Theories of play

I confess, I don’t know where I took these notes, off whom or from where (I strongly suspect a lecture by Diti Hill)… but… I can’t be sure.

Psychoanalytic theories:

Freud (play as cathartic, to shed negative emotions… within psycho-sexual model of stages)

Erikson (psycho-social stages: also catharsis)

Cognitive theories

Piaget (linked to changes in cognitive development)
The predominance of assimilation makes something play. This involves the suspension of reality – as children make people, objects and ideas fit what they already know. Symbolic play is the pre-operational stage (e.g., a toast crust is a gun) in which children rely on their inner world of thoughts and ideas, rather than the external world of objects. With the advent of symbolic play, Piaget described young children as being able to separate the mental world from the real world: an important achievement that paves the way for the development of abstract thought.

Vygotsky The critical feature of play, for Vygotsky, was that it creates an imaginary situation governed by rules. …play as a social experience. Through play, children internalise information or knowledge that is socially transmitted. For Vygotsky, play has the potential to lead development. In play the child is always beyond his age, above his usual everyday behaviour; in play he is a head above himself.
Importantly, in play, children have control of the situation.

Vygotsky (1920s/30s)

– relationship of social experiences to children’s learning
– vital connection between social and psychosocial worlds of the child
– interest in creating a marxist psychology and helping children with psychological problems and disabilities
– (compare: Piaget: as children independently explore the physical and social worlds, they build knowledge)

Vygotsky’s notion of the zone of proximal development embodied the idea that at any point in time, and in relation to any piece of learning, a child has a level of actual achievement, which is what the child can do currently on his or her own, and a level of potential achievement, which is what the child can do given some support from an adult or more experienced peer (Vygotsky, 1978). All learning for Vygotsky, therefore, starts socially but is characterised as a process of internalisation, whereby the procedures for successful completion of a task are initially modelled and articulated by a more experienced ‘other’. Children the gradually become able to talk themselves through the task, finally becoming able to fully self-regulate using internal speech or abstract thought.

Social experience shapes the ways of thinking and interpreting the world available to individuals. Language plays a crucial role in a socially formed mind… cognition is thus socially constructed, and language is the critical link between the social and psychological planes of human functioning.

The instructional questioning ‘What colour is that car?’ / ‘What’s the shape?’… etc. so pervasive among middle-class parents is similar to the type of discourse that takes place in schools, and it prepares children to be successful communicators in classroom and testing situations (although I wonder how this works now that the assessment styles of the 21st century are starting to catch up with modern theories of critical thinking, etc.)

A metaphor to describe effective teaching/interactions with the ZPD is that of a scaffold. The teacher keeps tasks within the children’s ZPD, or slightly above their level of independent functioning.
The child is viewed as a building, actively constructing him- or herself. The social environment is the necessary scaffold, or support system, that allows the child to move forward and continue to build new competencies.
Note: ‘scaffolding’ is not Vygotsky’s original term.

The first component of scaffolding is engagement of children in an interesting and culturally meaningful, collaborative problem-solving activity. Participants can be either adult-child or child-child groupings. What is important is that children interact with someone while the two are jointly trying to reach a goal.

Intersubjectivity is another important quality of good scaffolding. It is the process whereby two participants who begin a task with a different understanding arrive at a shared understanding. e.g., a teacher might point out the links between a new task and ones that the child already knows.

Another important component of scaffolding concerns the emotional tone of the interaction (supportive, attributes confidence to the child).

A major goal of scaffolding and education in general is to keep children working on tasks in their ZPDs. Another goals is to foster self-regulation by allowing the child to regulate joint activity as much as possible.

The zone of effective functioning is what the child is in when the adult relinquishes control and assistance as soon as the child can work independently and when adults permit children to grapple with questions and problems only when the child is truly stuck.

What makes effective scaffolding varies from culture to culture; its characteristics can only be understood in terms of the values and requirements of the child’s society as a whole.

Private speech is internalisation of language for self-regulation.


for Montessori, children learned by living and walking about – the ‘conforming to nature’ view…

[I think this is a note from MacNaughton (2003) Shaping early childhood]


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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