Childhood play behavior is an important part of every child’s life. Starting in infancy, children begin to explore their world through play. This behavior can serve as an indicator of the child’s cognitive and social development. The research on play and development is a key to helping caregivers understand the importance of childhood play. This paper will focus on the psychological aspects of childhood play behavior and its relation to cognitive development.
According to the cognitive development theory, the purpose of play is to develop intelligence. While children play, it is theorized that they are able to learn to solve problems (Wyver & Spence, 1999). One of the most influential contributors to understanding play was Jean Piaget. According to his theory, all people must adapt to the environment through assimilation and accommodation. Childhood play is a form of assimilation and any behavior that is done for enjoyment can be defined as play (Piaget, 1962). Piaget also developed the stages of cognition these include: sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational thinking. These stages of development provide a framework for conceptualizing childhood behavior and are made evident through play (Tsao, 2002).
As children grow and mature, they transition through Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and their type of play changes. Up until a child’s second birthday, they are in the sensorimotor period of cognitive development. This phase of development is classified as a period of observation. These children engage in sensorimotor play, also known as practice play, which consists repetitively doing a physical activity. According to Piaget, this is the first stage of a child’s intellectual development. During this period, playing peek-a-boo fascinates infants because they do not understand object permanence. Typically, when a child is five months old they begin to engage in a low level of object play. Children in this stage will focus on how their actions affect objects. For example, my niece is one year old and enjoys picking up blocks and hitting them together. When she does this, she is learning that she is able to control an object (block) and her action (hitting them together) produces a result (noise). As children near the age of two, they begin to gain interest in the properties of toys and begin incorporating objects in their fantasy world (Hughes, 2006). Symbolic play is added to the child’s repertoire of play soon after they reach the age of two. As the child develops through these types of play, they are able to connect and arrange these play behaviors in intricate ways.
Between the ages of two and seven, children are in the pre-operational stage of cognitive development. This stage of development is categorized by imagination and symbolic language. During the beginning of this stage, toddlers spend most of their playtime using their imagination and playing...