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The Importance of Play in Childhood Education

Play is the free, voluntary activity that is in most times associated with enjoyment and pleasure. It is usually associated with children and adults do not constrain them. Playing is a critical aspect of a child’s life, and his development. Play is what prepares a child for later interpersonal relations and development of relationships. It is believed to be a child’s way of understanding and interacting with their environment, which would lead to gradually being understood. These repeated activities were primarily for the purpose of understanding their own capabilities and mastering their understanding, while drawing enjoyment from them each moment.

Play utilizes a child’s creativity and brings out their understanding of the world through their actions. It is essential in helping them have a better understanding of how their self fits into the world outside themselves. It helps children develop in every aspect of their being as they learn how to express themselves physically through their actions, expand their thinking, socialize with other children hence developing relationships, be aware of and control their feelings, improve language and communication and have a sense of worth and purpose in the world.

The two theories of play will bring an even wider understanding and perspective on childhood development. The first theory is the classical or traditional theory of play. Two educators in history who were significant contributors to the concept of play show how it is related to education and learning. Their concepts stand out and are fundamental to this study. One theory, which is supported by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, is the classical theory or the traditional theory. Pestalozzi’s theory states that every aspect of a child’s life contributed to his development. It contributed to his personality growth, his character development and his reasoning.

Pestalozzi argued that instead of learning through words children should learn through activities and things. He argued that children should be free to draw their own conclusions after pursuing their own interests. He aimed to educate the whole child and therefore, encouraged that children should not be given already existing solutions to their answers, but should arrive at the answers by their own efforts. In order for this to happen, they would have to cultivate their reasoning, improve how they see things, boost their judgment powers and encourage their self activity.  His aim was to bring to balance the three elements, heart, hand and head.

Pestalozzi compared a child to a seed and argues that just as a seed holds the whole design of a tree, a child also holds a tremendous potential of becoming a complete person. The educator’s responsibility is to ensure that nothing interferes or disturbs the nature of the child’s development.

He also believed that love was important in the development of the child. He believed that without love, no physical or intellectual powers would grow to their full potential. It is for this reason that he abolished flogging in his school, and kindness ruled his school.

Pestalozzi is also very concern about balancing the three elements, head, heart and hands. He emphasizes that these three elements need to go together in order for there to be a full development of the individual.  The head means the intellectual and mental functions that lead to the realization of the environment and its dynamics and the judgment of things.  This would require a sharp memory, perception, creative thinking and an imagination. The heart represents the moral judgment of the individual (Long, 2001). This refers to the notion that not only is the heart perception and thought but primarily, the moral feelings of trust, love, thankfulness, and awareness and activities of one’s conscience, the ability to know right from wrong, good and bad. The hands represent the physical activity. It refers to the combination of skill, physical strength, and common sense to be fruitful. Pestalozzi’s view concentrated more on development of the child as a whole, rather than just the education.

The second theory, supported by Lev Vygotsky, is the contemporary theory. His theory emphasized on the influence that culture peers and adults have on the development of a child. In order to understand his argument, he proposed the zone of proximal development. The zone refers to the difference between a child who gets assistance in finding solutions from an adult and one who finds solutions for himself. The help received by the child from the adult is called scaffolding. This is because assistance from an adult helps support the development of a child. This theory also argues that the development of a child also involves the relationship between the child and other objects such as books, toys, activities and practices at home and in the class room. Children partner in their interactions and this leads to the development of their skill, knowledge and their attitudes (Kozulin, 2003).

He opposed the psychologists who believed that a child’s development occurs spontaneously and is not at all affected by education. He also disagrees with those who believe that teaching alters the development of a child regardless of the stage the child is in.

He believed that learning could lead development if it occurred within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZDP contains skills that are not developed to capacity, but with the support and assistance, they would grow into development. For the skills that are on the outside of the child’s ZDP, no amount of effort or support will lead to development. He recognized that the kind of support and assistance needed to develop the skills of a child is different for every child. According to him, humans use tools that develop [p from a culture in order to concentrate on and understand their social environment.

These two theories are quite interesting and have a few similarities and differences. Both theories are aiming towards the development of the child and the development of the community. Children in the past years have been viewed as miniature adults who as soon as they are physically capable, they become a slave to the adults. But in recent years, children have been viewed as very capable, young and vibrant learners who develop slowly and gradually into adults. Pestalozzi’s theory of a child being given the privilege of making mistakes and finding his own solution has given the child a benefit and privilege of growing up gradually. It allows a child to find out his mistakes and learn from them and even discover their limits and capacities. This gives the child a chance to grow up gradually. It’s of a big fortune to have the children participate and develop their skills. Mistakes are a significant in inculcating this aspect and there is a move which enables them has a peaceful and modern means of growth. The dynamic environment also is being taken into account by the children so that they participate well and have a gradual growth.

Similarly, Vygotsky’s theory also gives a child a chance to grow up gradually into adulthood. They allow him to interact with his environment, discover and rediscover his surroundings and therefore relates to it accordingly.  This allows the child to grow intellectually and socially.

There is however, a noticeable difference between these two theories. Pestalozzi’s theory insists on the self discovery of solutions by the child. He argues that a child should be given the privilege of finding his own answers without the assistance of an adult. This helps the child develop and expand his thinking. In the case where a child cannot find a solution to his answers, they are forced to think beyond the norm and seek solutions from a different area or use different strategies to find their solutions. It also helps in the expanding and developing the creativity of the child. a child would need to think of many different ways in which to arrive at a solution. The more difficult the problem is, the more creative the child would have to be (Garry, 2005).

As opposed to the Vygotsky theory, a child will receive assistance in the finding of solutions. A parent or a teacher gives guidance to the child whenever they cannot find a solution. The teachers are encouraged to help out children when lost. This theory gives the child a close minded mentality. A child will not always think outside the box in pursuit of an answer. When a child gets used to being given direction the usual tendency is to keep asking and seeking direction. This theory does not give the child a chance to expand and stretch their thinking. They are always dependant on the help and guidance of an adult.

Vygotsky’s theory provides a wide variety of areas and objects to learn from. He suggests that the growth of a child in learning depends on the parents, his peers, his culture, the objects around him such as books, toys, magazines, television, and so much more. The child in this theory has a lot of reference points and a dynamic range of knowledge. He not only gains an education, but he becomes learned too. He observes his environment and his culture and picks a lot from it.

The Pestalozzi theory will also benefit the child. He learns and grows in all aspects of his being. He is physically fit because he engages in activities and games that promote health, both physical and mental. This child becomes independent and confident in himself since he can reason individually and come up with his own solutions. He is able solve difficult problems by expanding his thinking and exploring his imagination. This kind o f child grows into a very efficient person. He is able to come up with ideas that lead to development. He is also able to provide solutions to problems and will think fast in moments of pressure.

A teacher’s role in the Vygotsky’s theory is to assist the student in his work. He is mostly seen as an instructor or one who transmits information to the student. The teacher in this theory is meant to collaborate with his or her students. A teacher is meant to facilitate the construction of the meaning of the student. The teacher basically acts as the middle between the student and the information being passed. In the Pestalozzi theory, the role of a teacher is no more than just to assist the child in his efforts to gain development. He does not teach or instruct, neither does he gives lectures. His work is to oversee the child’s nature of development (Almon, 2004).

In conclusion, play is important in the growth and development of a child. It prepares a child for more formalized and advanced learning. It helps a child develop his language and speech. Through fames and play, a child learns verbal and non verbal communication, which helps them in future stages of learning how to read and write.

The games and plays also give them skills to solve problems. This is evident when they build blocks and they fall or when they play with sand or water, or when they are constructing buildings or cars. These games force children to develop critical thinking skills. It is also important to note that play also encourages the curiosity of a child and which leads to a hunger for more and more leaning and an understanding for his environment.

Play also presents a child with many opportunities that will help enhance their emotions and social interaction skills. They therefore get to interact with their environment. This helps them make sense of their world. It also helps children communicate and make interactions with other children. As they interact, they gain good social skills, communication skills and negotiation skills

When children are left on their own, they tend to engage in some physical activity. The children who engage in physical activities are physically fit and are rarely sick. This therefore contributes to the healthy development of the child. it is therefore important for parents and educators to know that play is more than just pass time for children, but it is essential for their growth and development. It is through play that children acquire important skills that contribute to their future learning.