Child development is very important since it’s a proven fact that what the children go through while young will have a very big impact on the way they act in their adult life. Jean Piaget developed the most cited explanation of the cognitive theory, in his description; Piaget suggests that children go through specific stages of development as they develop their intelligence and capacity to understand relationships matures. Purpose of study; this paper sought to understand the impact of play on the preschool aged children and their cognitive development. Play can facilitate development of very high level of cognitive growth as well as the linguistic competence preschool children (Bergen, 2002, p. 76).
Play has for a long time been used in most curriculums to enhance child development; however, the need to have accountability has lead to decreased understanding of the importance of play in a child’s life. The article will try offering an explanation of the role of play on social and intellectual aspects of cognitive development just before children joining formal schooling. Some people consider play to be unimportant, simple and just wasting precious time.
Science on the other hand has had some critical data to show that play is not time wasting but rather a way of building new concepts from the knowledge gained (Bergen, 2002, p. 76). Children at different ages engage in different forms of play activities depending with the state of their mind and the social skills they have developed at that stage. Since Piaget divides development into specific skills, in order to understand the concept of play in relation to the cognitive development, an age related play profile will help to explain this concept (Coolahgan et al 2000, p. 457).
Subjects: a search was carried out to a population that had reduced play and the possible impact that this could have on the development of the children before they join school. Another parallel study was carried out on children that have had a chance to play freely (undirected play) and the impact on the children assessed. Selection of the subjects was a very tricky task because the preschool children have very short attention span, easily distracted, are wary of people they don’t know and are inconsistent when they realize they are being watched (Coolahgan et al 2000, p. 459). The subjects of study were children aged 2 to 5 years old. This is the age of children who are yet to start school. The researcher held in mind that assessing toddlers and young children needed great deal of sensitivity to their background and for that cause, relaxed setting was staged so that the aspects of family needs and other concerns were taken into account.
The children were very full of life but with limited attention span. This was the major challenge in the study situation. The researcher had a very hard time getting the children to focus for a few minutes and the tasks had to be made more interesting to capture the attention of the children.
The development stage in which the children are working was a great factor in influencing their behavior. Many of the children were amused by their own character and laughed at some points as they completed the tasks allocated to them by the researcher. Some children were very withdrawn, mulish and unenthusiastic. Cognition described aspects of development other than communication for instance memory, reasoning, problem solving ability and understanding (Coolahgan et al 2000, p. 465). This aspect was very evidently exposed as many of the youngest children could not understand some of the talks allocated to them. For instance. Children could only name animal thy hence seen before but when asked to think of any other they could not.
Apparatus and Materials
Normally, children grow faster in early years and as they grow from toddler age to the early childhood but in preschool years, these children are usually showing greater signs of emotional maturity and react differently to stimulants and hence to the researcher (Coolahgan et al 2000, p. 467). For some children the researcher got the results that reflected an accurate estimate of their cognitive development; however others this was not the case. Some children were shy and acted like they were not responsive, however this was to be used a show of lack of skill but just poor cooperation. There are two main preschool techniques that were found to be best for this study and they were used but with caution so as to avoid the positive negative consequences like over diagnosis or the behavior of labeling among children (Bracken & Nagle, 2007, 113).
The Stanfor-Binnet test was used to assess the general mental skills of teh children while the Kaufman-Assessment Battery for Children was psychological assessment. The Kaufman test is a standardized tool that evaluates the children in terms of psychological judgment ability composes percentile statistics as well as age comparisons. The tool facilitates comparisons for different groups.
The tool also enables mental assessment and even non-verbal scores can be computed from subtests on mental process (Bracken & Nagle, 2007, 113). This tool is based on the concept of sequential and simultaneous process of the brain and this plays a big role in assessing ability to memorize and reason. In this process, children under study were required to able to imitate the researcher and to react to images and cards with researcher in the evaluation situation.
The Stanford-Binet test on the other hand was used for assessing mental ability and produced a profile of the mental profile in four areas. These are the verbal reasoning like vocabulary and absurdity; visual reasoning like copying designs, paper folding; quantitative reasoning like series of numbers and short-term memory like sentence construction and object memory (Bracken & Nagle, 2007, 121). The test had good validity for prediction.
Assessment of every child was carried out in English because this is the language that the students understood. The study format was based on the setting that would mimic free play- undirected. This was set a way that it would guide evaluation of physical energy and coordination together with mental activity. The tests applied in this paper have been accepted widely across the world as standard tests for cognitive development (Grieve, 1992, p. 7). The tools were used for guiding the tasks that children were to carry out. The children were also taken through a session of memory exercise for thirty minutes.
The evaluation was introduced by the researcher and the introduction begun as;
“Hello friend, am ____________. I would wish to ask you several questions. After these questions, we shall then all play games. After playing the game I will give you a balloon. (This was done pointing at the balloon for ht children to see). Do you think balloons are good?”
The test begun with activities that were set in way that the children could interpret them as normal play. The researcher reduced initial resistance inviting the child’s siblings to join in the games. However, shortly they would tend to get out slowly so that only the child under test was evaluated for the performance.
First, the researcher assessed the child’s gross motor coordination (connection of brain and physical movements). For this purpose, the children were asked to catch a ball thrown at them from 2 and 3 meters far. The first ball was small with a diameter of 6.5 cm. then another test was to catch a big ball of 30.5 cm at the same distances.
Second activity was to assess their balance. Every child was tested on their ability to balance on one foot. The longer the child could stand, the higher the rating. Scores were given on the ability to point the head, the hands, the legs, the body and the features on the face. A total of five points were given for these features.
To assess short term memory capability, the children were asked to repeat some numbers mentioned to them.
For Assessment of motor activity of the eyes and hand coordination, each child was to drop marble balls in a small jar 25 cm away. Finally the child was asked to say what they were promised to get after the game. This was to test whether they would recall spontaneously or not. All the same each child got a balloon in spite of of whether they recalled or not.
The attempt to assess balancing capabilities of every child hit a snag when getting them to stand on one foot while closing their eyes failed for some children. This is because some children had learnt that standing on one foot was risky and in case they felt they could injure themselves. They therefore refused and insisted on holding onto the examiner. The children from areas where they are exposed to enough play had a significant increased ability of coordination. They second highest in the test of catching a ball thrown at them from 3 meters away.
They were also able to catch a smaller ball (tennis ball) with a larger difference margin compared to those children who had little play because of more confined residence. There was bigger difference between the two categories was observed when assessing motor coordination of the eye and hand. The children from playful environment were far much better when it came to dropping marble balls in the small jar. Interesting enough is that the home location in terms of whether children played a lot or not hand a great impact on the outcomes yet sex had no relationship to any of the results. To the test of short memory, both groups of children performance well in remembering four numerical digits mentioned to them.
Assessment of perspective ability, children exposed to more play had greater ability to draw a person with about 4 of the points. Many students remembered the balloon.
There are also immediate effects of play on the child’s cognitive development that can be observed during this critical age of development. Sutton smith in 1967 was able to demonstrate that the children had the improved their thinking capacity by using some objects which they were allowed to play with. Play becomes a very big incentive to creativity and imaginative thoughts (Smith, 2005, p. 19). This is because free play will require that the child has the capability of transforming objects and action characteristically; this is supplemented by interactive social exchange of ideas and negotiations (Grieve, 1992, p. 7).
Such kind of mingling among the children in a group involves role taking, improvisation and script knowledge. When children are involved in free play, they develop cognitive skills. They are able to engage in shared preparation, cooperation, objective setting and critical problem solving. In an attempt to understand this, exploration in play then comes up as a concept in free play among children (Smith, 2005, p. 19). When children start exploring, it means that they develop the behavior which seeks to understand their surroundings like objects they are playing with.
The children will ask themselves critical questions like “what is it?” when trying to describe the objects they are playing with and also what can it do. This type of exploratory character in play disappears and is substituted by an even more playful venture which seeks to answer the questions “What can I do with it?” As free play develops to exploratory mind, learning and development is enhanced, and then children discover new uses of the object and question about more of the features of the new object (Smith, 2005, p. 24).
Through play, children not only learn about their surroundings but also about themselves and how they connect with world. Several studies on development of literacy skills by playing with objects that are embedded with literacy material in the preschool, elementary and kindergarten have shown considerable increase in the ability to think and make complicated toys (Bergen, 2002, p. 86). It has also shown increased engagement in literacy activities as well like writing, drawing, and painting. When children joined kindergarten they were able to improve in their ability to read printed material on their objects of play faster than other children of same age from similar backgrounds (Coolahgan et al 2000, p. 457). Children, who were involved in play with a lot of literacy material from a tender age, became spontaneous readers as they advanced through elementary schools.
Children need to be nurtured in a way that will enhance their cognitive development and physical development as well. This means providing everything possible to support development. One of the most important components is play. Play is a critical activity which enhances children’s development. Play allows children to consolidate other elements of life together in their own way and according to their simple experience. This is when creativity explodes to the fullest making it a very critical part of life. Since cognitive development has everything to do with learning, it’s very important that cognition is developed and in turn improve retaining of learned information from school.
Bergen, D. (2002). The Role of Pretend Play in Children’s Cognitive Development. Miami University Early Childhood Research & Practice. 4(1).
Bracken, B & Nagle, R.J (2007). Psychoeducational Assessment of Preschool Children, Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.
Coolahgan, K. et al (2000). Pre- School Peer Play and Learning Readiness: Connection Between Classroom Peer Play And Learning Behavior, Journal Of Education Psychology: 92: 457 – 467.
Grieve, K.W. (1992). Play Based Assessment of the Cognitive Abilities of Young Children. pp. 6-21. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Unisa, Pretoria.
Smith, D. (2005). How Play Influences Children’s Development at Home and at School. Journal of Physical Education Recreation, 66: 18 – 24.