1.1 Background to the Study
Play is a spontaneous, voluntary, pleasurable and flexible activity involving a combination of body, object, symbol use and relationships. In contrast to games, play behaviour is more disorganized, and is typically done for its own sake (i.e., the process is more important than any goals or end points (Broadhead, 2011). Recognized as a universal phenomenon, play is a legitimate right of childhood and should be part of all children’s life. Between 3% to 20% of young children’s time and energy is spent in play (Isaacs, 2012). Over the last decade, it has been observed that there is an on-going reduction of playtime in favour of educational instructions, especially in modern and urban societies. Yet, play is essential to young children’s education and should not be abruptly minimized and segregated from learning. Not only play helps children develop pre-literacy skills, problem solving skills and concentration, but it also generates social learning experiences, and helps children to express possible stresses and problems. (Laine & Neitola, 2004; Lawrence, 2012; Erikson, 2006).
Deeply entrenched within the historical roots of early childhood education, play has long been a dominant feature of early childhood teaching pedagogy (Rogers 2011). Over many centuries, philosophers, theorists, educationalists and more recently, policy makers have worked hard to define the nature of childhood, play and the purposes of education (Fisher 2008). In particular, researchers have become increasingly interested in how traditional and contemporary theories on play and childhood have informed conceptualisations of childhood (Grieshaber and McArdle 2010), and the development of early childhood curriculum (Graue 2008). Wood and Attfield (2005) claim that until the nineteenth century, ˜˜childhood was seen as an immature form of adulthood and children from all social classes had little status in society’’. Wood and Attfield suggest that it was the studies of classical play theorists, such as Rousseau, Froebel and Dewey, that dramatically changed societal views and attitudes towards children, to the extent that ˜˜freedom to learn could be combined with appropriate nurturing and guidance’’, through the strongly held belief that play was critical to children’s learning and development (Platz and Arellano 2011).
In the submission of Almon (2009), creative play is a central activity in the lives of healthy children. Almon opined that play helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it and that It allows them to digest life and make it their own. Hewett (2007) sees play as an outlet for the fullness of children’s creativity, viewing it is an absolutely critical part of their childhood. With creative play, children blossom and flourish; without it, they suffer a serious decline. (Almon,2009).
Young children are born with an innate urge to grow and learn (Henninger, 2005). They continually develop new skills and capacities, and if they are allowed to set the pace with a bit of help from the adult world they will work at all this in a playful and tireless way. Rather than respecting this innate drive to learn however, we treat children as if they can learn only what we adults can teach them ( Henninger, 2005). As a result of this approach, Henninger concluded that these children are stripped of their innate confidence in directing their own learning.
All aspects of development and learning are related in play, particularly the affective and cognitive domains. When children have time to play, their play grows in complexity and becomes more cognitively and socially demanding (Fagen, 2007). Through free play children: explore materials and discover their properties, use their knowledge of materials to play imaginatively, express their emotions and reveal their inner feelings, come to terms with traumatic experiences, maintain emotional balance, physical and mental health, develop a sense of who they are, their value and that of others learn social skills of sharing, learn turn-taking and negotiation, deal with conflict, learn to negotiate and solve problems, gradually move from support to independence, develop communication and language skills, repeat patterns that reflect their prevailing interests and use symbols as forms of representation (Cullen, 2013). In play children seek out risks, because through these they develop their self-esteem and confidence (Fagen, 2007).Play is directed by the child and the rewards come from within the child. Play is enjoyable and spontaneous. Play helps the child learn social and motor skills and cognitive thinking (Fagen, 2007).
Play is needed for the healthy development of a child. Herron & Sutton-Smith (2011) showed that 75 percent of brain development occurs after birth. Play helps with that development by stimulating the brain through the formation of connections between nerve cells (Herron & Sutton-Smith, 2011). According to the researchers, this process helps with the development of fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are actions such as being able to hold a crayon or pencil. Gross motor skills are actions such as jumping or running (Laine & Neitola, 2004).
Through the tool of play, children gain knowledge. They learn to think, remember, and solve problems. Play gives children the opportunity to test their beliefs about the world. Play also helps the child to develop language and socialization skills. It allows children to learn to communicate emotions, to think, be creative and solve problems( Erikson, 2006). Broadhead (2011) also submitted that children gain an understanding of size, shape, and texture through play. That it helps them learn relationships as they try to put a square object in a round opening or a large object in a small space. Books, games, and toys that show pictures and matching words add to a child’s vocabulary. It also helps a child’s understanding of the world.
Play with other children helps a child learn how to be part of a group. Play allows a child to learn the skills of negotiation, problem solving, sharing, and working within groups. Unstructured play may lead to more physical movement and healthier children. It enhances children’s learning readiness and their cognitive development by allowing them to move from subject and area without of the fear of failure. Playtime in school such as recess time, allows learning and practicing of basic social skills. Children develop a sense of self, learn to interact with other children, how to make friends, and the importance of role-playing. Exploratory play in school allows children time to discover and manipulate their surroundings.
Increasingly however, preschool and kindergarten children find themselves in school settings which feature scripted teaching, computerized learning, and standardized assessment. Physical education and recess are being eliminated; new schools are built without playgrounds. While allegedly, these approaches are providing what Langsted (2004) called quality education, they trivialize and undermine children’s natural capacities for meaningful and focused life lessons through creative play and this leaves many children profoundly alienated from their school experiences (Langsted, 2004).
Teachers hope that their teaching pedagogy will help them to achieve the objectives that they set out for. Early childhood teachers hope that their teaching methods would foster the growth and development that they want to see in the children. Also, parents want the early childhood education of their children to set the foundation for development into a bright, well-adjusted future. Research has shown that through play, the above-mentioned aims could be adequately achieved. However, contemporary early childhood teaching is increasingly being done through elaborate teaching outlines, minimizing the role of play as a tool; but are these outlines as effective as play? It is against these backdrop that this study examines the assignment of play as principal learning tools in early childhood.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
One of the problems of early childhood is to determine the teaching pedagogy that will yield the best results. The best teaching methods has to be favoured because of the importance of early childhood in the development of mental functions of children, which include language, motor skills and psychological skills.
These functions have however been known to be greatly influenced by the nature of the educational environment to which the child is exposed during the first six to eight years of life (Bowman, Donovan & Burns, 2001). Researchers such as Forget-Dubois et al (2011) also link effective Early Childhood Education to increases in school readiness for primary school “ which is an important predictor of early school achievements.
Thus, this study examines how the best educational environment can be created for children in Early Childhood Education through the use of play as learning strategy.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of this study is to assess the use of play as learning strategy for skills development in Early Childhood Education. This study aims to evaluate the importance of play as a learning tool in the adequate preparation of children for later childhood and future education. Specifically, this study aims to
- Investigate the influence of play on the cognitive skills of children
- Determine the influence of play on the social skills of children
- Evaluate the influence of play on the motor skills of children
- Determine the influence of play on the attentiveness of children
1.4 Research Questions
- Will the use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood have a significant influence on the cognitive skills of children?
- Will the use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood have a significant influence on the social skills of children?
- Will the use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood have a significant influence on the motor skills of children?
- Will the use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood have a significant influence on the attentiveness of children?
1.5 Research Hypotheses
- Use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood will not have a significant influence on the cognitive skills of children.
- Use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood will not have a significant influence on the social skills of children.
- Use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood will not have a significant influence on the motor skills of children.
- Use of play as learning strategy for skills development in early childhood will not have a significant influence on the attentiveness of children.
1.6 Significance of the study
This study will be a source of knowledge to educational planners in early childhood education. It will reveal literature on the use of play as principal learning tool for the children, thereby giving these planners greater empirical platform on which to establish their teaching paradigms.
This study will also be useful to curriculum planners as it serves as a further body of knowledge in knowing what to incorporate, what to remove, what works and what does not work.
Last but not least, this study is a source of information to both parents and teachers about how play can facilitate the physical, emotional and psychosocial growth of children and prepare them for the future.
1.7 Scope of the study / Delimitation
The scope of this study is delimited to assessing the assignment of play as principal learning tools in Early Childhood, covering the variables of cognitive skills, social skills, motor skills, and attentiveness of children and using the descriptive survey research method. The area covered by this study is Lagos Mainland Local Government.
1.8 Operational Definition of Terms
- Play: A learning method which involves spontaneous, voluntary, pleasurable and flexible activities involving a combination of body, object, symbol use and relationships.
- Learning tool: The teaching design adopted for learning
- Early Childhood: The period from birth to three years old, marked by remarkable brain growth.
- Cognitive Skills: Brain-based skills required of a child to carry out tasks which have to do with learning, remembering and solving problems.
- Social Skills: These are skills required of a child to facilitate interaction and communication with others
- Motor Skills: These are skills that involves using one’s muscles. They involve movements of the legs, arms, feet or the entire body.
- Attentiveness: The ability to pay attention.
- Learning Environment: This refers to the physical conditions, context and ideological atmosphere under which students learn.