Sunday, June 22, 2014

Play Lays the Foundation for Thinking

“I don’t think. I just do it.” Commented one five-year-old boy.

We grown-ups have a hard time turning off our thinking. Our analytical intellect is always busy and acting as if it were the king of the mind. For the young child, thinking and intellect are in their infancy and total engagement with what is at hand is their primary interactive modality. Hence they are able to truly play. When a young child transforms themselves or various objects as a part of play, they fully live into that change without an ‘observer’ past of their mind commenting.

As adults, we want to see possibilities of an action before we do it. Young children are far more impulsive. They discover the possibilities only in the doing of the action without any intention, external purpose or consideration of possible results. For the young child, play is full engagement with the activity. Play is their way of being, it describes their consciousness. They have free creative forces that are available to transform self and world. For them, the relationship between perception (what is outside) and concept (what is inside) is mobile and flexible.

The young child ‘s central mode of learning is imitation. They are imitatively busy and their consciousness is spread out into their surroundings. They are at one with all - with their sensory experiences, with the world around them. One aspect of early childhood play is active and eager imitation of the creative forces of the world and of the people around. 

The three year old child begins to put her own uniqueness on the objects around her. The stimulus for her activity comes from outside, as also with the toddler. An object at hand reminds her of something she has already experienced, and that object is transformed into the object from her memory. The young child receives stimulus for play, stimulus for imitation, from the adult around them who is engaged in real life activities. This is how she learns about the world and develops real skills. I think it is important for adults to be playful with young children, and to make time to play with them. However, because of their imitative learning style the building of capacities and skills comes more from the child seeing the adult engaged in ‘real’ work than from the adult on the floor playing.

The play of the three-year-old is not really very social. They like to play near other children, but it is not yet really a playing with others. It is very much vertical play - up and down, and next to. This stage of play is the fantasy stage of ‘this can be that.’ For example:

The four-year-old - “Look. I found a guitar.” (A stick that to me only vaguely looks like a guitar)

The six-year-old - “I need a guitar for our band. This stick is a guitar.”

With six-year-olds, the play is more intricate, more filled with intentions, and more social. A group of six-year-olds might spend the whole morning making the rules and planning for their play. With six-year-olds the stimulus for play has become an inner one rather than being stimulated by objects in their surroundings. Before she plays, the six-year-old has an inner picture, an imagination. Her play is preceded by a mental image, an idea. The stimulus for play more and more arises from inner activity. Play has also become more social and rules are a big part of this developmental stage.

Six-year-old Sally - "I was supposed to be the mother and now Jill is a mother and there is supposed to be only one mother."

There is a recognition that this is play and not “reality,” even though the child can still enter in fully and lose themselves in their play. A typical six-year-old request; 

"How about you be the....., and I’ll be the......" 
This developmental sequence is significant and worth reiterating because play lays the foundation for thinking. First the young child’s play is fantasy that is determined by her surroundings. As she develops, imagination begins to arise. Now play is determined by the child’s inner picture, by her own budding world of concepts. When we are in the world of concepts, we are thinking. Creative play imagination transforms into the ability to form images which then transforms into thinking.
"How about I'm a horse and my name is Jack."

This is one big reason that plenty of time for free creative play is important for child development in the early years, whether it is at home or in nursery, pre-school and kindergarten programs. Play lays the foundation for thinking. 

[Please don’t get too hung up on the ages I mentioned above. Ages of stages are always approximate.]

P.S. If you find this interesting, your friends probably will too. Please forward it to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment