To what extent can it be said that play is a social, cognitive and creative process?

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To what extent can it be said that play is a social, cognitive and creative process?

Play is generally defined as behaviour that lacks an instant aim or benefit. There is though a broad range of criteria due to the many play behaviourists. Play has connotations of fun and relaxation. It can develop the child’s language, social, emotional, intellectual, moral and physical skills, or is a way of self-expression. It does not necessarily have to acquire an end product. Classical theories of play predate the twentieth century; their main focus is the purpose of play. They include the ‘surplus energy theory’, ‘recreation play’ and ‘recapitulation theories’. Modern work deals with psychological development, looking at programmes for children under the age of five, e.g. adding play into the school curriculum. They include the ‘meta-communication’, ‘arousal modulation’ and ‘stage based theories’. Dockett and Fleer (1999). Whilst the latest work is a combination of both classical and modern.

Play is essential for developing social behavioural skills in children, such as facial expressions. They learn social rules such as ‘give and take’. By providing different apparatus children progress through the different social stages. This enables the child to develop moral reasoning. For example, in my observations of children making Easter cards, they each had to take it in turn to use the different apparatus. This type of play was structured, as it was teacher led. Goals were put to the children to make an Easter card. (Appendix 1).

Gregory Bateson (1976) is known for the modern theory of 'meta-communication’. This deals with a child’s social play. It combines theories with shared understandings about play strategies. Bateson  (1976). The variations in different children’s play behaviour, their use of play types and communication with others identifies clues to adaptation and development. Wilber (1996).

Parten (1933), a modernist, believed strongly in the social aspect of play. He said there were six categories where children playing within a group engaged in social interaction. These include unoccupied play, where the child appears not to be playing at all. Solitary play, where the child is absorbed in their own activity and learning to explore shape texture e.t.c. Another aspect of solitary play is that another child is merely another object. For example, in my observations of the “fairy tale corner” one particular child appeared to be absorbed in their own activity, rather than joining in the role-play with the rest of the children. If someone approached this particular child they acted as if they didn’t exist and carried on with their individual play (Appendix 2).

On-looking play, is where the child watches others from the edge of the group, the child’s play takes a great leap as they are showing an interest in other children’s activities. Parallel play, when the children play alongside each other, the child is content in another child’s company. Associative play is where the children play with each other, sharing similar materials but in an unorganised way. Co-operative play is where the children play fully together. This is where the child is most social.

Children have particular roles in the playgroup i.e. leader. By the age of four children within a group often enjoy playing make believe and interpret an adult i.e., playing doctors. Co-operative play allows the children to represent their own social world and those of adults. Social skills of a high order are often shown in games involving twelve or more children. Hill & Tisdall (1997)

Social knowledge can influence children’s games they play. They often feel pleased about having a game that an adult does not know or understand. It enables them to develop their own culture. Through play together they cope with issues of the adult world. Roles of a doctor or vet are preparing the child for the adult world.

The compound flexibility cycle explores a child’s flexibility and development. By allowing a child control in their play it results in a feeling of pleasure, which leads on to self-confidence, self-acceptance and the ability to cope with every day problems. The more self confident a child becomes the more flexible they will grow to be in the adult world.

Michael Hirst and Sally Baldwin (1994) discovered that the majority of disabled children had a ‘satisfactory’ social life. Berndt (1986) stated that one of the major perceptions of friendship for a disabled child was ‘playing’ together. However social interactions for children with special needs, e.g. autism, can be difficult due to their biology, as other children find it hard to understand the way in which they express themselves. They have trouble moving their body the way they want and processing information. Hill & Tisdall (1997)

Play for a child is not only about developing socially. Jerome Bruner (1990) believed that play is when cognitive skills are practised. Once a child has learnt a skill and been assimilated the child can then move onto a higher task and new challenges. So increased cognition leads on to more complex creativity.

Karl Groos (1898,1901) said a child’s cognitive development benefits greatly from play. It prepares children for adulthood, developing their mental and physical capacities. This was a change from early classical theories of ‘surplus energy’, focusing mainly on physical play, e.g. humans play when they have excess energy. Spencer Schiller (1875) a German philosopher, defined play as “the aimless expenditure of exuberant energy”. Conversely Moritz Lazarus 1883 placed belief in the classical theory of ‘recreation play’. Play is a way of restoring energy rather than expending it. .

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The Cognitive Development Theory supported by Vygotsky, Bruner and Piaget looks at the thought processes of children, i.e. the organisation of information and memory.

Vygotsky introduced the “zone of proximal development.” He proposed that a child’s make-believe or “dramatic play” allows them to create self-imposed rules, sometimes above their own cognitive ability. Vygotsky’s 'cultural-historical theory' says that the development of children is a result of their interactions with other children, parents, teachers and type of social environment. For example, socio-cultural events like Christmas or Ramadan.

Bruner built on Vygotsky’s ideas. Children are active participants. ...

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