What's play got to do with it? (2023)

Children’s play tells family members and early childhood teachers so much about development. In fact, we often determine where children are developmentally by watching them play. During toddlerhood, children are exploring the world around them, learning about themselves and others, building language and literacy skills, and learning to regulate their behaviour. And, they do it all through play.

The amount of time children spend in uninterrupted self-directed play– when no one is teaching them, when they are free to decide what and how to play– has declined tremendously in educational settings and in the home lives of children. This decline worries early childhood teachers, as play is often seen as integrative– offering children opportunities to try on new behaviours to see how they fit and then to add these behaviours to their skill repertoires. Self-directed play can be active (running round the playground on a bike path), quiet (looking at a book or cradling a doll), or a combination (trying on Dad’s shoes and trying to walk in them).

Three theorists of children’s play

There are three theorists who are especially important to our understanding of play– Jean Piaget, Mildred Parten, and Lev Vygotsky. They describe play in different ways, but each one is useful for understanding the play behaviour you see in your classroom.

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Jean Piaget

Piaget divided play into three types of “play behaviour”– practice play, symbolic play, and play-with-rules. Practice play, the most common type of play during the first years of life, is composed of repetitions of the same movements and actions, both with and without objects. When a baby plays peek-a-boo, hiding his face behind a blanket, over and over again, this is practice play. When children move on to symbolic play, they begin to recreate in their play the things they see in the world around them. They develop a sense of themselves as independent from their parents and caregivers and use play to explore being like these important people, as well as to experiment with being very different from them.

Mildred Parten

Mildred Parten’s stage theory describes the ways children interact with each other. During solitary independent play, children play alone with objects without interacting with others even when they are near. Parallel activity emerges next, with children playing side by side with similar toys– next to each other, but not with each other. In associative play, children play with each other, but there is no particular goal or organisation to their play. Cooperative play is the final, and most sophisticated, form of play. In this stage, children cooperate with others to create play situations, with each child in the group playing an assigned role. Parents and early childhood teachers see mostly parallel and associative play with their toddlers although cooperative play emerges for most children by the end of this period.

What's play got to do with it? (1)

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Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky's sociocultural theory says that children socially construct what they know by using language. He is known for the idea of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is the range of tasks a child can do with help but cannot do on their own. Play, particularly make believe play, creates a ZPD as the child plays.

Applying theories of play to everyday life

What do these ideas mean to those of us who work with toddlers? First of all, it helps us understand that toddler play is different. Toddlers are very capable of playing with intensity and creativity but the way they play is different from older children. They play in the moment, with the ideas that come to them from their experience or the environment. This play isn’t as recognisable as the socio-dramatic play of preschoolers. They may use one object to serve as another, get distracted from what they are playing when they discover a new prop or toy, or stop to watch others in mid-play. They pick up on others’ play ideas to make them uniquely their own. Although older toddlers are very interested in what other children are doing, much of toddler play is done alone, even if the classroom is full of children. And toddler play is highly repetitive. In fact, it is repetition that helps children understand and remember what they learned and recall and use it later. Toddler play can be remarkably sophisticated and provides us with insight into their thinking.

Toddlers are fascinated by other children and find watching their activities highly engaging and entertaining. Yet the ability to play with other children is just emerging– and needs support and encouragement from the trusted adults in their lives. When toddlers play, they subtly adjust the way they play to the play of their friends to keep the play going– an early indicator that they understand how others are feeling.

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Toddlers love to role-play. They actually become the mommy or daddy or the growling bear, rather than acting like them, as they make use of the play props provided. Toys that are real items from the child’s world (purses, wallets, pots, pans, clothes, shoes, hats) are intriguing and support beginning role-play efforts. Toddler play needs these props– they invite children to play and give them ideas about where to start. Carefully plan the classroom to take maximum advantage of toddlers’ natural desire to explore and learn. Create a play environment that offers children interesting places to play, both alone and with their friends. Watch out for both over-stimulation and under-stimulation. Over-stimulation can occur from too much noise, light, colour, and activity. Under-stimulation can occur from too few options or too little support for play by caring adults.

The supporting role of the adult in toddlers play

Play cues can come from many sources. The best source of play cues is you. When you pick up a toy and play with it or sit down at the table to see if you can fit a puzzle piece into the puzzle, the toy or puzzle becomes very interesting to toddlers. This strategy for inviting play is an excellent way to interest toddlers in new materials or props. But most toddlers are readily able to turn one toy into another (a banana into a telephone or a block into a car) with little difficulty. The way in which toys are displayed also provides play cues. Place toys on low shelves, in clear plastic containers, in baskets, and in tubs so children can see what is available. Separating toys on shelves helps children consider each specific item. Too much clutter can distract from being able to focus on one item long enough to figure out what to do with it or how to use it.

What's play got to do with it? (2)

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When you participate in toddlers’ play– particularly when there are peers involved– you help them play successfully and learn to be a friend. Participating keeps you close enough to problem solve when the inevitable conflicts occur. Toddlers have many social difficulties as they learn to play together successfully. They have limited skills in controlling impulses, delaying gratification, using expressive language, entering play, reading social cues, and regulating emotions. These difficulties show up in various ways, but are most often seen in interactions that don’t work out so well. They need you to help and being close by insures that you can help when you are needed.

When you are close by, you can extend it by what you say. Open-ended questions such as, “Where are you taking the baby for a walk?” and “How will you build the house?” give toddlers opportunities to add to and elaborate on the play experiences they are having.

Of course children don’t just have positive play experiences, particularly during the toddler years. They often have disagreements over whether others can play, what they can play with, and the possible roles they can play. How children handle negative play experiences is just as important as how they handle positive ones. If they are able to find another way to play (such as being the puppy when they can’t be the mommy), join in the play as an onlooker (when their favourite role is filled by someone else), find another place to play, or call to the teacher for help, the play experience can still be a positive one.

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Play is a staple of childhood. For toddlers, play serves as an important proving ground for the more complicated social world to come. When toddlers play, they build an understanding of how they can impact and interact with objects and others. This understanding is foundational– it will serve as the basis for a lifetime of successful relationships and learning. Spend time creating the right interactive and physical environment to nurture toddlers’ play. With your support, their play can be engaging, enlightening, and sustained.


What was Mildred Parten's theory? ›

Mildred Parten's stage theory describes the ways children interact with each other. During solitary independent play, children play alone with objects without interacting with others even when they are near.

What is Vygotsky's theory of play? ›

Vygotsky believed that children are able to engage in pretend play because they start to separate the visual field (what can be seen) from the field of sense (what can be implied), or meaning.

What is Sara Smilansky's theory? ›

Smilansky and Shefatya said that functional play is “based on children's need to activate his physical organism”. Conditional play starts around early childhood and lasts until adulthood and involves sensorimotor activities, where children begin using their creativity.

What was Froebel's theory? ›

He believed that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child's soul.” According to Froebel, in play children construct their understanding of the world through direct experience with it.

Why is parallel play important? ›

Parallel play can increase confidence because children are learning to play near others. Children can observe one another and learn to use new skills from playing alongside others. Eventually, it will lead to social development where the child will form relationships with others during play.

What are the 4 theories of play? ›

There are at least five distinct theories of play, viz.:
  • Surplus Energy Theory.
  • Re-creative Theory.
  • Anticipatory Theory.
  • Recapitulation Theory.
  • Cathartic Theory.

What do Piaget and Vygotsky say about play? ›

Where Piaget presented the child as a 'lone scientist', Vygotsky emphasised the social and cultural aspects of play. He argued that during play children were able to think in more complex ways than in their everyday lives, and could make up rules, use symbols and create narratives.

What are the three theories of play? ›

To get you thinking, here's an overview of three not-so-common play theories you may not be across: Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory, Jean Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory, and Mildred Parten's Social Behaviour Theory.

What is play based theory? ›

But what does “play-based learning” mean and why is it important? To put it simply; children learn through playing. During the act of play children are exploring, taking risks, engaging their imagination, and solving problems. They are learning valuable skills that support social, physical and cognitive development.

What is the paradox of play? ›

In “The Paradox of Play” Ann Hulbert suggests that with the recent campaign to restore play in the lives of children, we run the risk of decreasing the very playfulness we are eager to increase.

What are the 4 characteristics of play? ›

Play can be distinguished from other behaviours by the observation of the following nine characteristic:
  • Self- directed.
  • Adventurous or risky.
  • Voluntary or self-chosen.
  • Meaningful.
  • Pleasurable.
  • Active.
  • Symbolic.
  • Process orientated.

What are Froebel's 3 core values? ›

Froebel's ideas were considered revolutionary in the 1850s but the principles of his work have since become part of modern, mainstream early years educational practice.
  • Froebelian principles.
  • Unity and connectedness. ...
  • Autonomous learners. ...
  • The value of childhood in its own right. ...
  • Relationships matter.

What are the 3 forms of Knowledge Froebel? ›

Froebel divided Gift play into three categories: Forms of Knowledge (math/science), Forms of Life (relating to objects found in a child's life/world) and Forms of Beauty (abstract patterns and designs). Suggestions for these may be used as appropriate for the child.

How is Froebel's theory used today? ›

Froebel's notion of the adult making rich provision, guiding children in their play and interactions, opening up possibilities rather than constraining them, helping children develop autonomy and self-discipline within a framework of respect for others remains a powerful approach today.

What is the purpose of play? ›

Play improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and young people. Through play, children learn about the world and themselves. They also learn skills they need for study, work and relationships such as: confidence.

What are 4 reasons for play? ›

Here are 10 reasons why it is so important:
  • Play lays the foundation for literacy. ...
  • Play is learning. ...
  • Play encourages adults to communicate with the children in their lives. ...
  • Play gives children the chance to be spontaneous. ...
  • Play gives children choice. ...
  • Play gives children space.

What are the 7 Elements of play? ›

Over the course of the next few months, we will outline seven elements of play that contribute greatly to the development of the brain and transfer to learning in the classroom: balancing, sliding, brachiating, spinning, climbing, swinging, and sensory development.

What are the 5 stages of play? ›

As children get older, the way they interact with other people during play will change. These changes are called “stages of play”.
They are:
  • unoccupied.
  • playing alone.
  • onlooker.
  • parallel.
  • associative.
  • cooperative.

What is Piaget's view on play? ›

Piaget viewed play as integral to the development of intelligence in children. His theory of play argues that as the child matures, their environment and play should encourage further cognitive and language development.

What are Piaget's 4 stages of play explain every stage? ›

Piaget's four stages of development
sensorimotor stage0–2 years
preoperational stage2–7 years
concrete operational stage7–11 years
formal operational stage12+ years

What is Piaget's symbolic play? ›

Piaget's Symbolic/Fantasy Play. Symbolic/Fantasy play is role playing or make-believe play. Symbolic play is the ability of children to use objects, actions, or ideas to represent other objects, actions, or ideas.

What are three important features of play? ›

Key characteristics of play
  • Play must be self chosen and self directed.
  • Play should be voluntary.
  • Play should be meaningful to the participants.
  • Play should be fun.
  • Play should be spontaneous, flexible, creative.
  • Play offers the ability for children to explore in a low risk environment.
5 Jan 2020

What are the two types of meaningful play? ›

There are two ways to define meaningful play: descriptive and evaluative. The descriptive definition addresses the mechanism by which all games create mean- ing through play. The evaluative definition helps us understand why some games provide more meaningful play than others.

What is the virtue of play? ›

Since play is life, play cannot be excised from our lives. “Intrinsically valuing play means valuing it as a meaningful activity in a player's life, not in relation to societal goals”, writes Tom Apperley. Play is a form of value, and value begets dignity and needs virtue. Play is a central human capability.

What are the 5 characteristics of play? ›

Here are five elements essential to meaningful play that create those rich memories we treasure:
  • Children make their own decisions. ...
  • Children are intrinsically motivated. ...
  • Children become immersed in the moment. ...
  • Play is spontaneous, not scripted. ...
  • Play is enjoyable.

How can children learn through play? ›

Play also allows children to relax, let off steam, develop social skills such as concentration and co-operation, encourages the development of the imagination, develops motor skills and teaches self expression.

Why play-based learning is best? ›

Play-based learning environments also provide opportunities for children to explore and learn about the world around them. Through these experiences, they can develop problem-solving skills, critical skills, and creativity as they explore and play. For example, children might be given blocks with which to build towers.

What did Einstein say about play? ›

"Play is the Highest Form of Research" - Albert Einstein.

How did Russell solve his paradox? ›

In short, ZFC's resolved the paradox by defining a set of axioms in which it is not necessarily the case that there is a set of objects satisfying some given property, unlike naive set theory in which any property defines a set of objects satisfying it.

What is the most popular paradox? ›

Russell's paradox is the most famous of the logical or set-theoretical paradoxes.

What is the most important aspect of play? ›

The importance of play

build confidence. feel loved, happy and safe. understand more about how the world works. develop social skills, language and communication.

What are the qualities of a good play? ›

  • Richness. Richness demands that the playwright is a keen observer who can recall personal experiences and conjure up convincing characters and situations. ...
  • Celebration. ...
  • Creating the World of the Play. ...
  • Compression, Economy & Intensity. ...
  • Credibility & Intrigue. ...
  • Gravity. ...
  • Depth of Characterization.

What are the main types of play? ›

Types of play
  • Physical play. Physical play can include dancing or ball games. ...
  • Social play. By playing with others, children learn how to take turns, cooperate and share. ...
  • Constructive play. Constructive play allows children to experiment with drawing, music and building things. ...
  • Fantasy play. ...
  • Games with rules.

What are the 10 types of play? ›

Parenting10 Different Types of Play and How They Help Kids Learn
  • Unoccupied play. This kind of play may not seem like play to most adults and onlookers at all. ...
  • Solitary or independent play. ...
  • Onlooker play. ...
  • Physical play. ...
  • Constructive play. ...
  • Parallel play. ...
  • Associative play. ...
  • Cooperative play.
27 Sept 2019

What are the 6 Features of play? ›

  • PLOT The arrangement of events or incidents on the stage. ...
  • CHARACTER The agents of the plot. ...
  • THEME The reason the playwright wrote the play. ...
  • LANGUAGE “Vivid characters” (6) facing and overcoming. ...
  • RHYTHM The heart of the play. ...
  • SPECTACLE Everything that is seen or heard on stage.

What are the 9 child care values? ›

9 aspects:
  • Anti discrimination.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Rights of the individual.
  • Choice.
  • Dignity.
  • Culture and personal beliefs.
  • Protecting from abuse.
  • Effective communication.

Who is father of kindergarten? ›

This month's theorist is Friedrich Froebel, also known as the 'father' of kindergarten. Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who was responsible for the invention of Kindergarten.

What does Froebel say about Block play? ›

Froebel believed that playing with blocks gives fundamental expression to a child's soul and to the unity of life. Blocks represent the actual building blocks of the universe. The symmetry of the soul is symbolised as a child constructs with blocks, bringing them together to form a whole.

What are the 7 gifts of Froebel? ›

  • Gift 1: Yarn Balls.
  • Gift 2: Sphere, Cylinder, and Cube.
  • Gift 3: The Divided Cube.
  • Gift 4: Rectangular Prisms.
  • Gift 7: Parquetry Tablets.
  • Gift 8: Sticks and Rings.
  • Gift 9: The Point.
  • Gift 10: The Framework Gift.
25 Jan 2017

What is Froebelian method of teaching? ›

The Froebelian approach centres around supporting children to learn new things and develop their skills of their own free will from an early age. To him, education was freedom, and play was the best way to educate young children, as he wrote, “A child's play is his work”.

What is the difference between Montessori and Froebel? ›

Froebel emphasized the use of songs, poetry and tales for stimulating the imagination of the child. In the Montessori system, there is no scope for songs, poetry and tales. Montessori altogether neglects the training of the imagination, for she does not look upon it as a part of a child's life.

In what ways do you think Froebel's theories influenced thinking about child development? ›

The key features of Froebel's play theory stress the importance of developing the child in all areas: socially, academically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. The main components of this are the areas of motor expression, social participation, free self-expression and creativity.

How can we use Froebel's gift to help our learners develop? ›

The Gifts are designed to encourage young children to make connections in their learning; allowing them to take something familiar (a simple wooden block) and encourages them to experiment and build on their knowledge and skills. Children use the blocks to re-create things and events in the world around them.

What are the 12 features of play? ›

  • Bruce's 12 Features Of Play.
  • Children Use. Experiences.
  • Children. Create Rules.
  • Children. Use Symbols.
  • Children Choose. To Play.
  • Children Rehearse. Their Future.
  • Children Play. Alone Sometimes.
  • Children. Pretend.

What are the six 6 Parten's stages of play? ›

Researcher Mildred Parten identified these six stages of play that children progress through.
Parten's six stages of play
  • Unoccupied play. ...
  • Solitary play. ...
  • Onlooker play. ...
  • Parallel play. ...
  • Associative play. ...
  • Cooperative play.
6 Oct 2015

What is Parten's stages of social play? ›

Mildred Parten Newhall's social stages of play theory (known as Parten's Stages of Play) covers play progression for children from newborn to age six. This theory has six stages: unoccupied play, solitary play, spectator/onlooker play, parallel play, associative play, and social/cooperative play.

What was Piaget's theory of play? ›

Piaget viewed play as integral to the development of intelligence in children. His theory of play argues that as the child matures, their environment and play should encourage further cognitive and language development.

What is Recapitulatory theory of play? ›

Play and Occupational Therapy

The word “recapitulation” captures the idea that the ontogeny of the child reenacts the phylogeny of the human species. In other words, the development of the individual human being follows the evolutionary history of the entire human species.

What are the 5 areas of play? ›

Children learn and develop through different types of play.
  • Physical play. Physical play can include dancing or ball games. ...
  • Social play. By playing with others, children learn how to take turns, cooperate and share. ...
  • Constructive play. ...
  • Fantasy play. ...
  • Games with rules.

What are the 3 main areas of play development? ›

Jean Piaget identified three stages of play – practice play, symbolic play and games with rules.

What is side by side play called? ›

Parallel play

Parallel play is usually found with toddlers, although it happens in any age group. Parallel play starts when children begins to play side-by-side with other children without any interaction. Even though it seems like they are not interacting, they are paying attention to each other.

What are Piaget's 4 stages of play? ›

Piaget's theory of cognitive development proposes 4 stages. “According to Piaget, children engage in types of play that reflect their level of cognitive development: functional play, constructive play, symbolic/fantasy play, and games with rules.”

Who is the father of play theory? ›

According to the Surplus energy theory of play by Friedrich Schiller (1873), there is lot of energy that is built up in human which can be released only through active play. Play is a medium of releasing the pent up energy.

What does Sigmund Freud say about play? ›

Psychoanalytic theory (Sigmund Freud) — Play is a catharsis that allows children to express their feelings and dispel negative emotions to replace them with positive ones.


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