Play has an important role in children’s lives, not only as a means to act out key events in a child’s life, but also as a way to escape difficult emotions. Piaget (1962) wrote:
“We can be sure that all happenings, pleasant or unpleasant, in the child’s life, will have repercussions on its dolls”
But play is not just important to younger children. The period of early adolescence (10-14) is a key age to learn about emotional communication and play is immensely important to this process. As intellectual development progresses, a child begins to lose interest in toys because they no longer have life qualities, but play remains therapeutic, allowing a child or young person to express emotions in a socially acceptable way, helping to solve problems and conflicts.
There is widespread concern expressed however about the lack of play opportunities because of children’s adoption of technology, but this might ignore what children are actually doing on-line (Clarke 2009).
Play can have many meanings and many definitions. Psychologist Dr Elizabeth Hurlock summed it up well nearly sixty years ago, describing play as “Any activity engaged in for the enjoyment it gives, without consideration of the end result. It is entered into voluntarily and is lacking in external force or compulsion”.
Play and Development Cognitive skills are improved during play. For this reason clay, water, blocks and creative movement are used with pre-school children to enhance and encourage cognitive development. Symbolic play can help a child to develop the skills to describe what is happening in their world, which in turn can encourage literacy, once the child has the ability to express themselves in this way.
Creative activities, the decline of which concerns many current play specialists and child development experts, raise the quality and capacity of children’s thinking, perseverance and problem-solving abilities, as well as fuelling their imaginations. Children are very competent and capable learners – given the right linguistic and social environment. We are now better informed than ever as to what that environment should contain.