The Effects of Play upon Cognitive Development in Young Children


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. The stages come in a fixed order and each stage is described by specific characteristics. Play usually enhances these developments. Research has shown that there is a lot of evidence to link cognitive competence in children and playing. This paper will seek to help understand that play is a very important facilitator of perception shaping and later developing abstract thought. Meaning that play can facilitated development of very high level of cognitive growth and also linguistic competence. Play has been for a long time been used in most curriculums to enhance childe 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.

The Concept of Between Cognitive Development and Play

Some people consider play to be unimportant, simple and even just wasting precious time; play is not time wasting but rather a way of building new concepts from the knowledge previous gained (Bergen 2002). Children at different ages engage in different forms of play depending with the state of their mind and the social skills they develop. Since Piaget divides development into specific skills, in order to understand the concept of ply in relation to the cognitive development, an age related play profile will help to explain forms of play. The children not only learn about their surroundings or the world but also about themselves and how they connect to then world (Macdonald 1993).


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

Toddlers and infants usually take on activities that arouse their senses and build up their motor skills. They enthusiastically explore objects and their own abilities by means of uncomplicated non objective oriented repetitions play. Infants play by themselves or with their toys, toddlers on the other hand engage in play besides other children and not particularly with (Bergen 2002). They seem to make very little or not attempt to communicate preferring to concentrate on individual activities (egocentric). This type of play enables the toddlers and infants learn to pay attention, develop social competence and intelligence (Singer et al 2006).

Preschool children are better of socially and will play with friends, communicate bay talking about their activities and share their toys. They do not have well defined goals though, nor do they attempt to create rules. Older children in this category would play together helping each other in activities that produce end results or targets some objective. The children here would also tend to like creating objects and taking roles. They also replace objects by props. They are able to change play details and re-enact event to fit their individual desires (Erickson 2005). Though they might copy codified rules, their idea of rules is individual and they do not challenge others to win. By playing, preschool children are able to nurture and refine motor skills, enjoy mastery of concepts and learn and develop simple educational skills like drawing, counting and reading.

In the elementary school (primary grades), the children are able to involve in formal and non-formal games with their friends for instance computer games, cards and jumping ropes. These plays are very important in enhancing coordination and physical competence, sophisticate their social skills and build concepts like cooperation and competition and allow them to express to themselves and to their friends their capabilities, talents and skills. These children will explore and make their own playing activities (Bergen 2002). They grow to understand word meanings, letter and numbers ands through number games, riddles and coding they demonstrate these skills.

Later childhood is more organized as the children are entering adolescence and developing orderly thinking. Their games are with rules and very well organized. Winning is very important in most of their sport as they internalize wins as a consequence of keeping to the rules. Games that involve forming teams are also developed at this stage and are very important. The children are socially aware and their focus is on the schools and friends rather than family. They can from clubs, association groups and volunteer activities (Erickson 2005). Through role taking, the


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

children are able to comprehend how they can fit into the political, economic and social systems.

Benefits of Play

Play is described as the right and work of the children and most people have come to acknowledge the importance of play on the cognitive development of the children. To be specific, the children’ tendency towards play is associated with creativity or imaginative thinking skills which tends to show a disposition towards resourcefulness later on in life (Pallegrinni & Bohn 2005).

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 bad the improved their thinking capacity by using some objects which they were allowed to play with (Hurwitz 2003).

Play becomes a very big incentive to creativity and imaginative thoughts. 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. Such kind of mingling among the children in a group involves role taking, improvisation and script knowledge. When children are involved in free play, many cognitive strategies are demonstrated for instance, joint planning, negotiation, objective seeking and problem solving (Erickson 2005). In an attempt to understand this, exploration in play then comes up as a concept in free play among children. When children start exploring, it means that they develop the behavior which seeks to understand their surroundings like objects they are playing with (Bergen 1998)

The children will ask themselves critical questions like “what is it?” when trying to describe the


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

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 (Isenberg & Quisenberry 1998). Consequently, the general associative smoothness of the children is improved considerably.

Of a serious concern to scholars and researchers is to determine whether the co-occurrence of developing capabilities was proof of a reciprocal or cause and effect association? Play is very vital for child development and the time of salience runs all the way through elementary school (Bjorkland & Pellegrini 2000).

In simple terms play can be described as events that allow children to make use of their creativeness to development their imagination, agility and unphysical cognition. Play helps t develop health brain function. Through play, children at that tender age are able to connect and interact with their surroundings. By playing, the children are able to explore the world and master it as explained in the developing of exploratory mind previously (Hurwitz 2003). The can conquer their fears as take on the roles of adults like in pretense playing or literally play with their care givers. As a consequence of mastering the surroundings, children are capable of developing new competencies which enhances their confidence and resilience which they would need in future to handle life challenges.

In most cases children learn to make friends and start playing in groups, such free play in those small groups is shown to be very important in helping the children to learn how to work or act in groups. They learn to negotiate with one another, they learn to share what they have (like toys), they learn how to resolve conflict among themselves and also attain good sense of self advocacy skills. Free play usually becomes children directed and through this they are able to develop and put into practice decision making ability, they develop at their own pace and follow their mown areas of interest and eventually engage totally in the passion they really want to follow (Hurwitz 2003).


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

On the other hands play can involve adult so much, in such cases, children are forced to follow the adult’s rules and in this way they do not benefit from free environment like learning leadership and developing group skills. On the contrary to what the passive entertainment may achieve, play has is very active and strengthens the body. As a matter of fact, it’s been suggested that fee play could the exceptional way to enhance physical activities of the child what is also a way of solving child problems like obesity. Moreover play brings joy to the children’s lives and this is a cherished part of childhood (Pallegrinni & Bohn 2005).

Children’s development course is significantly mediated by proper, efficient associations with affectionate and dependable caretaker as they relate with children through play. When parents and guardian watch or are involved in play with they children, they get the opportunity to view the surroundings from the children’s perspective as the children exploit the world to fit their needs. As parents and guardians do this, children understand that parent play attention to their need ands as such they develop lasting mutual relationships (Erickson 2005).

Play is also integral is school setting as it enables the school to meet the emotional ands social development of the children. Children adjust to school setting very fast when playing is essential part of the curriculum. Children readiness to learn is also enhanced this way as its good that social- emotional experiences be incorporated in with academic learning (Bjorkland & Pellegrini 2000).

Recent research has investigated the components cognitive development that have been strongly indicated to be connected to play, for instance problem solving skills, academic achievement, competence in social and linguistic skills and representation capability (theory of the mind) (Wyvern & Spence 1999).

Theory of Mind Development


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

Over the past years, there has been extensive study of the possible connection between play and the theory of mind or the mental representation. Pretense aspect of play usually involve out of play negotiations among the players who present contradictory views, concurrent representation of the real and pretend, role playing and portraying emotions relevant the varied circumstances and actors – all these suggest that pretending has mental representation abilities(Pallegrinni & Bohn 2005).

Lillard hints that young children perhaps viewed pretence as an action and not a metal perception. Pretending can act as a mean of creating two words where the children can take part and reason about non-actual situations (Lillard 1998). When parents are involved ion pretence playing, its indicated that children as young as two and half years would show independent agency. By use of a naturalistic example, it’s been peeved that the ability of the young children to tell lies was an indicator that theory of mind was in action as early as four years of age. The development of mental representation (theory of Mind) is very essential in cognitive success necessary for educational skills like reading understanding, and mathematics prowess (Burdette & Whitaker 2005). However research has not been able to explore and proof the relationship between theory of mind child’s pretense and literacy existed. Still high quality pretence was very essential in facilitating perspective taking and conceptual reflection later in life (Christie & Enzi 1992).

Reduced Child Play Repercussions

In spite of the abundant benefits of play, parents, teachers and policy makers are coming up with curriculum structures and restrictive rules that have greatly reduced free play time for many children. These trends have even gone down to affect children in kindergarten whose free play time has been reduced to increased time for serious academics. In 1989, a study over the elementary schools found that about 96% of them had one recess period. Another survey done ten years down the line revealed that on about 70% of the kindergarten had recess period (Smith 2005)

Recently, many schools are offering very limited free time and very few physical periods. Many schools have shifted most of the time previously allocated to physical education, recess and


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

creative arts to focus on mathematics and reading. These changes have implicated on the children ability to retain information that they leaner in schools. This is because cognitive ability of student is improved by clear-cut and momentous change in the doings (Burdette & Whitaker 2005). Changing from one academic subject does not really present that clear cut change required for the cognitive enhancement and unquestionably does not present physical release. Even the formal physical education period may not offer that benefit as the free play would (Smith 2005). The decreased time for physical activity contributes to dissonant academic abilities since schools are promoting inactive forms of learning making it very hard for the boys to flow through fruitfully.

Children are rushed into adapting to the adult lifestyle and prepare for future at a very early age. However parents who appreciate the importance of play, but a plethora of enhancement tools that enables their children to take part in a range of activities. Children are encouraged top participate in computer programs from very tender age playing with toys that make them experience all round awareness and adequate stimulation. There are specialized gymnasiums as well that have designed to offer a variety of enrichment activities (Lillard 1998). Due to financial constraints ands time limitedness, many families cannot affords these programs and hence the children lag behind in cognitive development.

Play is greatly limited by the structured organization is schools. For instance free play that could have been child – directed as proposed by experts, the children are directed by programs; instead of working out their stress by roaming around the field with peers in the middle of the day at school, many children are made to stay in their classrooms because recess time has been cut by some policies which seek to expand time for preps ands assessment tests. Instead of running around kicking a ball all over with friends, children are enrolled in football, or tennis weekly sports lessons some as young as three years old. Research indicates that due to these rules and policies, children have lost at least 12 hours of free play every week (Coolahgan et al 2000).

Impact of Play on Academic Skills

Several studies of development of literacy skills by playing with objects that are embedded with


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

literacy material in the preschool, elementary, kindergarten and the groups have shown considerable increase in the use of literacy materials and increased engagement in literacy activities as well. The children in kindergarten were able to improve in their ability to read printed material on their objects of play (Coolahgan et al 2000). Children, who were involved in play with a lot of literacy material from a tender age, became spontaneous readers as they advanced to elementary schools and above.

Similar to the literacy material, some objects are usually presented to the children for play with numbers and other academic symbols. These have been very important in the enhancement of the Mathematical Concepts though they did not develop to more mature sense (Pellegrini & Bohn 2005).

School going children are able to pay more attention to the lessons after a break – free play that is child –directed free from adult direction is the best. Schools that provide breaks between lessons have been found to be higher performers compared to those with no recess. Structured physical education do not reap same benefits as free because they of being too structured. For that case, a recess should be really playful (Smith 2005)

Problem solving is enhanced when student are allowed sometime for breaks. There are two types of problems that are described by researchers – Divergent and convergent. Children who played with divergent materials become very good in solving divergent problems while those who play with convergent materials similarly become good convergent problem solvers (Pellegrini & Bohn 2005).


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


The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

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, its very important that cognition is developed ands in turn improve retaining of learned information from school. The children’s zeal to learn is intimately associated with the zeal to play; the role of adults is to provide the conducive environment.


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The Effects of Play Upon Cognitive Development

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