Psychology-Is Play an important part of childhood?

by Audrey Brown April 17, 2016
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Does reduction of play in childhood hampers a kids psychological stability and balance?


The pressures of modern life make it difficult for children to play. Obstacles to children’s play are lack of space in cities, increased concerns for security and safety of the child (Beth E. Molnar, 2004) and increased time spent in front of the media. According to a research conducted into TV viewing habits of children under 11 years of age, the mean age of a child watching TV was reported as 5.05 years and the mean daily reported child media use was: television (1.45 hours); videos (1.1 hours); and computer games (0.54 hours) (Dimitri A. Christakis, 2004). When we compare the life of a child in the 1950’s to the present day we see a lot of social changes that has changed the everyday life of an early learner (Ginsberg, 2007). Thirty percentage of parents in the same research reported that their child watched TV while eating breakfast or dinner (Dimitri A. Christakis, 2004)
On the other hand, the school system demands children to become academic machines, greatly minimizing the time they have to play (Olfman, 2003) (Ginsberg, 2007). As a result, the play has been relegated to the periphery and it is not considered as an integral component of the learning process for children (Olfman, 2003) (Jarett, 2002). This study interrogates this contemporary position with an aim of seeking to establish the parents’ views regarding the role of play in the social, academic and physical learning processes for a child.

Review of Related Literature

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Different Definitions of Play

Many scholars have stressed on the importance of playing with the process of learning and development in children. The classical theory of play by Mitchell and Mason suggested that the play was a “way of blowing off steam” (Mitchell, 1948). Psychoanalytic theories of play derived from the works of Freud help children heal from emotional problems (Dockett, 1999). Piaget and his cognitive theory of play (Piaget, 1962) has been critised for reducing the play to “ a function of thought” (Sutton-Smith, 1966)
We will now examine the definition give by Brown (2009) who defines play as any activity that is carried out with a frame of mind that is playful. It could include games engaged on playing fields, which could either be structured or unstructured play; or games played individually or in groups or by children independently or under the supervision of adults.
When we speak about play in the context of early education, the reference almost always is to unstructured play. Unstructured play defined by the Miriam Webster’s Dictionary as: “not happening according to a plan: not organized or planned in a formal way.” (Merriam Webster, 2013). Playing games and playing have come to mean different things in the adult world with the popularity of video games and the multi billion dollar industry it has created. But in early education play is generally associated with structured or unstructured play- the difference between the two being that unstructured play is child led and open ended with no direction from adults resulting in more creative ways of playing for children. (Rock, 2013) Structured play is conceived by adults with specific goals in mind and there may not be much room for spontaneity and creativity in structured play. Both structured and unstructured play can be supervised by adults, but in unstructured play the adult does not assume the role of leader and the play is led by the child.
This research will focus on finding the perceptions of parents to all play by children and the impact of play on the learning and development of children.

Benefits of play

Research has uncovered many benefits of play in early education, play is seen to benefit children growth and development in many areas –emotional development, increasing language skills, increasing social skills, psycho motor skills, spatial skills as well as increased cognition are some of the areas identified through a literature review.
Anderson-McNamee and Bailey (2010) argue that playing is a child’s work as it boosts the development of a child and reassert Vygotsky’s views of the play as the leading activity which promotes mental development in children (Vygotsky, 1966)
When a child is allowed to play and be physically active their cognitive skills grow (Ratey, 2009 ). Children who play with other children have more opportunities to imitate appropriate language that is modeled by other children (Sandra Bochner, 2008) therefore they quickly develop their basics of commonly used words in their immediate context.
Playing is also instrumental in helping children develop their psychomotor skills, which are useful in classroom settings when they are required to accomplish tasks that involve both their hands and brains. Levine et al. (2011) conducted a study in which they examined the spatial skills of children and their exposure to early puzzle plays. They found that the children who were exposed to puzzle play demonstrated better performance in spatial transformation tasks than those who were not.
More importantly, Russ (2004) argues that emotion is one of the most important areas in contemporary psychology. This is because of the procession of emotion and the impact of these processes of emotion to maladaptive behaviors. When children are allowed to play in groups or with other children this helps them in bonding and increases their social skills Bailey (2010). Azar (2002) notes that playing helps children to develop virtues such as justice which they learn from healthy social games. In essence, play is a great arena in which children get to learn how they can express their emotions, process, modulate and regulate their emotions and use them in adaptive ways.
Russ (2004) further notes that this perspective of emotion and play is in line with numerous conceptualizations of the connection between playing with one hand and the emotional and mental development of children. The emotional development of children is arguably a significant element that further determines their future mental frames.


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