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Written Reflection on Definitions of Play

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In this essay I will be looking at definitions of play, aiming to reflect on a variety of views and opinions on what play is. It is difficult to find a singular definition of play as it is so broad, not only in the different types and forms of play, but also in the reasons a child will play and the child’s own view on playing. The purpose of reflecting on definitions of play is so that we can build upon our own personal definition, and to further understand the purpose of play through thinking about how other people define it. I will first be looking at how most definitions of play ignore the fact that some forms of play can have a purpose other than entertaining the child. I will then go on to look at the importance of play in children’s development and learning. I plan to conclude this essay by going back over the purposes of play I have found and why we should involve them in our own views and actions regarding play, as well as going back over why play forms such a large part of a child’s development, and what it can do for them in adulthood.

Some definitions of play ignore the fact that not all play is enjoyable and purposeful. Play Therapy UK (2018) defines play as “A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective” This definition of play almost seems to ignore part of the work that this organisation does. They themselves define play therapy as “a variety of play and creative arts techniques (the Play Therapy Tool-Kit) to alleviate chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions in children”, this definition itself gives play the purpose of helping to alleviate distress from a child. However, as play is so broad, it would be hard to make a correct explanation on the purpose of it.

First thoughts of what play is would usually be a thought of something like a game of football or playing with dolls, generally something which doesn’t have any purpose to the child other than entertaining themselves. However, there can be other purposes for play, such as playing with blocks to help the child to learn and understand counting or playing with craft supplies to make a present for a family member. These forms of play have more purpose than just enjoyment and amusement. Learning through play can be extremely useful to a child, as it is generally something they enjoy doing, so having them do something they otherwise may find boring like learning, through play, they will be much more engaged in it and will therefore learn more efficiently. If we do not use play to help children to learn, then we will likely be failing to completely engage the child in the teaching we are expecting them to gain understanding of. There is also play which has an alternative purpose from enjoyment or amusement, for example, if a parent is going to a friend’s house and taking their child with them, that child may be expected to play with the friend’s child who, in this case, they don’t like or get on with as they are controlling and aggressive. The purpose of this play would not be for entertainment, the purpose would just be obeying their parent.

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It could also be argued that, since these activities have different purposes, could they really be considered as play if they are not enjoyable, or have a purpose other than enjoyment? “It looks and sounds like play, yet we properly call this play the work of children. Why?” (Mraz, Porcelli & Tyler, n.d.) in today’s world, children do not have jobs like they would have years ago, so play taking place in a learning environment could be considered their work. The definition Play Therapy UK gave would back up this point by not including the purpose of learning and work into their definition.

Play is an extremely important part of how a child develops and learns. It creates scenarios where children must use their own knowledge and educate themselves on how to further the game they are playing, or where to go next with the craft activity they are doing. It also helps the child to use knowledge they already have, to reinforce the skills they learn by reinforcing the synaptic pathways they develop through play and making them permanent. The knowledge they gain through doing this can then be used in other scenarios. Mandy Andrews is a lecturer at the University of Plymouth and runs play activities and events with her husband. She defined play by saying “…play crosses boundaries and creates challenges. It is a deep process that has a rhythm of integer space, flow and not flow bordering on chaos.” (2012, p.2). Andrews’ own experiences with play have led her to be interested in how it works, and how it shapes a child’s development. In her case, play makes up a large percentage of her memories as a child, so going into her adult life continuing to be interested in working in this area shows that the things she learned and developed as a child carried on over into her adulthood. She mentions this herself by saying “Thanks to my early experiences I am not scared to fiddle and look at how things work. I know how to make things such as a den or a go-kart and value the smells and sounds of the natural environment.” (2012, p.2). this shows that her experiences playing and what she learned from doing so have carried over and she now uses those skills in her career. This would also apply to people in other fields of work, for example if a child enjoys playing a sport, they may start playing it a lot, which would build and improve upon the skills needed for playing that sport, and they may go on to play that sport professionally in adulthood. This can be seen when children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, they often say a job which is close to their favourite type of play, e.g. if a child enjoys playing with crafting items they may say they want to be an artist, or if they enjoy playing with fairytales they may want to be a princess or a king.

In conclusion, play can, and should, have many purposes. Restricting its purpose to being only for enjoyment and amusement restricts the uses it can have for children’s development. Reflecting on Play Therapy U.K.’s definition brought me to conclude that we must include the developmental purposes of play in our work. If we kept to the view that play is purely for entertaining a child and absolutely nothing else, then we would be losing a huge resource in teaching, we would not use play to teach children how to count, read and write, and to even just develop their own life skills. Play creates a challenge to make the child continuously use knowledge they already have, reinforcing it, and to force them to build on that knowledge to overcome the challenge they are faced with. Looking at the way Andrews defines play brought me to conclude that not only is play important in development as a child, but it can also shape the way we are in adulthood. It creates challenges that make the child reuse knowledge they already have which then reinforces that knowledge through synapses in the brain, to then make the skills and behaviours they learn permanent. Playing can also have an even bigger effect on a child and go on to form their career in adulthood.

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Written Reflection on Definitions of Play. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Written Reflection on Definitions of Play.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
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Written Reflection on Definitions of Play [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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