Play and mental development of the child

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Learning through play is a term used in education and psychology to describe how a child can learn to make sense of the world around them. Key ways that young children learn include playing, being with other people, being active, exploring and new experiences, talking to themselves, communication with others, meeting physical and mental challenges, being shown how to do new things, practicing and repeating skills and having fun. According to proponents of the concept, play enables children to make sense of their world. Children possess a natural curiosity to explore and play acts as a medium to do so. Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable.

Play involves active engagement on the part of the player. Play involves an element of make-believe. Role play and pretend play involves creativity, such as: making props to use or finding objects to be used as props. Play can also be creative when the person involved constructs building blocks, uses paint or uses different materials to build an object. Creativity is not about the end product but the process of the play scenario. Imagination is used during play when the person involved creates images in their minds to do with their feelings, thoughts and ideas. The person then uses these images in their play.

Seven common characteristics of play are listed in Playing and Learning, by Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin: Play is active, child-initiated, process oriented, intrinsic, episodic, rule-governed, and symbolic. There are critical differences between play and work. Work, on the other hand, has a definite intent and a prescribed outcome. In order for an activity to be considered play, the experience must include a measure of inner control, ability to bend or invent reality, and a strong internally based motivation for playing. If parents and educators try to label experiences as play, but in reality have specific requirements for the activity, then it becomes work not play.

For example, it is really impossible to play with flash cards whose purpose is to have a child memorize something on each card. Play is not wasted time, but rather time spent building new knowledge from previous experience. However, long term developmental qualities of play are difficult to research. There are various ways in which researchers may choose to look at the differences between work and play. The Parent’s Concept: Parents from different cultures define children’s actions of work and play differently. For example, a Mayan mother whose daughter sets up her own fruit stand may consider this action as play.

The Child’s Concept: Children have different ideas of what play and work are in comparison to adults. Modern theories examine play from the perspective of how it impacts a child’s development. Contemporary theories focus on the relationship of play to diversity and social justice in daily living and knowledge. Children learn social and cultural contexts through their daily living experiences. The way that children learn through play is culturally specific “as result of differences in childrearing beliefs, values, and practices. Play both influences and reflects the way children from different cultures learn. Yucatec Mayans commonly learn through Intent Community Participation, a very different approach than is common among middle class European American families.

This approach stresses observation that intertwines individuals in community action. Different cultures and communities encourage children to play in different ways. Parents may not join in the play. Children may not be given toys to play with, but they often make their own. Children may play in mixed age groups away from adults. They may be expected to grow out of play by 5 or in middle childhood.