Reflective Essay on Play and Early Childhood

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Reflective Essay on Play and Early Childhood


The value of play is a highly recognised and researched subject, the majority of work and information found on this will point in the same direction; that play is a fundamental, intrinsically driven part of a child’s life from birth. It enhances a child’s development in addition to the enjoyment that children get out of participating in play. But what is play, and why is it so important? According to Oxford Dictionaries (2014), play is said to be an ‘activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children’. There are various types of play a child can get involved in, such as active play, imaginative/role play, games with rules, and explorative and manipulative play (Sheridan, Harding and Meldon-Smith, 2002). Each type of play provides different experiences and learning outcomes; for example a child may become more physcially fit and able to take more risks during active play, but it is through playing a game with rules that they will learn to adhere to social norms and values, learning to take turns and conforming to an agreed set of rules. Many Pioneers throughout the history of early childhood studies have published their theories and perspectives around the subject, and have attempted to explain why certain types of play are so significant; according to Giardiello (2013), for Susan Isaacs: ‘…play should be truly open-ended, unpredictable and controlled and directed by the players- that is, the children’(p.120). The type of play Isaacs is supporting here is what Bruce (1991, cited in Forbes 2004 p.5) calls ‘free flow play’. This is where the child is able to choose the activity or game he/she would like to take part in with no adult involvement or control and with no end product or goal. (Forbes, 2004). This type of play has its benefits of which will be explored; however, to categorise just this one type of play and stating that it should be this way is restricting – not only for the child but for the practitioner.

        Every child should be given the opportunity to play, as article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of a Child (1989) supports; they state every child has a right to play freely and engage in recreational activities appropriate to their age. This conveys the message that play is so vital in a child’s life that it is their legal right to do so. This right to play freely also supports Susan Isaacs’ counsel that play should be controlled and directed by the child. In allowing play to be child-led or undirected, children are able to discover and pursue their own interests, show off creativity and practise social skills. If the activity were to be adult driven, then children may try to concentrate more on conforming to the instructions or role given and pleasing the adult, which in turn loses some of the benefits that child driven play has to offer. (The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, 2007) This view is also advocated by Maria Montessori, who argues that each child should have the freedom and independence to be able to choose what and when they would like to learn and should not be directed by the adult (teacher). Montessori believed that the adult or practitioner should stand back, be in the background and observe the child, allowing them to be spontaneous and do things for themselves. (Giadiello, 2013). Dewey (1897, cited in Fraser and Gestwicki, 2002) took it one step further, and suggested that teachers construct their programs around the children and what they are interested in; however, he also recognised that the adult should maintain some of the control. They were able to choose various experiences or tasks for the child to engage in, experiences which were usually relevant to the child’s life. This way the child is able to play with what they are truly interested in but with some guidance from the teacher, as they were inevitably preparing for life after school. Child-led play and Montessori’s values are still seen in everyday practice; observation is an essential part of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Development Matters guidance material. It allows the practitioner to identify how advanced or lacking a child may be in their development pathway. This then sets the next stage of the practitioner’s role, to assess the child’s needs. (Early Education, 2012) Whilst it is important to appreciate the importance of child-led play and how it is truly beneficial to both the young person and the adult, there are other categories of play which differ in structure and perhaps sometimes merge with child initiated play, but offer other benefits and should not be overlooked.

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         Froebel for example, argues that children need guidance, support and interaction from the teacher or adult, with discussions in the form of ‘Circle Time’ at least once per day. This allows children to talk with their teachers and peers about what it is they are going to do that day, or discuss what they have been doing. Froebel preached ‘Let us live with our children, play with them, direct them in to this manifold life of the universe’ (Montessori and Froebel: A Comparison, 1912 p. 256). This method of teaching and play is still completely relevant and widely used today. ...

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