From an early age, play is important to a child’s development and learning. It isn’t just physical. It can involve cognitive, imaginative, creative, emotional and social aspects. It is the main way children express their impulse to explore, experiment and understand. Children of all ages play (Dobson, 2004, p.8).

This essay will describe the defining features of play, demonstrate an understanding of the roles and functions of play in early years settings and also make reference to theoretical models. It will demonstrate an understanding of how play supports learning and teaching in the early years with regards to early years curriculum and discuss the role of the practitioner in supporting learning through play. The essay will conclude to describe how play can be developed further in order to promote all aspects of children’s learning and development.

The Government’s review of children’s play Getting Serious About Play defines play as what children and young children do when they follow their own ideas, in their own way and for their own reasons (North Somerset Council, Date Unknown). For example, this means that children develop their own ideas and choose what they want to do themselves. It is personally directed by the child and instinctively motivated.  

Play helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. It allows them to digest life and make it their own. (Almon, 2003). This means that the role of play is important in children’s development and this is a recognised aspect within the early years.

According to the DfES (2007) children’s play reflects their wide ranging and varied interests and preoccupations. In their play children learn at their highest level. Play with peers is important for children’s development. It is now recognised as an important and crucial aspect of children’s development. For example, in many countries play is widely viewed as an effective way in which children learn, and most curriculum outlines or frameworks make some reference to play. (The role of Play in children’s Learning, No Date)

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) emphasise that play is vital for children. Quite literally. It’s through play that babies and young children learn, grow and have fun. It helps them understand the world and to develop socially and emotionally.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) carefully studied the different kinds of play of children of different ages including his own. He then constructed a theory which explained how play fits in with overall development and the development of intelligence. (Sylva and Lunt, 1982).

Piaget’s theory for cognitive development explains that children learn through stages and these are sensory motor, pre-operational and operational. According to Sylva and Lunt (1982) these stages are mirrored in the different types of play. Mastery play, symbolic play or make belief play, and play with rules. Which characterise children of different ages. Although children absorb and incorporate play from earlier stages into play appropriate to their current age.

Join now!

Mastery play is reflected in Piaget’s sensory motor of development (0-2 years). Sylva and Lunt (1982) say that this sort of play consists mainly of repetitive movements and exploration. This means that when the baby plays, they are repeating their movements to practice and control their coordination and explore the effects he can have on the world.

Symbolic or make-belief play links with the pre-operational stage (2-7 years). Sylva and Lunt (1982) state that this is the age at which the child uses symbols in play, learns language and how to pretend by making something stand for something else. ...

This is a preview of the whole essay