“…the historic stigma of play being regarded as frivolous still looms in the minds of a fraction of parents and educators. It is the experience of many educators who have really worked with children that they apparently respond more effectively to a curriculum concept in formal learning when they have previously experienced it through play.
All kinds of play are essential for learning and development. There are various definitions put forward to designate play; for example, role-play/creative play, physical (outdoor and indoor) play, free/child initiated play, structured adult-led/initiated play. Spontaneous play is a natural activity according to Sheridan (1990: 15), and the orderly developmental sequence is described as:
a) active play;
b) exploratory and manipulative play;
c) imitative play
d) constructive play or (end product) play;
e) make-believe (or pretend) play; and
f) games with rules.
Moreover, the child moves from infant stage using basic sensory and motor equipment towards more sophisticated and creative communication as a toddler and beyond. However, in this sequence the child is, according to Sheridan (ibid.), dependent on continuing adult encouragement and the provision of suitable toys and other equipment. The encouragement comes through observing and talking to the child, even before s/he can speak, and listening once s/he verbalizes her or his activities, discoveries and emotions. Children rely on adults to help them by providing the scaffolding in the zone of proxximal or potential development. Materials and activities provided by thoughtful, informed teachers and carers encourage spontaneous play. Play for learning occurs naturally. Furthermore, through planning activities for early learners in their charge the adult is constantly analyzing and observing the learning opportunities and their beneficial achievements while making decisions on necessary adult involvement as to how to move the play forward as the individual needs are met for successful learning and development. Thus, play is more than just the work of children; it is their self-actualization as they recognize themselves as cognitive beings and proceed to comprehensively explore their world, and their place and response to it.” (p.32)
Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Sue Dale Tunnicliffe (2013) Talking and Doing Science in the Early Years: A practical guide for ages 2-7. Routledge: Oxon and New York.