Exploring How Psychologists Study the Role of Play in Child Development
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, New Edition, 1995 defines
“play” as: “[Children] when children play, they do things that they
enjoy, often together or with toys.” Play is one of the most powerful
vehicles children have for trying out and mastering new social skills,
concepts and experiences. Psychologists, such as Faulkner (1995),
present evidence that play is seen as a mean of developing social
skills and interpersonal relationships with others. The first section
of the essay will present the different approaches psychologists use
in the quest to learn about the role of children’s play and their
related issues. This section will briefly define the nature of play
and the different types of play that influence social development. The
second section will evaluate the importance of play on different
aspects of social development and in various stages of an individual.
The third section will analyze how viewpoints on function of play on
development are shaped by historical and contextual factors such as
culture and economy.
Developmental psychologists use various research methods such as
naturalistic observations, interviews, experimental research and
examining the natural context of children’s everyday interaction
within the family to study the role of play in children’s development.
They apply different approaches to study different types of play. Play
by nature, creates a natural learning environment for the child.
Wasserman (1992, p135) describes five benefits of play: children are
able to create something new, take risks, avoid the fear of failure,
be self-directed and actively engage their mind and body. Thus, play
provides the natural and experiential learning that supports the
child’s construction of his own knowledge of the world and his place
in it. Play significantly affects the development of the whole child.
Within play’s natural learning environment, children develop
cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically.
One dominant method use in the study of play is through naturalistic
observations. In naturalistic research, the observer does not
intervene at all. For all intents and purposes, the researcher is
invisible and works hard to not interrupt the natural dynamics of the
situation being investigated. In 1932, Mildred Parten observed nursery
children of aged 2 to 5 years old in their social participation in
play. Through these observations, she had identified with four
categories of play that influence social development: solitary
independent play, parallel activity, associative play and co-operative
play. In solitary independent play, the toddler enjoys playing alone.
At this age there is little play with other children of the same age,
though they may walk around each...