Quite a while ago I read an article in the journal Infants & Young Children called, Overview of Play: Its Uses and Importance in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education by Lifter, Foster-Sanda, Arzamarski, Briesch, & McClure (2011) and they are arguing that play in itself is a domain, like the other 5 domains we learn about in school. As well play as a natural context for supporting goals in other domains (Lifter, et.al, 2011).
“Developments in play correlate with developments in other domains and vary systematically with these domains. Therefore, it can be argued that play is a domain in its own right, and assessments and interventions for play should be established."
Lifter, et. al, (2011)
The article discusses how children who have delays or different abilities display delays in play, such as rigidity in choice and exploration of items. That having early interventions in play to facilitate more advanced play skills will coincide with development in all the other domains. If we know children learn about their world through play, how can they do this if they don't know how to play because of developmental delays out of their control? It can look very fluid and seamless a child learning and developing new skills, but for some children it doesn't come as naturally. This doesn't necessarily mean a delay, could be the child has not been provided a playful learning environment or adult interactions that are nurturing and engaging. These elements could affect the child's ability to learn simple skills such as rolling a ball back and forth, which fortes back and forth communication, turn taking, and engaging in social play. All skills we associate with learning through play but are they skills that we learn in how to play?
Play as a Domain?
The study looked at how children have a systematic developmental sequence of learning to play. Which seems to be related to Piaget's theory and the sensorimotor (practice or functional play) and the play stage (productive play). Thees are the beginning stages of infants exploring their world and the objects in them, the first signs of PLAY. We as educators support these stages and development of play skills by providing new objects to explore their properties and configurations but sometimes it feels that as soon as a child begins to play symbolically we move onto supporting language and cognitive skills with gusto leaving behind emotional, social, physical and losing the emphasis on learning to play. Lifter, et. al, (2011) states specifically, as children learn more about objects (eg, object permanence) they demonstrate more sophisticated play skills. Play development has also been compared to the development of other cognitive skills, such as self-regulation, meta- cognition, and problem-solving.
Play and Social Interactions
The study noted an inverse relationship between play and social interactions.
"Children who were engaged in developmentally difficult, or emerging, play activities were less likely to be engaged in social interaction. The inverse was also found; when children were engaged in social interaction, they were less likely to be engaged in challenging play behaviours and more likely to be engaged in play activities
they had mastered."
Lifter, et. al, (2011)
Curriculum Centred on Learning or Play
Play based programs is a term widely used amongst ECE's but the emphasis placed on the learning or the playing is very widespread and vastly interpreted. The study notes that a play- generated curriculum uses children's interests to create learning experiences using play to support the learning goals. Whereas a play- focused curriculum is used to help children develop more complex levels of play through their involvement in different play stations.
I wonder what would happen if we as educators focused more on facilitating the learning of play and less on the playing to learn, knowing that if we provide rich opportunities to enhance play skills that the academic learning associated with the other domains would naturally occur?
I am an Early Childhood Consultant and very passionate about supporting and inspiring my fellow Educators. I will share my reflections and experiences about implementing my philosophy, views, and ideas into my practice.