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7.11: Play- The Vehicle for Development and Learning

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    Since in previous chapters we have explored the notion that children learn through “play”, let’s expand on that concept a bit as it relates to curriculum.

    :pexel images:pexels-skitterphoto-591652.jpg

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Play [71]

    Children are born observers and are active participants in their own learning and understanding of the world around them from the very beginning of their existence. This means they are not just recipients of a teacher’s knowledge. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) challenges early childhood professionals to be intentional in their interactions and environments to create optimal experiences to maximize children’s growth and development. Under this umbrella of DAP, knowledge is based upon discovery and discovery occurs through active learning and abundant opportunities for exploration. Through a “hands-on” approach and using play as a vehicle, children will develop the skills necessary for growth and development and maximize their learning.

    Teachers play a pivotal role in children’s active construction of knowledge. They intentionally provide the environments, interactions, and experiences that support children in actively building concepts, skills, and overall development. The role of the teacher who works with young children in early childhood is to support children’s active construction of knowledge. In a sense, early childhood teachers serve as research supports as the children sense, discover, and construct meaning about the world around them.

    Early childhood teachers are responsible for:

    • offering children well-stocked play spaces where they can construct concepts and ideas, preferably in the company of peers
    • designing daily routines that invite children to be active participants and to use emerging skills and concepts
    • supporting children’s learning through interactions and conversations that prompt using language and ideas in new ways




    Things to Remember About How Children Development Learn

    • Actively exploring, experimenting, gathering data, making sense of it
    • Exploration is a continual process that takes time and repetition
    • Begins with concrete, “real life” experiences before abstract concepts
    • Takes place in a social context
    • Encompasses a broad range of developmental domains
    • Development typically occurs in a sequence or continuum
    • There are many Individual differences to consider
    • Interests
    • Abilities
    • Learning styles
    • Temperaments
    • Family and Cultural Experiences
    • Communities

    As we think about play, it is important to remember that there are different types of play that children engage in. Chapter 2 (Developmental & Learning Theories) introduced you to a list of 12 different types (also included in the appendix for easy reference). Quality teachers incorporate plans for each of these types of play throughout the day. They set up activities and plan experiences that will allow children to make sense of their world through each of these play modalities. While teachers keep all 12 in mind, they often combine some of them to narrow down the areas and experiences they provide and chapter 7 (Learning Environments) will look at this in more detail. A common framework used by teachers as they define areas and activities is as follows:

    • Socio-Dramatic Play: Acting out experiences and taking on roles they are familiar with. Often incorporates Symbolic Play where children use materials and actions to represent something else.
    • Creative Play: Trying out new ideas and using imagination, with a focus on the process rather than the product.
    • Exploratory Play: Using senses to explore and discover the properties and function of things.
    • Constructive Play: Using materials to build, construct, and create.
    • Loco-motor Play: Moving for movement’s sake, just because it is fun. [72]

    Toy tractors and buckets in a sandbox

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Constructive Play

    A child painting on an easel

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Creative Play

    An infant looking at a cloth box tox

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Exploratory Play

    A boy pretending to listen to a girl's heartbeat with a stethoscope

    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Socio-Dramatic Play


    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Locomotor Play


    Pause to Reflect

    Going back to Table 6.1, which concepts are being developed by which types of play? By incorporating each of these types of play, are you developing the “whole child”? Why or why not?

    As with most things, the way that children play will go through developmental stages. As teachers plan, they keep in mind the stages of play relevant to the children they are planning for. Originally described by Parten (1932), this list, explains how children’s play changes by age as they grow and develop social skills.

    • Unoccupied Play (Birth-3 Months): At this stage, a baby is making many movements with their arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. They are learning about and discovering how their body moves.
    • Solitary Play (Birth-2 Years): This is the stage when a child plays alone. They are not interested in playing with others quite yet.
    • Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years): During this stage, a child begins to watch other children playing but does not play with them.
    • Parallel Play (2+Years): When a child plays alongside or near others but does not play with them.
    • Associate Play (3-4 Years): When a child starts to interact with others during play, but there is not a large amount of interaction at this stage.
    • Cooperative Play (4+ years): When a child plays together with others and has interest in both the activity and other children involved in playing. [73]


    Pause to Reflect

    Why might these stages be important to consider? How would you use this information in your planning?