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The Importance Of Children's Play, The Role Of Adults And Gender Differences

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The aim of this essay is to discuss a quote from Whitebread(2012), “Play is spontaneous, self-motivated and controlled by the child. Play is not created by adults but by children themselves” from The importance of play, A report on the value of children’s play with a series of policy recommendations, London. TIE/University of Cambridge. This will also include a reflection on the role of the adult, the impact of digital technologies and gender differences in Childrens play.

To look at spontaneous play, first there must be a definition for both terms. Various theorists, philosophers and academics each hold their own definition for play however the oxford dictionary says that play is to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation instead of having a serious or practical need for doing so. From this, it is perceived that play holds no purpose other than for fun, however this can be argued by Moyles (1989) who says that children do their real learning during play, from this there can be a depiction that there is more than one purpose. opposing this, Maria Montessori believed that play was an insult to children as they were unable to search for real life within play.

The oxford dictionary definition of spontaneous states: “performed or occurring as a result of sudden impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus” – from this we are told that there is absolutely no prompt involved. Combining these two definitions provides the idea that play can occur without any prompt or stimulus at all and that there is no use in play other than fun. Moyles(2003) challenges this by saying that spontaneous play is an essential part of children’s social and intellectual development, including their creative and personal growth too. From the definition of spontaneous, the question can be presented of ‘does spontaneous play exist? Is it possible?’

An extract from Contemporary Perspectives on play in early childhood education, (Olivia Saracho, Bernard Spodek. 2003), tells the following:

“children’s play is a spontaneous activity whose benefits are well documented in the realm of intellectual development, language and literacy development, and social development. However all human behavior occurs within a particular sociocultural context, and play is influenced by the characteristics of the environment in which it is found. While it may be spontaneous in that it is generated by the player, play is dependent on the sociocultural context for support. There is reason to believe that the social and cultural conditions that support spontaneous play are less in evidence today than they were in the past, because of the increasing complexity and specialization in children’s play materials, increasing organization in childrens games and a growing tendency to characterize rough and tumble play as a symptomatic of pathology” – there are several points that can be taken from this, the most important being that spontaneous play is not possible! this is because play is prompted by the environment and the resources in it (sociocultural context)– although the child may have a sudden idea, the idea would have been formed by an influence within the setting, for example: a child will be in a room(the setting) with paper and a pen(the influence which has been provided by an adult) with no instructions or verbal prompt,– the child forms a paper airplane and draws on it – this is the “spontaneous” part, however they were influenced by the paper to create something and probably had a memory of seeing a plane which also had an input in the activity.

An example of adults having a form of control over play, is within the EYFS. The adult must follow the curriculum but can set up various methods of learning for the child. For example: setting up a drawing table, story table, and writing table within their setting, the child will “play” with the resources that are available at each station spontaneously and will be learning without even realizing – however the adult will understand the reason behind each resource and how it develops children’s learning, this means that the play is not “spontaneous” as the adult would have had specific intentions. The adult will also set limitations which does not allow the play to be spontaneous, for example: on the table there are 2 pieces of paper, a pen and scissors – the child may want to cut the curtains that are in the room, and draw all over the walls, but the adult will more than likely prevent them from doing this. This is not allowing their “spontaneous mind” to have free rein, it is a restrictive setting. Despite this, play within Early years is considered to be guided by spontaneity due to the lack of organisation they display.

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Often, a child will want to learn, explore and play. They usually have motivation to want to join in and investigate however this is also influenced by the adult as encouragement or prompting will increase the child’s motivation. The national mental health and education center says that children have intrinsic motivation which they form themselves subconsciously. They also develop extrinsic motivation which is provided by adults, or others around them prompting them to join in. If the child enjoys the activity, it will increase their intrinsic motivation next time the same or a similar activity is available. However, allowing a child to use their intrinsically motivate themselves to do their own play and make their own decisions is more rewarding as they feel more successful. Adults can have an impact on motivating play, however it is better for the child if they are able to motivate themselves, they are more involved in their own education and development. The role of the adult here is to assess which children need to be motivated and supported, and how to ensure the intrinsically motivated children are increasing their motivation.

The role of the adult is merely to provide a safe environment, with age-appropriate resources (that adhere to the curriculum within an educational setting) for children to use for their own benefit. The Adult must also set guidelines for the child for their own safety and wellbeing. Frobel considered the adult to “gift” the children with educational materials, which had activities (lessons) based around each “gift”. The activities were developed in natural ways, however in the developing world, children are now using digital technology more often. The adult should take a step back and not interfere within children’s play, and should not put their opinion forward as to what a child is doing in their play, for example, if a child is drawing a picture the adult should not suggest what they are drawing, as it is whatever they believe it to be, not the adults interpretation.

The various types of play are necessary in early years to provide the child with new knowledge and ways to develop each area of themselves, including physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and academically. depending on the setting/curriculum, the adult should monitor the child’s progress in whichever way they see fit for the child. This could be through a learning journey (EYFS) or by using photographic evidence to document that the child has participated in something (Te Whariki), the adult should log the child’s development and create activities or “gifts” to help extend the child development across all areas. To develop socially, the adult should provide the child with experiences to interact with others and work as a group to ensure they are able to develop their communicative skills. This will enable them to pick up new information and form opinions considering those around them. Vygotsky’s theory of social learning tell us that we learn from each other by copying, therefore giving children a chance to socialize and learn together, sharing ideas and knowledge. The adult should promote Play and the learning that is done during play as a quality and inclusive activity –this can be done by forming a bond with each child as an individual, and by encouraging, supporting and praising their play. to allow children to get the best out of their play, they must be allowed to explore, interact and take the lead with their resources and play. Every Child Matters documents state that children should be treated equally, meaning that the adult must make play inclusive so that the children are fairly considered regardless of their abilities. Adults must promote inclusive play by allowing all children to play together in activities that suit all abilities and can support development for all children. The needs of all children should be considered when planning play, those with additional needs should never be an afterthought.

In response to the opening quote, play is created by children however is influenced by adults and the resources and environment they provide. It is also controlled by the adult, without the child being aware. The control is formed of the environment, resources, time and any restrictions that are in place. Despite this, the child will feel as though they are in control of the play.

In modern times, digital technology is becoming used more often in everyday life, this has an impact on how children learn through play as the resources are more advanced with new opportunities, which is allowing children to understand new things by learning in a new way, however are “traditional learning” methods being pushed aside? The technology in education report says that technology is supporting teachers and giving children new opportunities with whichever path they take in life. It states that “digital skills are essential for success” as once 6 key skills are learnt, children can teach themselves and develop their knowledge further. These skills are now essential due to the rate that technology is being introduced to each aspect of our lives, however there are multiple issues with the need for understanding technology. Some children do not have access to technology or broadband due to various issues such as finances, living conditions, family’s restriction etc. The report informs that those who do not have access to a computer at home are at risk for underperforming, therefore causing a negative impact on their education. Schools may also struggle to fund the upkeep for technology and the additional fees for other required extra’s (accessories, repairs, educational programs) This may cause schools to appear outdated by other schools in the surrounding area, giving the perception that they are not a good school. Another issue that schools must face is that their teachers may not understand new technology, meaning they will struggle to pass on the necessary knowledge. Another concern with digital technologies are the health risks that are posed upon children. The Digital Childhood: the Impact of Using Digital Technology on Childrens Health, a report by Nehad Amed Ibrahim Zahra and Ahuad Abdulazaq Alanazi highlights these concerns. a major issue with technology is the lack of face to face contact with friends and family due to the ease of social media. This can cause issues with social skills in later life. The access that children have to the media via technology can also impact their education by altering their behavior and advertising false expectations of people and their lifestyles which can cause pressure and stress upon children from a young age. In addition to social and mental impacts, there is a link between the overuse of technology and various physical health issues such as obesity, diabetes speech disorders, sleep disorders and even neurological conditions such as autism and sensory disorder. Despite digital technology being a major advantage to current times, allowing people to learn and work more efficiently at a faster rate, it is also a major hindrance to modern society.

Another problem that is mentioned in the report is that parents are encouraging their children to use technology, by doing so they are limiting their time for playing outside, or with educational toys that will help them holistically develop. Children appear to seek comfort in technology instead of wanting affection from their carers. Fortunately, schools are becoming more aware of the technology related issues and are including more natural resources and outdoor learning in the curriculum. The study included in the report showed a high percentage of children were using advanced technology and that a large percentage were moderately attached to technology. The study went on to investigate the health impacts upon the children which concluded that a high percentage suffered physically, psychologically and emotionally due to the attachment to technology. To conclude, technology in modern age can provide various benefits to education and offer new opportunities for young people, however can also cause ailments which can damage their mind and body, leading to complications that may limit their future and damage their chances to succeed.

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