Analyzing Play

Big Body Play

Analyzing Play

In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” Lev Vygotsky (Russian psychologist, 1896–1934)

Whether it’s the serenity of a child laying quietly on the floor coloring a peaceful landscape or a group of children running screaming through the house, there is nothing quite as amazing as watching a child at play. But, what exactly is play? We played when we were children, yet we didn’t analyze why we played. We simply played because we loved it. But, have we ever really taken a hard look at the meaning of play and its purpose in a child’s life? Analyzing play helps us determine how our children learn through this process.

What is Play?

It would seem that play would be the most simplistic thing to analyze but in reality, that is just not the case. The definition of play itself has caused much controversy in the field of psychology. There are numerous definitions of play as found online at The Free Dictionary. Most definitions seem to simplify it to an action being completed, but there is no essence to the actual meaning and importance of play to a child. Why do you think play is important to a child?

Before you can determine importance, you have to define what play means to your family. What purpose does it serve for your children? Is it utilized to decrease surplus energy? Is it structured and supervised in order to encourage learning? Is it a free-for-all, unmonitored, event allowing the parent time alone? Is it something that the parent participates in with the child, or something from which the parent remains willfully excluded?  Are there time-constraints put on the amount of time spent playing or is play the only responsibility of the child all day? When we stop to ask ourselves these questions we begin to understand that play is much more complicated than two children playing a game of tag. You must now determine what type of play is most beneficial for your child at the stage of development he is in now.

We can place a value on playing such as it helps children to develop cognitively, supports developing communication skills, teaches children how to cope with feelings and emotions, and inspires children to learn. Play opens up a world of exploration in which children can use their imagination to build their own little world and make up their own rules. But wait… what about parental monitoring and involvement? I’m a firm believer in adult supervision of children at all times. There is a huge difference between the parent, who opens up the door and tells the kids to go play without laying down any ground rules, and then not seeing them again for hours, and the parent who sits nearby and always knows where and what the children are doing. Children need structure and routine in their daily lives. Kathy Eugster (MA, RCC, RPT MA, Counseling Psychology, Registered Clinical Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, and Child and Family Counselor) advises that children need structure for safety, security, learning about the world and the people in it, understanding disappointment and frustration, and developing self-responsibility.

Free Play vs Structured Play

So, now we have learned that play is a lot more complicated than we first imagined. There is free-play which most children usually choose for themselves and involves minimal adult intervention or participation. Then we have structured play in which the parent plays more of a supportive and guiding role. Some may see these two types of play as constructive (structured play) and destructive (free play). However, with adult supervision both types of play can be beneficial to the child. It is up to you and your family to determine the type and amount of play that is best for your children. If you take the time to think about it you will probably come to the conclusion that a combination of both types of play is the optimal answer, but the amount of parental involvement needs to be paramount in your decision. Erik H. Erikson said, “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.”

Author: Belinda Davis © 2017