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Play And Creativity: History, Functions And Definition

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This essay will outline the history, functions and definitions of play. It will both evaluate and explore two differing types of play which enhances a young child’s learning whilst including ages and stages levels which can be critiqued. Additionally, playful pedagogy will be evaluated through the Early Years settings in Britain.

Overall, play is a long historical construction within childhood with society having a high influence of this over time. Play is impossible to define in one definitive concept. This is due to the fact both play and creativity is seen and viewed differently through many professional ‘lenses. As an example, it has been suggested that “Play can be considered as a flexible self-directed experience which serves needs of an individual child and future society s/he will live adulthood” (Jarvis 2009:11) where as another definition views it as “the link between the innate animal and human way of thinking and behaving, working out instincts” (Stanley Hall: 1920) . Though these views are both argued for and against, play and creativity is formed of all different perspectives. Being told to do something isn’t in fact play as there is a duality of personal expectation vs social adaptation; If you’re told that you’re not good enough- this will constantly reflect on a child’s actions and feeling towards concepts. Play is vital for the generation of learning and NHS (2016) state that “children learn from everything that they do and everything that is going on around them”.

Darwin (1859) classical theory of evolution proves that play is evolutionary even through debate. More specifically ‘Darwin’s Idea’ suggests children are biologically preprogramed through monkey evolution. His ideas come at the classical period when ‘recapitulation theory’ states creatures inhabit features in their environment, allowing them to follow through to the ‘survival of the fittest’. (Hall, 1920) claims that behaviours of this type are no longer a necessity; children don’t need to build dens or climb trees any more (outdoor play) as these traits were only vital for human survival. Linking to this classical approach Schiller created the energy surplus theory which overall views play as ‘aimless’. Believing that children build up excess and un-needed energy which must be released in the form of active play. Furthermore, the theory outlines that the more surplus energy obtained results in a higher complexity of play; meaning a child is highly evolved. Such behaviour is perceived as cathartic.

Piaget (1936) theory explains a child’s construction of their ‘mental model of the world’. Though he has isolated milestones which explains how children should develop universally; it is thought that Piaget (1936) ‘views the child as a solitary learner’ yet shows a ‘natural progression from one conceptual framework to another’. His milestones and schemas apply to both primary and secondary socialisations but is not ‘pure’ in the EYFS ( ).

Furthermore In a modern perspective, Freud ( ) psychodynamic theory links that the theory of object relation plays a big part of development for later life. Freud (1920) also views ‘play as an expression of inner conflict’. With avoidant patterns at infancy, a child goes on to have lower expectations of others. This is showed through expression in the ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ mind where play can be used as a natural healing/therapy method. If emotional development is ‘arrested’ and restricted in any form it can affect other developmental areas. This may lead to a child receiving play therapy where a specific relationship is formed between a therapist and a child in order to boost and maximise future development. Play therapy ‘aims to help children and young people suffering from a range of psychological difficulties including depression, anxiety and aggression.’ (British Association of Play Therapists, 2011). This allows the child to come to terms with potential issues whilst feeling as though they are in a warm, safe and confidential environment involving play.

Moving on, this essay will now evaluate inclusion and two types of play in the Early Years setting. Forest school, being one example, is learning through a naturalistic environment. Equally, it is a unique equivalent to outdoor play but aims to provide an educational and innovative setting for the child. “Without opportunities to explore, the child has a limited knowledge of the materials and the possibilities of use. Exploration allows children to develop their knowledge, skills and understanding. When these are in the place children can progress to more creative or conventional responses” (Hutt et al 1989). Forest school is a different lens to a ‘normal’ educational setting, including nurseries and primary institutions. Exclusively working with a set goal, to obtain repeatable behaviours through positive, natural and fulfilled experiences.

The experience of forest school is evaluated through Knight (2009) set of aspects and ethos. Knight (2009) states in the first ethos that “the setting is not the usual one”. This is evident through personal experience of being sat round an open campfire engaging and talking to peers. Though certain ‘safety nets’ were placed into context such as only being allowed to walk in one direction and sitting a set distance away; this causes potential concern on self-awareness. This is primarily down to the fact, if a child is young and extremely curious of unfamiliar surroundings, harm could be caused. Though this positively does promote concepts of self-awareness; self-motivation and empathy was also displayed through the activity of building dens. Both these points, link to Knight (2009) fifth and sixth ethos. “Trust is central” and “The learning is play-based and, as far as possible, child initiated and child-led”. Beneficially, co-operative play was the superior leader in this activity through communication and through helping others. Thinking through a child’s lens, the branches would be heavy, proving that trust was a central factor in ensuring struggle would be prevented. Additionally, from first-hand experience, this was strongly child-led with minimal help from the leader; showing the freedom in which the children had intellectually; supporting self-regulation.

Considering the views of progressive theorists, Steiner (1919) states children are to be in touch with nature. Through theory, Steiner (1919) aims to engage with universal human rights. Founder of anthroposophy; spiritually, the theory aim is for children to find clarity with the use of natural science and physical investigation of the world. Linking to his concepts of the ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘whole body’ ages and stage levels; Steiner (1919) proposes three levels of development. These transition through independence, spirit/feeling and the involvement of craft and arts. Overall, this views the ‘whole child’ as a spiritual, physical and academic learner; focusing on imagination. Critically, this was a theory un-relative to the 21st century and inappropriate due to being outdated. Though, purposeful and child-led play is encouraged in EYFS, technological approaches were not considered at this time.

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Overall, through personal reflection, I strongly believe the forest school setting was highly inclusive- considering a child’s perspective. Through the ability of having self-directed activities alike ‘creating five developmental stages out of nature’- gave equal opportunity to take leadership whilst boosting self-esteem, confidence and creativity. There was a clear intention of this within the setting which agrees with Darwin (1859) idea of this being an innate phenomenon need. Understanding that play is inducive and a lifelong process; the environment was thoroughly engaging and supportive with this- giving many ‘experimental’ and practical opportunities.

How accessible for SEN

Though displaying many positive aspects towards ‘typical’ and SEN children’s development; this is not always the case. As a practitioner, it is hard to assess to what extent this specific environment will benefit a child. Remembering that every child is unique (EYFS, 2017); with requirement of individualized needs towards holistic development.

A child observed playing will be evaluated through a systematic process which includes developmental schemas, milestones and theorists. Proposed by Hughes (1999), Alice evidently displayed a socio-dramatic typology through her use of enactment of real and ‘pretend’ experience. Through recognising this typology, Alice visibly was in a solitary social stage of play. As proposed by Parten (1932) six types of play, children begin to master abilities with one-self in this type typically between 0-2years. Closeness and interaction are not evident yet. Though encouraging this type of play, enables a child to build upon independent skills; with opportunity to explore. Looking at the play of Alice through the lens of schemas; I observed her with a transportive schema (Athey, 2007) when the ironing board (table) was moved horizontally from its original position. Observing through a different professional lens, Alice additionally displayed cognitive concepts through equilibrium and adaptation, Piaget (1936??). This was displayed through the initial evident struggle of counting; though the knowledge was there, Alice confidently expressed this in a later stage. This was evident in the observation due to new knowledge being replaced and improved upon in the existing schema. Focusing on physical holistic development, Alice’s actions can be linked to age and stage theories. Critique Piaget

How inclusive?

Through observing Alice’s play, it is evident that the experience was highly inclusive. The practitioner can use these age and stage milestones however it is important to understand that every child is unique. In order to treat this fairly, it is essential to observe the child as a practitioner so that the results are inclusive. Contemporary Childhood Book.

Finally, this essay will now evaluate the pedagogical approaches of play In Early Years Curriculum. Pedagogy is the professional term and link used towards learning and teaching. Educationally, the concept sets the curriculum in what is learnt and the phycology as to how children learn. As addressed in the EYFS (2017), play is an essential contribution to learning; underpinned by Bruce (1987:2015). Play is the tool in which practitioners use to give learning an educational perspective. Bruce () defines play as processes with no product. To wallow in ideas, feelings and relationships is the way in which free flow is explained. One-sidedly Bruce ( ) states that this typology of play is where children are thoroughly in their ‘deepest’ levels of learning through the high technical prowess. Encouraged by the EYFS (2017); free-flow brings a rich learning environment for the child through the environment enabling them to have high independence and own progression rate. Positively, this supports the EYFS (2017) statement of every child being unique and enhances inclusion through recognition of differing learning styles and abilities. Opposing to other types of play, free flow is seen to exert minimum pressure to conform to rules.

Quality play is a factor observed by the practitioner, typically these can be compared against Bruce ( ) identification of twelve features of play. For play to be labelled as ‘quality’, Bruce ( ) states acquiring seven of these are a necessity. Essentially, these factors expand the practitioners understanding to engage with the deep level of learning children display.

Both indoor and outdoor play should be promoted in the setting in order to facilitate a child’s needs and emerging abilities.

Inclusion: Sustained Shared Thinking

Understanding that play is a key element of learning; as a practitioner, facilitation is essential for domains of development. With the educational curriculum constantly changing and adapting is it vital to keep up to date. Siraj- Blatchford, (2002) promotes the idea of ‘sustained share thinking’ in the pedagogical environment. Supporting the EYFS, the thinking methodology stimulates creativity; allowing children to be attentive and responsive to questions. Two or more individuals must work together with a child for this to lead a positive outcome, intellectual thinking is a necessity as open-ended questions can encourage playful learning and build interest. Critically, the EYFS has a high staff to children ratio; typically, between 1:8 or 1:13. Whilst this is vital, individualised attention is less favourable and minimal- this could cause a potential concern if a child was to develop a high attachment with a key-worker- as confidence could drop and a child may perceive to be less interested. Supporting this, Bowlby ( ) idea of social releasers favours the fact children display behaviours that our drawn from their caregiving. Through monotropy, secondary attachments are formed for emotional security- showing how important it is for the Early Years to additionally act as a secure base.

Encountering a diverse range of children can cause preconceptions; in the early years setting accommodation of the diversity and inclusivity is essential. This is so that the environment can be purposeful for the ‘unique child’. (Booth et al., 2006) draws on the fact Early Years settings drive to maximise participation whilst causing minimal exclusion. Positively, this allows engaging and responsive pedagogy for both prime and specific areas of development.

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Play And Creativity: History, Functions And Definition. (2021, October 04). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
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