How Play Boosts Communication and Literacy Skills in Children
Before children ever step into a school, they’re introduced to their local playground. Besides their parents and siblings, a playground can be a child’s first encounter with the world around them and the many other children who are a part of it. By interacting with others, children develop language and communication skills. A game of make-believe at the playground involves a discussion of roles and objects. A game of Simon Says requires hierarchal assignments and direction-following. Children even correct each other based on the knowledge of grammar and pronunciation that has been instilled in them at home. Outdoor play is essential to child development. This article explores why.
Different Types of Play
Human children play, of course, but so do monkeys, rats, and dogs. Even creatures under the sea, like octopuses, play. It’s a universal activity. Everybody in the world can understand the desire to play, including you. The concept of kindergarten was coined by Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century. By using the word “garden,” he wanted to emphasize the importance of the complementary relationship between humans and nature in playful learning. Over several decades, kindergarten spread to institutions that recognized its educational value. Playful learning categorizes two distinctive methods of pedagogy, or the art of teaching: free play and guided play.
Free play is what you would normally associate with traditional outdoor play. Playing outdoors is unstructured, and children choose to do so of their own free will. Still, the activity promotes imaginative minds and an enthusiasm for discovery amongst children. Bob Hughes, a play theorist, has identified as many as 16 play types, from role-playing to exploratory. These types of free play develop children physically, socially, cognitively, creatively, and emotionally.
While playing is always fun, guided play is designed to focus specifically on pre-determined learning goals. Simultaneously, guided play must maintain all the other enjoyable aspects of free play. Guided play is defined by a constructive set of principles. The first is that guided play features child agency. The second is that guided play allows for gentle adult guidance. Together, both principles ensure that the child progresses towards the learning goal.
From the engagement that guided play engenders, a platform for enhanced discovery is extended. This approach to learning helps children learn through adult feedback that’s both sincere and prompt. An example of guided play in action might be instructing children to set up a farm, play out the scene, and encourage them to use vocabulary words along the way.
Different Stages of Play
As well as different types of play, there are different stages of play. Depending on their age, personality, and maturity, children display a diverse range of behaviors that can be categorized scientifically. In 1929, sociologist Mildred Parten observed six different stages of free play in children ages 2 to 5. As fellow playground inhabitants, you need to stay tuned-in to what the children around you experience in everyday literacy and play activities.
- Unoccupied play: Exploration is the crux of unoccupied play. The child may not look like they’re playing at all. Rather, the child is simply looking around, observing their surroundings. Very young children exhibit this behavior, and it’s the base for all other stages of play. Through watching, the child learns patience and how to operate in the world without direct interference.
- Solitary play: Also called independent play, solidarity play is largely defined by its title. The child is alone and not particularly interested in what other children are doing. This is most common in 2- to 3-year-old children. As an adult, you may worry about children who play alone and don’t seek out social engagement. However, this is a normal stage of development. It allows children to learn motor and cognitive skills thoroughly before interacting with others.
- Onlooker play: Onlooker play may seem similar to unoccupied play, but the child is in fact, looking at other children play instead of just looking around. The child might even talk with others about the play, but will not engage in the play. Again, at this stage, children are learning more about their surroundings by observing social organization and relationships in addition to learning new ways of playing.
- Parallel play: At this stage, the child is starting to progress onward from the non-participatory stages of play. Parallel play, alternatively known as adjacent play or social coaction, occurs when a child imitates the play of other children but plays separately. This type of play demonstrates how children can warm up to each other without actually coming into contact with one another.
- Associative play: In associative play, the child doesn’t express interest in a specific organized activity. Instead, the child expresses interests in the children themselves. For this reason, activities are not synced as one, but the child still has the opportunity to learn social skills from the experience.
- Cooperative play: Finally, in cooperative play, the child expresses interest in the people playing along with the activity itself. This allows for the assignment of roles and organized activities. Cooperative play requires advanced social and organization skills, so it’s uncommon for preschoolers and kindergarteners to be cooperative players. Unfortunately, young children who engage in this type of play usually end up in conflicts related to control. Sharing, taking turns, and leadership disputes are normal among children of a young age.
Outdoor Play Aids Language Development
The importance of play for language development can’t be stressed enough. Communication development happens most effectively during dramatic play, or role-play, one of Hughes’s 16 play types. Three characteristics of role-playing offer the optimal conditions for practicing language. Your “gentle adult guidance” could be paramount in children’s understanding of relationships during role-play.
- Props and objects: Using different objects in role-play permits children to practice vocabulary by identifying the materials or items they have in use. They may, for example, designate a rock as a cellphone and a stick as a stethoscope.
- Roles and themes: Role-play creates the need for multiple roles and a main theme. Whether the game is doctor or construction, children need to familiarize themselves with industry language that would otherwise be useless in their daily lives.
- Pretend play: Pretend play in and of itself launches children into an assortment of situations and scenarios that — with actual tools out of the picture — need language to resolve. A child playing doctor doesn’t simply use a defibrillator. They propose a need for one and narrate the operation.
How to Encourage Pretend Play
Pretend play is composed of real-life representations of everyday roles and relationships. Children have been known to emulate various behaviors at the playground, from reading a book bound together with leaves to playing doctor with a friend. With pretend play, children can have a meaningful understanding of certain skills before learning them in the classroom.
Drawing, playing, or talking are all symbolic forms. These activities, like building representative experiences through the creation of imaginary worlds, strengthen children’s visionary insight. Secondly, these innovative performances forge meaning in the acts for the children involved. Therefore, the symbolism involved in reading a book or playing doctor becomes more than just pretend play. It serves as a bridge to literacy.
When children become familiar with these roles, the roles become more accessible in real life, in spite of the role’s inauthenticity during pretend play. You shouldn’t take this interest for granted. Encourage pretend play among children by making the children in your life aware of what you and others do, from grocery shopping to going to work. In addition, you can use guided play and props to make sure that these roles are executed appropriately and with a set learning goals in mind.
Learning Through Play at Your Playground
Children are the future. No matter how we decide to phrase it or how many times we’ve heard it, we all know it’s true. That’s why the development of our next generation is crucial to our own. And if we care about our children, we must care about their learning. Outdoor play is a vital part of the learning process of children everywhere. Yet almost half of all preschoolers are not taken outside daily, and 41% of school districts don’t make recess mandatory.
Little Tikes Commercial hopes to highlight the benefits of playgrounds by equipping schools, parks, early childcare centers, daycares, and others with custom-designed, safe, and rigorously tested outdoor playgrounds. We do more than sell playgrounds. We want to help you with a range of services to assure that the children in your vicinity are engaged and happy. Contact us to see how we can help you help your children.