by Anna Velychko
Vignette: Gabriela, a 4-year-old preschooler, is sitting in a playhouse by a table with a plastic plate, cup, and utensils. She calls out, “Do you want to eat lunch? Come on, it’s lunchtime!” Aviva, also 4, answers, “Wait.” She wraps up a doll in a cloth and comes in and sits opposite Gabriela. Aviva says, “I want to help you make a sandwich.” Gabriela says, “OK, let’s make lunch.” In the play house, there are plastic slices of bread, ham, tomato, and lettuce. Each child starts preparing her sandwich, and when they finish, the two girls sit and pretend to eat. Aviva then says, “I am thirsty; can I have some orange juice?” Gabriela says, “Yes, let’s have some orange juice.” Gabriela pretends to pour orange juice into a cup. Aviva then pretends to drink from the cup. Adam, another 4-year-old, approaches and says, “I want to play.” Gabriela tells him, “You have to knock on the door to come in.” Adam knocks on the imaginary door, and Gabriela asks, “Who is it?” Adam answers, “It’s Adam.” Gabriela then pretends to unlock and unbolt the door. Gabriela invites Adam in and asks him, “Do you want some orange juice?” They all sit down together and pretend to drink orange juice.
I learned a great deal about various therapeutic modalities throughout my two-year experience managing a private psychological practice. One of the modalities our therapists use is play. At first, it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the concept of play, as I could not understand how it can be therapeutic. This is why it is not surprising to me to hear or read about why some parents underestimate the value of play. Lauren Bogiorno (2014) explains that kids can learn cognitive, physical, and emotional skills through play. Only recently I came to understand that kids simply enough may not be able to develop specific vocabulary or ways of expressing themselves other than show it through play. I remember one of the group supervisions when our child psychotherapist was talking about a 6-year-old girl who had difficulty with sharing toys and relating to the therapist overall. Throughout the play we, as adults and becoming therapists, may begin noticing what a child is going through in his/her life, and how we can better assist them.
Karen Sue Sussman (2012) states, “Young children are curious beings, discovering and investigating the world around them. They use their senses seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching to accomplish their tasks.” In the above vignette about a preschool play, we can see how 4-year-olds develop their social learning as they play with each other. Gabriela and Aviva through their play illustrate their sense of independence and skillfulness in taking care of themselves and each other. Gabriela has an idea that it is lunchtime; therefore, they need to eat. They independently prepare food in a certain order (probably by previously observing their caretakers). Aviva acts upon her self-generated feeling of thirst, which suggests that she is capable of reacting upon her body needs (self-regulation) and that she knows how to ask for assistance from her friend, Gabriela, instead of getting juice by herself. Girls share materials and cooperate (Parten, 1932) with each other. When Adam comes into play, it is interesting to note how girls can establish a sense of safety and healthy boundaries by asking Adam to knock the door and introduce himself before letting him in. By doing this, kids present themselves as able to learn oral communication skills (Welsch, 2008). The play in the vignette would not necessarily fall into dramatic play (Emfinger, 2009); however, it does show that kids “learn about themselves, others, and the environment in which they live through imaginary play” (Benson, 2004).
This vignette demonstrates the importance of play on multiple levels and indicates that play should be taking place more. Play connect kids and allow them to engage in a non-structured and structured way. Kids will be more willing to experiment with and refine verbal and socialization skills in play. Also, children will remind others peers about some social rules and establish their ones, navigate themselves through challenging or stressful situations, as well as recognize specific power dynamics in a group and ways to respond/act within such environment to protect their self-worth and self-advocacy. It was interesting to note (yet, not surprising) that technology is not recommended for toddlers and kids younger than two years, and technology that promotes interactions is suggested for kids only starting at the of age three years. I have noticed that more kids have access to technology who are younger than two years, and older kids use games and programs that do not necessarily promote interactions, as it is suggested by National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011).
Kenneth R. Ginsburg (2007) notes, “Some children are given less time for free exploratory play as they are hurried to adapt into adult roles and prepare for their future at earlier ages… Children are exposed to enrichment videos and computer programs from early infancy as well as specialized books and toys designed to ensure that they are well-rounded and adequately stimulated for excelled development.” Rigorous admission processes that arose partially due to a baby boom promoted the idea that children need to excel and compete from the early stages of development. With this attitude, we try to make adults out of our kids (Elkind, 2001). Isn’t childhood supposed to be fun and explorative? We as educators, parents, therapists, and caretakers have a responsibility to rethink the importance and value of play to ensure a healthy, unique, safe, and happy future for the younger population.
Benson, T. R. (2004). The importance of dramatic play. Retrieved from www.Pbs.org/teachers/earlychildhood/articles/dramatic.
Bongiorno, L. (2014). 10 things every parent should know about play. NAEYC. Retrieved from https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/10-things-every-parent-should-know-about-play
Elkind, D. (2001). The hurried child: growing up too fast too soon. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
Emfinger, K. (2009). Numerical conceptions reflected during multiage child-initiated pretend play. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36 (4).
Ginsburg, R. K. (2007. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1).
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). Good Toys for Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.ucy.ac.cy/nursery/documents/ThemaVdomadas/the_importance_of_play.pdf
Parten, M. (1932). Social participation among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 27.
Sussman, S. K. (2012). The importance of play in the preschool classroom. Texas Child Care. 36 (3).
Welsch, J. G. (2008). Playing within and beyond the story: Encouraging book-related play. The Reading Teacher, 62 (2).