Engagement in Play and Its Outcomes for Children’s Development

Abstract

Play is an important self-regulation and development tool used by early childhood educators to improve children’s results and prepare them for academic activities. The paper outlines the direct correlation between engagement in play and outcomes. It means that young learners can benefit from various forms of interaction and acquire new skills and experiences. A teacher remains a central figure responsible for organizing all activities, preparing the area and objects, and managing play by outlining instructions and monitoring results. Parents should also be informed about the benefits of this activity to ensure a child also have a chance to play at home and evolve.

Play and Learning

The early development of a child is a critical stage as it creates the basis for future successes and achievements. It also helps individuals to form behaviors, habits, and skills that are vital for successful learning. Furthermore, this phase provides a child with an opportunity to socialize, acquire specific communication and cooperation skills, and become a part of society. Under these conditions, early development is given much attention by specialists and educators. Today, children are provided multiple opportunities to engage in activities that will help them to train specific skills and experiences. In this regard, play is viewed as a critically important tool for self-regulation and acquisition of basic knowledge, language, cognition, and analytical skills vital for a child.

Definition

Numerous educators and teachers offer their own definitions of the concept with many variations depending on their focus and the aspects that are emphasized. The standard description states that play is an activity aimed at enjoyment and recreation, especially among children (Biddle et al., 2013). However, there is a broad category of activities implied by the term, such as swimming, running, building blocks, dancing, dressing, pretending, and imitating (Biddle et al., 2013). The list can be endless because of the creativity of children and their ability to invent numerous ways to entertain and cooperate (Huang, 2013). For this reason, discussion of the term becomes complex due to its scope and the existence of multiple dimensions peculiar to it (Huang, 2013). However, from the academic perspective, early childhood educators should possess the correct understanding of the concept to apply it and use it in different environments.

Designing A Classroom Environment Fostering Play and Learning

The importance of play influences the way educators work with children and the way classrooms are organized. The existing approach emphasizes that a well-arranged environment should serve as the central force enhancing children’s development through learning and play (Biddle et al., 2013). Researchers agree that the way classrooms are designed, organized, and configured affects the feelings of a young learner, his/her actions, and behavior (Biddle et al., 2013). Moreover, children should feel free, relaxed, and comfortable to be ready to cooperate and engage in proposed activities, learning, and play. Biddle et al. (2013) emphasize that rooms and their arrangement are fundamental for learners’ social interactions and mastering language skills. At the same time, the ill-considered framework can cause disruptions, frustrate a child, and result in decreased attention and performance levels (Biddle et al., 2013). Designing a classroom environment fostering play and learning becomes a complex task undertaken by educators. Otherwise, their educational attempts will fail, and children will suffer from inappropriate development.

Definition of Environment

The correct choice of the room’s design is impossible without the concept of environment explained and understood. The definition accepted today views it as the physical environment, surroundings, and specific setting observed in a certain place (Biddle et al., 2013). Regarding educational activities, the physical environment is always different because of the diversity of learners and the goals that educators should achieve (Biddle et al., 2013). The age, number of children, planned activities and desired outcomes influence the room arrangement and the choice of objects that should be part of the setting (Biddle et al., 2013). Speaking about the play area, it is viewed as the most important zone in the classroom as it provides children with the chance to engage in various interactions and learning activities (Bredekamp, 2019). To ensure that children can engage in play, educators should consider their peculiarities and guarantee that the available objects promote better goal achievement.

Preparation of Physical Space

Structuring the physical environment for play is another vital part of creating a framework favorable for child development. As stated previously, the arraignment depends on various factors, including the age of the children and planned activities. It means that an educator should ensure there is enough space for all activities, the play area has all toys and devices vital for child development, there are no stressful elements, and children can feel relaxed because of the appropriate organization of the environment (Bredekamp, 2019). Multiple researchers agree that the optimal size for indoor environments is about 30 and 50 square feet as it helps children to perform different actions and not feel constrained (Biddle et al., 2013). At the same time, spaces less than 25 square feet per child can result in increased aggression levels and inappropriate behaviors (Biddle et al., 2013). Furthermore, limited areas limit teachers’ capabilities for social interaction and their skills (Biddle et al., 2013). Classrooms should be organized following the current demands of space and content.

Safety

Safety is another critical factor that should be considered when designing a classroom for learning and play. Bredekamp (2019) states that a safe environment promotes more active exploration and play behaviors in children. Moreover, parents also expect that their children will be safe and not injured (Biddle et al., 2013). It is critical to ensure that classrooms and child care centers are equipped with materials and toys that will not hurt them or will help to benefit from the proposed activities. It also means that teachers should be aware of the methods to create environments safe for children and their health. Usually, such settings are characterized by open spaces with no obstacles, sharp objects, or hazardous materials organized regarding the age of children and their current needs.

Learning

Finally, speaking about the environment, it should promote learning and development among all young students. For this reason, teachers should ensure the play zone has toys, books, and objects that are not only amusing but help children to evolve and become better learners. The current recommendations state that such areas should contain learning materials vital for children and their needs (UNICEF, 2019). These include toys, puzzles, and stories that might be interesting for children and their peers (UNICEF, 2019). From the perspective of academic achievement, play and learning can be promoted by selecting recommended and practical objects (UNICEF, 2019). The task is complex due to the peculiarities of children’s evolution and the diversity of their demands. However, the creation of the appropriate environment with multiple learning opportunities is central for promoting the early development of children, their socialization, and acquiring skills vital for better performance in the future. Here is also a correlation between learning opportunities in play zones and academic achievement (Morrison, 2018). For this reason, educators should devote more attention to this aspect.

Observing and Assessing Play

Play is an effective tool available to all educators; however, it is vital to consider that regardless of children’s involvement and the type of activity, it should be controlled, observed, and assessed. One of the central demands of learning through play is the teacher’s active role presupposing observation focused on several important aspects. These include possible conflicts that might emerge during the interaction between children, their interests, behaviors, responses, and the most productive approaches to helping to acquire specific skills and knowledge (Morrison, 2018). Educators can also understand the capabilities of a child through play and select methods most applicable to the current situation (Morrison, 2018). Moreover, planning the next stages is also linked to observing and assessing the results of play. Under these conditions, any play becomes an effective measure when specialists have the chance to collect information and structure it to prepare the basis for further actions. It should be considered when organizing environments.

Monitoring Children

The monitoring function is one of the central ones for every educator. It ensures that children are safe, engaged in practical activities, and perform tasks vital for their development. Speaking about the play, this activity acquires the top priority to introduce needed alterations or support some incentives. For instance, specialists offer the PRoPELS acronym standing for fundamental elements of play that should be assessed. It includes plans, Roles, Props, Extended time, Language, and Scenarios (Leong & Bodrova, 2012). By applying this model to analyzing different types of activity and evaluating them, a teacher acquires the framework for better investigation and data structuring (Leong & Bodrova, 2012). For instance, if children have difficulties in distribution or planning, a teacher can either interfere with aligning the appropriate interaction or plan specific activities to improve this type of skill (Leong & Bodrova, 2012). The example shows the significance of monitoring and observing play as a learning method.

Analyzing Results

Observation during play is vital for data collection and further analysis. The teacher should plan new activities and stages to ensure the continuous development of a child and the elimination of barriers limiting an individual’s capabilities (Sumsion et al., 2014). Under these conditions, play should also be viewed as a source of vital information collected by an educator and analyzed. Researchers emphasize that to use relevant and reliable information; teachers should be not only effective leaders and organizers but hold the independent position of standing aside and helping children in complex situations (Morrison, 2018). It will ensure that all young learners will have an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and skills, which can be processed later (Sumsion et al., 2014). Collecting material directly for playing children, an educator acquires the chance to improve analysis results and apply data for new improvements and projects. Under these conditions, this activity is a source of knowledge vital for the correct development of a child.

Instructions

As stated previously, if the play serves some educational purposes, it should be organized following specific recommendations and guidelines for teachers. Using this tool as a learning method, specialists should have clear instructions and conditions under which children can play and interact. However, the existing teacher books or recommendations offer generalized and universal strategies applied to different situations. In this regard, observation and assessment become vital for modifying play and adapting it to current children’s needs and demands. For instance, Morrison (2018) says that the first play sessions can serve as the basis for new alterations vital for creating an environment with multiple opportunities for learning. It means that by observing how children play and interact, educators also learn about their students and what approaches can be most useful for them (Morrison, 2018). That is why a teacher cannot be a passive observer; instead, he/she should view any session as a new stage of the whole classroom’s development.

Evaluation

Observation and assessment of play also presuppose evaluation of its outcomes by an educator. Morrison (2018) is sure that by evaluating the progress of every child belonging to a particular group after every play session, a teacher acquires a chance to understand them better and prepare the basis for new achievements. Following the theory of play, better knowledge of children and their needs is a key to success and better development (Thomas et al., 2011). From this perspective, evaluation becomes a vital component of the framework as it provides information about teachers’ success in developing children’s skills and also outlines the knowledge gap that should be eliminated (Morrison, 2018). For this reason, it is vital to select among the existing tools to ensure that outcomes are measured and evaluated compared to previous sessions and their results (Thomas et al., 2011). Only under these conditions is it possible to align the continuity of learning and avoid stagnation or children’s inability to socialize and acquire demanded skills and knowledge.

Teacher’s Role in Facilitating Play

A teacher is a central figure in the education process as he/she has multiple authorities, responsibilities, and the most powerful impact on outcomes. For this reason, the specialist also plays a critical role in facilitating play using available methods and approaches. Researchers state that all young children have a natural tendency to play, but the level of engagement might differ regarding some personal traits, environment, and the current conditions. Moreover, studies show that child participation depends on the well-being and emotional security in teacher-child relations (Singer et al., 2013). Under these conditions, an educator can understand the signals and behaviors of a young learner and respond in a way that might improve engagement (Singer et al., 2013). Furthermore, children’s interest depends on how educators stimulate them to take part in specific actions and rewards provided to them (Singer et al., 2013). A teacher has several duties as a central figure responsible for the success of the play and its positive outcomes.

Motivation

Motivation is one of the leading factors affecting children’s desire to play and remain engaged with the proposed activities. The teacher’s first task is to support its appropriate levels and ensure young learners have satisfaction from what they do. Singer et al. (2013) say that an educator has two roles simultaneously, acting as a play manager and a play enhancer or a playmate. It means that in performing the first role, a specialist sets the stage by organizing physical and social environments (Singer et al., 2013). Moreover, he/she regulates behaviors to ensure there are no undesired traits, aggression, or violence. It contributes to establishing a relaxed and secure atmosphere motivating children to engage in different activities (Singer et al., 2013). Thus, as a play enhancer, a teacher becomes an active member of all activities; however, it is vital to remember that strong framing can lower children’s participation and the desire to play (Singer et al., 2013). An educator can sustain engagement by directing the attention of all learners and guaranteeing they are ready to perform tasks that are vital for their development.

Instruction

As stated previously, the teacher should be ready to act as a play manager, presupposing the provision of direct instructions and organizing children into groups or teams needed for various activities (Singer et al., 2013). From this perspective, clear and understandable instructions are fundamental for final success as they will ensure that children will behave and cooperate as is needed for their development (Singer et al., 2013). Instruction also creates a rich play environment outlining the objects that can be used for various purposes and desired outcomes that depend on the situation and the goal of the current session (Singer et al., 2013). Under these conditions, the well and appropriately formulated guidelines on how to behave can also motivate young learners and increase their engagement levels (Levin, 2003). However, it is critical to remember the current age and developmental characteristics of learners to avoid too complex tasks or instructions. As a play manager, a teacher is responsible for an appropriate duration, safety, and outcomes.

Help

Organizing play and using it as a learning tool, it is also vital to remember that children might fail to cope with certain activities. Researchers admit multiple differences in development among young learners belonging to the same age group (Singer et al., 2013). It means that a class might contain students with various skills, knowledge, and experiences (Singer et al., 2013). For this reason, during a game session, they might also show different outcomes or the ability to follow instructions. In such situations, teachers should act as an assistant and be ready to help children to understand a task and perform it. In free plays, it is also vital to ensure that there are no isolated students who are avoided because of their lack of skills or knowledge (Levin, 2003). Such situations might hurt their social skills and should be eliminated by an educator by providing new instructions or recommendations for involving all students.

Support

Supporting function is another vital feature in an educator’s work and his/her attempts to facilitate the play. As stated previously, emotional safety is one of the success factors as children feel free to cooperate and are not afraid of making mistakes (UNICEF, 2018). However, the establishment of this bond between a teacher and a child can be complex and demands commitment and trust. Under these conditions, support should be a necessary element of all plays, even free ones, as it ensures that every child can expect assistance in complex situations and does not fear unusual activities or results (Singer et al., 2013). In such a way, a teacher should possess improved emotional intelligence and psychological skills to organize play and ensure that all participants are provided with the needed support to avoid feeling lost, miserable, or unhappy. It will facilitate the play, make it more productive, and precondition better outcomes.

Improvement

A teacher is also responsible for improving play and constructing it to make it more effective in cultivating specific knowledge and skills. By coordinating cooperation between children, an educator acquires a chance to shape specific activities and guarantee that the desired outcomes will be achieved. For this reason, enhancement is one of the key tasks that should be performed by specialists working with young students. The improvement can be attained in several ways. First, new pedagogical approaches combined with the alterations in the environment can be seen as the methods to move toward the desired results (Singer et al., 2013). However, researchers also recommend working with children and motivating them to perform more complex tasks and set new challenges achievable by them (Singer et al., 2013). It will help to inspire learners and facilitate play because of the additional difficulty, freshness, and reward.

Recommendations

Finally, working with children and trying to facilitate play, teachers should avoid imperatives or strict instructions as they can serve as a framework limiting creativity and reducing child’s desire to engage in proposed activities. At the same time, recommendations are viewed as a preferable way of working with this group. They remain voluntary, meaning that children can refuse and avoid feeling restricted (Singer et al., 2013). At the same time, such pieces of advice might be interesting for players to enhance their activities. Under these conditions, for early childhood education, it is vital to avoid using too complex or obligatory instructions that cannot be modified by learners. Singer et al. (2013) view communication and discussion as one of the methods to facilitate play as children can show the areas interesting to them, and a teacher can respond. Under these conditions, directing play might demand increased sensitivity from an educator and readiness to find compromises.

The Relationship Between Play and Academic Learning

The relevant literature and the existing body of research recognize the critical importance of play for early childhood education and accept the direct correlation between this type of activity and learning. The Western countries, such as the USA, UK, Australia, EU, and New Zealand, view play as a cognitive process and a specific tool for transforming and generating knowledge (Huang, 2013). It means that educators working with this group should devote much attention to organizing play to form the basis for constantly improving academic achievement (Fleer, 2017). Multiple schools have specific areas for engaging children in play and transforming their interest in some activities into needed skills and knowledge. The most significant effects include better learning, grades, success, and higher educational establishments’ enrollment (Fleer, 2017). For this reason, much attention is given to this aspect at the moment.

Children who regularly engage in play have several benefits compared to their peers. First, they show better progress in academic subjects and an improved ability to acquire and process new information. It helps to develop the two basic elements, such as interest and motivation (Morrison, 2018). By cultivating these phenomena in early childhood, educators create the basis for better future learning and success (Morrison, 2018). Furthermore, play is socially interactive, meaning that children learn how to behave in teams and communicate with other individuals, share their thoughts and listen. These skills are also vital in the academic sphere as they help to faster and better collect information and transform it into knowledge and experience (Lillemyr et al., 2011). Under these conditions, the direct correlation between engagement in play and better academic learning is proven by multiple sources.

From another hand, the lack of play might hurt a child and limit his/her chances for success in the future. Fleer (2017) assumes that children with a deficit of play and playful learning experience problems with academic tasks twice more often compared to their peers who play regularly. Furthermore, the power of this activity as a socialization tool is justified by the fact that isolated or less active children are more likely to acquire problems with communication in the future (Lillemyr et al., 2011). Under these conditions, it is dangerous to disregard this tool and avoid creating specific settings for its promotion and children’s engagement. Early childhood educators also emphasize that learners who play actively are more involved during lessons (Morrison, 2018). It also proves the direct relationship between academic learning and appropriate development.

One of the factors explaining the existence of this correlation is the cognitive development of a child. During sessions, children solve problems, create, experiment, think, and learn (Morrison, 2018). These factors are critically important for the cognitive development of young learners and/or her abilities to cope with the majority of tasks given to them in schools (Lillemyr et al., 2011). Furthermore, play helps to develop language and reasoning skills vital for living in society and collaborating with others (Lillemyr et al., 2011). Children also improve their verbal, manipulative, locomotor, reasoning, and judgment abilities as they are used to following the rules of play and enjoy it (Lillemyr et al., 2011). Under these conditions, young learners with better engagement in this type of activity have advanced cognitive skills, which are later applied to different tasks in schools.

Play in Early Education Curriculum

Recognition of the critical role of play in early childhood development and education is evidenced by the curriculum. It is an approved and legal document used for planning, teaching, and assessing children in childhood centers or establishments (Fleer, 2017). It can precondition the alteration in practice in a country and offer methods to work with learners. For this reason, the inclusion of play means its fundamental role in the current setting. Analyzing the curriculums of most Western states, such as the UK, USA, members of the EU, and Australia and New Zealand, it is possible to state that play is one of the most frequently mentioned and important terms associated with early childhood development and learning (Fleer, 2017). The plans offered for teachers also outline the framework and theories of play that can be applied to various situations to attain the desired outcome and ensure children are provided with chances to improve their cognitive and learning skills.

The approaches to integrating play into the educational sphere differ regarding the focus and preferred paradigm. For instance, New Zealand has a socio-cultural curriculum with the idea that play is a vital learning tool whose importance is recognized (Fleer, 2017). For this reason, it becomes a component of the document outlining the necessity to facilitate this type of activity to ensure children benefit from all opportunities available to them (Fleer, 2017). Similar notes to the curriculum can be seen in other states as play is valued as an important element of transition from compulsory attempts to cognize the world and acquire skills to obligatory academic activities. For this reason, much attention is devoted to methods to improve engagement and ensure children are ready to participate in proposed play sessions.

Informing Parents about Benefits of Play

Accepting a vital role of an educator in the development of a child, it is necessary to emphasize parents’ contribution. Family is a critically important environment providing a young learner with all required for his/her evolution and cognitive skills. For this reason, adults should be informed about the benefits of play to help a teacher and support his/her incentives. The continuity of learning can be attained by organizing specific areas at home where a child can spend his/her free time doing tasks that are both interesting and useful for him/her (Fleer, 2017). However, it can only be achieved if parents possess the correct understanding of play and its role in a child’s life. Teachers should cooperate with families to explain the necessity of this activity and how it can be organized to promote better learning and skills development (Jones & Shue, 2013). The trustful and respectful relations between parents and an educator are vital for understanding how to organize appropriate environments and ensure a young learner does not have any deficits.

Conclusion

Altogether, play is a critical component of a curriculum in multiple states. Its importance comes from the direct correlation between academic success and children’s engagement in play. The existing literature emphasizes that young learners benefit from this activity as it cultivates their creativity, communication and cognitive skills, problem-solving abilities, and cooperation with peers. Teachers, as central figures in the learning process, are responsible for organizing an environment that is safe and favorable for children and facilitating play for it to be interesting and motivating.

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