Much of our understanding of the value of play has originated from Piaget (1962) and Vygotsky (1978), who focused on the role of play in childrens development. They saw children as active explorers of their world. With each new encounter or interaction, children were able to discover new meanings, and thus developed more complex understandings and skills. Play is therefore, an important part of the process of constructing knowledge. It enables children to control what happens and to use what they already know to further their understanding and development. Socio-dramatic play is one of the most important forms of play (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1992). Play experiences support children to be active participants in developing and strengthening their character, finding their own voice in compromising with others or directing their play ideas. When engaging in pretend play, children use fantasy, make-believe, and symbolic behavior in representing one object as another (Kaugers &Ross 2009). Play is a skill worth practicing and mastering not, as adults often seem to think of it, a mere time filler or something to do outside to blow off steam. Mastering play is as important as mastering oral or written language. All these modes of symbolic representation enable human beings to remember manage, plan, and communicate with each other (Reynolds & Jones 1997). The term play is often used but loosely defined. For the purpose of this paper when speaking of play the kind of play that will be discussed will be socio-dramatic play (Smilanskiy 1968). This type of play,also called dramatic, imaginative, or pretend play, can occur with peers, adults, or both. Characteristics of socio-dramatic play include make-believe that involves roles, objects, and
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situations; and includes language and social interaction. The social aspect distinguishes socio-dramatic play from dramatic play because children can and do pretend during solitary play. Socio-dramatic play may also occur in combination with constructive play in early childhood classrooms.
Much of what we currently know about sociodramatic play started with Vygotsky’s research. Vygotsky saw play as the leading behavior in children’s development. In Vygotsky’s theory, children play beyond their years (Bodrova & Leong, 2005). The play has several elements to it. First, the play must include an imaginary element, second, involved children must have assigned role(s) with implicit rules, and finally, language must be involved. (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1992).
The Role of Teachers in Children’s Play
Because children are the active participant they have autonomy over their play and this is one of the most empowering experiences a child can have (Canning, 2007). The adults in the child’s world play an integral role. Children want support in practical difficulties, but also want to be seen as important and competent individuals (Pramling, Samuelsson, &Johansson 2009). Children want to know when they are doing the right things and want to appear in a favorable light to their teachers and other adults by informing them when peers break rules. By this the children also confirm the teachers, in the sense that they are to be trusted, they know how things should be and they have power and knowledge to mediate. The role of the teacher in play is complex and can involve a directive, non-directive, and/or elaborative role. Howard, Jenvey, and Hill (2006) indicated that higher levels of teacher verbalization can reduce play behavior. Similarly, Tamburrini (1982) suggested that re-direction devalued play as a learning activity whereas elaborative interaction facilitated play behavior. Play activities tend to occur more frequently between children rather than with teachers (Canning, 2007). Piaget’s clinical observations supported educator’s discoveries that children construct knowledge for themselves through spontaneous activity. Through the play experiences teachers provide; children acquire rules, imitate reality, and socialize with their peers (Piaget, 1962). So then in the early years for many teaching is based on observation. Teachers don’t however just watch and sit idly by. They also make play possible. The play they make possible is rich, complex, and thoughtfully-planned. Socio-dramatic play provides an excellent context for children to develop and practice many important skills and behaviors that contribute to later success in school and life. As play matures, there is a progressive transition from reactive to and impulsive behaviors to behaviors that are more deliberate and thoughtful (Bodrova & Leong, 2005). Teachers need to know how to observe play, helping children grow into master players. Like every stage of development, play does not occur automatically, it needs nurturing from a capable adult. Children must learn how to engage in satisfying socio-dramatic play and teachers must take responsibility for setting up their environment and assisting the play by taking on the role of observer, stage-manager, and co- player (Bredekamp 2005).
Within research, play has been analyzed in numerous studies. The purpose of this study will be to examine the role of the teacher’s involvement during play. Specifically can a teacher or another trained adult improve socio-dramatic play to improve other cognitive and socio-emotional abilities? In order to examine this, the following questions need to be explored: What is the level of socio-dramatic play in the classroom? How is the teacher involved? What obstacles hinder progress?
Participants and Setting
Experimental Design and Procedures