both.

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