Infants experience, express, and perceive emotions before they fully understand them. In learning to recognize, label, manage, and communicate their emotions and to perceive and attempt to understand the emotions of others, children build skills that connect them with family, peers, teachers, and the community. Play which may take numerous forms is one of the avenues which enables emotional development. In this vein, the essay is going to discuss the role of play in facilitating emotional development in children. To make issues clear, the terms emotional development and play are to be defined first.
Emotional development refers to a child's growing ability to regulate and control emotions and to form secure relationships (Frost, Brown, Sutterby and Therrell, 2000). Emotional development describes the expression and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others (Cohen at el, 2005). Therefore, emotional development can be described as a child’s aptitude in the management of feelings for himself of herself as well as towards others.
Piaget (1962) defines play as assimilation, or the child's efforts to make environmental stimuli matches his or her own concepts. Piagetian theory holds that play, in and of itself, does not necessarily result in the formation of new cognitive structures. Piaget claimed that play was just for pleasure, and while it allowed children to practice things they had previously learned, it did not necessarily result in the learning of new things. In other words, play reflects what the child has already learned but does necessarily teach the child anything new. In this view, play is seen as a "process reflective of emerging symbolic development, but contributing little to it" (Johnsen & Christie, 1986, p. 51).
Play encompasses both intra- and interpersonal processes. Healthy play and healthy emotional development go hand-in-hand. For children, play is a time for unbounded expression of their feelings, and in many ways children are their feelings. The more access children have to play, the greater opportunity they have for expressing themselves during role play, construction play, rough 'n' tumble, and other forms of play. Children often use superstructures and other play elements to engage actively in chase or other role play where expression of feelings are supported in a safe environment (Frost, Kim, Therrell and Thornton, 2000). Correspondingly, the more enclosed elements of superstructures are used by children to rest, regain emotional composure, socialize, and make plans for their next role play (Frost, Brown, Sutterby and Therrell, 2000).
This implies that the benefits of play are maximized when ECD teachers facilitate play, as limited learning may take place otherwise. Therefore, ECD teachers support is also seen as a necessary component of developmentally appropriate practice. ECD teacher interventions during play take on many possibilities from...