However, according to Johnson, Christie, and Yawkey, (1999), "play is an extremely difficult concept to define -- there are 116 distinct definitions listed in the Oxford English Dictionary!"
Some adults think play is trivial while others believe play makes vital contributions to all aspects of child development. While we cannot define play, there are telltale signs of play that are recognizable. Some examples of play involved students freely choosing to play in the kitchen rather than with blocks demonstrated intrinsic motivation because it was their choice. When children moved from writing activities to reading indicated flexibility because students had the ability to move quickly from one activity to another. The writers emphasized that students talking and laughing was a positive affect signifying positive emotions.
The authors described two different groups of theories of play. One of the theoretical groups, classical theories, which originated before World War I, focused on explaining why play existed and what purpose it served. Johnson et al. (1999) situated the four classical theories into two pairs because the affects were opposites
: Surplus energy v. its elimination; recreation v. regeneration of energy expended in work; recapitulation v. The elimination of ancient instincts; and practice v. perfect instincts needed for adult life
The second group was modern theories, which tried to ascertain play's role in child development and the circumstances that lead to play behavior. Johnson et al. (1999), and others (such as theories based on arousal).
Modern theories have increased educators' understanding of play. Piaget's theory not only reflected a child's level of cognition, but also contributed to the development. When I looked at Kindergarten students play, I have noticed they conform to objects observed in reality, not in the abstract. This aligns with Piaget's theory, "children engage in the type of play that matches their level of cognitive development (Piaget, 1962).
4. Nancy R. King. (1979). Play: The Kindergartners' Perspective
My own experience with students verifies much of what King writes: "The children described most of their classroom experiences as work. Work, for the children, included such seemingly different activities as painting papier-mache sculptures, listening to a story, lining up to leave the room, completing math work-sheets, baking banana bread, and resting at their desks. Each of these activities appeared on the lists of many children, and not one child defined them as play."
She explores how the role of play in education has evolved from being frivolous in colonial times to become standard in most schools for young children
. However, most kindergarten teachers saw play as necessary for healthy mental, physical, and social development. Educators continue to define play instead of Kindergarten children. Recently, I asked my students would they prefer to play or do work. Without hesitation, they chose to play. I set out pens, pencils, crayons, paper, and books. They wrote letters, cards, alphabet, and read books without a single complaint. They accomplished what I wanted for literacy activities; yet, they considered it work because they did not have free choices in what to do. King (1979) notes that the most salient characteristic of play was when it was voluntary, not directed by teachers.
5. Susan B. Neuman & Kathy Roskos (1990). Play, print, and purpose: Enriching play environments for literacy development.
Numerous research studies indicate the physical environment of classrooms has a tremendous effect on children's play behavior. Play environments that enhance literacy by displaying print everywhere increase involvement and interactive play among children. According to Neuman and Roskos, (1989), "Children demonstrated a broad number of uses of literacy on their own and with others in five domains: they used literacy to explore their environment, to interact with others, to express themselves, to authenticate events, and to transact with text
My own experience again supports this finding. I noticed whenever I displayed literacy materials in centers, my students appeared anxious to participate. Although students had assigned centers, this did not diminish their willingness to partake in the centers. In the article, the pre-school teachers and researcher redesigned the centers but did not specifically label them; instead, specific props identified the centers. After completing the centers, teacher did not interfere and allowed students to self-select activities during playtime. They displayed literacy-enriched props in the play areas. Some examples of the props used: the post office had envelopes, pens, pencils, markers, posters/sign, stamps, stamp pads and stationery. The kitchen had a cookbook, play money, blank recipe cards, and food coupons. The office had calendars of various types, index card, play money, note cards, typewriter or computer keyboard; and the library had bookmarks, stickers, telephone, file folder, pens, pencils, markers. These were some of the items found in each of the centers.
Although this research was with preschool students, the results were similar to what occurred in my Kindergarten class. Students engaged in a literacy rich environment could make a difference in literacy behaviors through play. Students reading and writing became more purposeful, they interacted more socially and they maintained focus on their tasks. Neuman & Roskos (1990) wrote: "With well planned design changes in the physical play environment, play can become an important context for the discovery and exploration of reading and writing. It can provide a meaningfully rich context for literacy engagement. Indeed, for young children, it may be the place to play with print with a purpose."
6. Kendrick, M. (2005) Playing house: A 'sideways' glance at literacy and identity in early childhood. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.
Kendrick's explanation of the ways in which literacy and play are involved takes us back to the model developed by Vygotsky. Kendrick examines the ways in which playing house is a highly effective means by which children become skilled in applying their play to the acquisition of learning language, albeit unknowingly. Her model is this: Playing house requires the development and use of narratives, a fact that helps children understand a sense of self through their ability to tell stories.
7 L.V. Orlando, L.V. (2005). Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education.
Orlando focuses on a key element of the way in which children's play intersects with children's acquisition of literacy skills: That of the child and his or her primary caregivers. She focused in particular on the "read-aloud" through the use of firsthand ethnographic observations. She determined that within this particular dyad, "first hand, personal involvement of the children in an active learning experience associated with interactive texts" helped young children the most.
Within this particular form of play-based interaction, children are "invited to create appropriate actions to accompany the story readings" and this matching of spoken text and dramatic acting-out help children acquire literacy skills. Orlando's model of how interactive texts "appear to hold the key to successful early literacy experiences for preschoolers" thus dovetails nicely with Vygotsky's emphasis on the importance of dramatic play as an aid in the acquisition of literacy skills.
8 O.N. Saracho, O.N. (2001). Exploring young children's literacy development through play. Early Child Development and Care 167, 103-114.
Saracho's study of the literacy development of young children also contains some elements of the model developed by Vygotsky in that she too examines the ways in which certain kinds of play (i.e. those based of dramatic play of children) are positively correlated with the acquisition of literacy skills. She focused on what she calls "literacy- enriched play centers" which are very similar to the classrooms that include a great deal of literacy-based activities, such as the display of children's work on the walls of the classroom. She found that teachers are highly effective (when given the appropriate training) to create a classroom environment that promotes the range of literacy development.
9. E. Miller & J. Almon (2009). Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why children need to play in school. www.eddigest.com.
This pair of researchers provides some of the core data on which the introductory section of this paper is based. They write that in the contemporary classroom "many kindergartens spend 2 to 3 hours per day instructing and testing" and only 30 minutes per day or less for play, with some kindergartens allowing for "no playtime at all." This shift in what educators and parents have assumed that kindergarten should be and what it should teach reflect a "didactic, test-driven approach is entering preschools. But these methods, which are not well grounded in research."
The effectiveness of this relatively new focus in kindergarten have not yet been assessed through standardized testing; however, it is difficult not to posit that there will be a decline in the acquisition of such important skills as relational ones. Given that the majority of research links the acquisition of literacy to other age-appropriate learning, however, there is likely to be a decline in acquiring literacy skills in such an environment rather than an increase in literacy skills.
Indeed, the authors found a significant increase in reporting behavioral problems, including expulsion. These behavioral problems were more noticeable in boys than in girls, reflecting boys' slower development in social…