Learning through play is a term that has previously been used in various sectors in order to describe the methods that a child can make sense of the world around them by engaging social activities of playing. This process of learning is acknowledged as very important in helping the children learn social skills as well as the ability to have cognitive skills in their day-to-day activities (Kahn & Elinor, 2005). According to Kahn & Elinor (2005), play is important as a part of learning how to cope with the social environment and approach new experiences in life for the child. This paper answers certain questions concerning the phenomenon of learning through play and the various theories engaged in this type of learning.
Some of the skills that children have found to be learning in the process of learning is how to interact with others (social skills), especially being with them, becoming a team player, becoming active, cultivating a culture of exploration, communicating with others, meeting mental, physical and social challenges as well as learning how to do new things. As such, the state of play has been seen as an active part of the learning process that is necessary in the growth and development of every child. The role of the teacher is thus inevitable in the state of play because of the active process of learning that is involved in the various forms of play. As a result, there is a need to analyze the phenomenon that is called play before determining the role of the teacher in it.
The Phenomenon of Play
The proponents of the phenomenon note that the concept of play is what makes children able to understand and make sense of their environment and their world in general. Because children are naturally curious of the things around, they engage themselves in play in order to explain the various phenomenon that exist in the world as they discover it. As such, these proponents have compiled a series of requirements that make up a state of pure play. This is because there have been classifications of play, and there is pure play and artificial play (Hirsh-Pathek & Michnik, 2001). In the book Einstein never used flashcards, this difference is explained. Children are able to determine the difference between pure play and artificial play that is meant to be some kind of work. Certain characteristics that will be discussed are presently different in pure play and artificial play that children are able to determine. The elements of pure play have been considered in five ways that will be explained below:
Play should produce pleasure and enjoyment for the child where this is not a result, then the child may not look at it as play.
There should be no goals to the effect of play. No lesson should be expected to be achieved from play. This is because it is for the sole purpose of pleasure and enjoyment and interaction with the physical environment should not be limited to the learning of a particular phenomenon.
This leads to the third element which is that play is spontaneous and a voluntary act. As such, one cannot be forced to go and play and often times, it comes about very naturally and at any time.
The active engagement of the player is also an important part of the play activity. Without this engagement, then the act can be seen as either involuntary, or as an act of work.
The state of play is largely about a make-believe world on the part of the player. For example, when a child is making a sand castle, it is something from their imagination that is being materialized in their play.
As such, the definition of play can be given from many perspectives depending on these elements. From a point of view of the creative mind, play can be in the form of a role play where the participants makes use of things in their imagination to create props and pretend to exist in a world within those props. One can use building objects and painting in order to create something that they will use in the course of play. The imagination of the participant is actively engaged in this creative process so that the images in their creative minds are the ones to be translated on to the playing environment. Feelings, emotions, thoughts and ideas are used in the process of play (Bruce, 2011).
Play and Work
Studies have been conducted into the critical difference between work and play and how children have been able to determine the difference. With this in mind, researchers have noted that the concept of play is one that has been chosen by the participant rather than a third party who imposes the duty upon the participant, which would be seen as work or duty. The phenomenon of play is also seen as a process rather than something with a predictable outcome as seen in some areas. On the other hand, work has a specific outcome and an intention of working (Wiltz & Fein, 2011). Wiltz & Fein (2011) find that the activity of play needed that it had some form of inner decision-making skills so that the participant can bend reality to suit their particular position. Therefore play is considered not to be a waste of time, but rather a process of actively learning new things and gathering new knowledge from experiences (Chick, 2010).
The learning benefits of play in the long-term have however become quite difficult and remote to investigate. As such, there is need to require what the role of the teacher is in this particular learning process. Because of the engagement of the child in this learning, it becomes necessary that a learning supervisor be present to effect the process and outcomes of learning, without converting this to a work process.
The role of the teacher
When considering the definition of play, we begin to notice that this is a matter of cultural influence so that what is play in one culture may be seen as work in another. For example, the setting up of a shop to merchandize lemon juice for example, in the ancient Mayan culture this may be considered play while in the modern American society, it will be seen as work. Therefore, the definition of work can be seen by three primary methods:
The primary activity even when the cultural definition of the play activity by the culture is appropriate, researchers will more often consider it as work depending on the value added to the family unit during the course of the activity. For example in the example given above, it is possible that the researcher will consider this to be work because the enterprise set up is towards the addition of value to the basic social unit despite the children doing it out of fun (Chick, 2010).
The parental concept of play depending on the cultural background and community of the parents, the concept of play varied. For example in the above example again, the Mayan parent will consider setting up a lemonade stand as play while the American mother will consider this as a business, so much so that they will say that their children are working for money.
The childs concept the understanding of the child concerning the concept of play is also an important consideration in this. This is because the child can conceive if the play process has some end and goal or is just for fun. In the example of flash cards, for example, children have been able to notice that this is not play because of the disposition of these flash cards to have a specific end that is to remember what is on them. Children have now noticed that this is not play; it is only disguised so.
The role of the teacher now comes more clearly because of the need of the implementation of the effectiveness of the learning objectives of the play process. This is because there is need to ensure that the learning process becomes effective, and the children can add value to themselves through the learning process. According to the modern theories of play and the resulting learning, play significantly facilitates in the development of the child. This is because the child is no longer considered as a passive recipient of knowledge, but an active creator of meaning in the world around them (Katzeff, 2003). Experiential learning is the kind of learning that happens in the course of play.
As such, the role of the teacher is to ensure the effectiveness of the process. The role of play in the learning process can be analyzed in the Gaynes theory of learning. This theory is all about investigating the outcomes of learning within whatever environment of learning that is utilized. As a result, the teacher can be seen as having the supervisory role in the entire process. Considering that the teacher can implement goals towards the learning process, the table below shows a model of how the teacher can act in a supervisory role in the play activity. The objectives in the use of this theory will be summarized in the table below:
Sample Hierarchical Objectives based on Gaynes Theory of Learning
Objective Statement Example (if any)
Gaining attention in learning Show the different types of activities in play Identifying an objective Describe the activity Painting a picture
Recalling previous lessons Give meaning of the activity Present a stimulus question Describe the activity What is the picture about?
Learning guidance Showing how to do the activity to someone else Elicit performance of student Ask a number of students to do the activity described. Give feedback Depending on the right or wrong example, give students feedback Performance assessment Ensure that all students have gotten an idea of the topic Retention Provide pictures and guidelines Use visual aid technologies to enhance retention such as pictures
The role of the teacher in the play activity can thus be seen to be one of the supervisory role, not only in ensuring that the activity has been completed with the lessons learned. The teacher equally ensures that the children in the play process can have positive outcomes and can collectively learn from the process. The effect of this is that children can collectively learn, thus ensuring that the learning goals are reached. For children and play, the main objective is to learn how to interact with the environment in a positive way and in a manner which they can comprehend.
In the above model for example, we can consider any range of activities of play including a session of painting in school. Assuming that this is a creative painting session set within the class environment, then the objectives can be measured based on the steps on the table. We can note that play can be conducted in an official environment, such as the school or competitions. Depending on the preference of participant, the person can have their creativity unleashed in whatever environment.
Considering this example, the first role of the teacher is to ensure that the child can give attention to the learning process. This is by showing the child the different types of creative paintings that can be done by the participant. Children can learn in both physical and intellectual activities. As such, before the play process, the teacher can engage the children on what activities they can choose from. This can be a way to provide many children with a lesson that could be learned at the end of the process without making the play process one without creativity and thus become work (Roussou, 2004).
The role of the teacher could also be to bring out an objective of the play process. Because the play process is an interaction with the environment in order to gain a specific lesson, the role of the teacher is to indirectly introduce an objective of the play process. For example if the effect of the play process through painting was to be able to accurately paint someone they know in order to later be able to name body parts, then the teacher may introduce this as a drawing exercise which can later be used to identify body parts. The objective has been reached, but the purpose of...
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