Play and learning
The basic tenet here is that through play and imitation, the child assimilates; consolidates structures he has already learned. (Assimilation: the child adapts to his environment of his own accord.)
Piaget (1951) defines play as an assimilative process - learning as a process which demands assimilation and accommodation. (Accommodation: the child adapts his cognitive structures to fit his environment.)
According to Piaget,the difference between play and intellectual behaviour is that the assimilation process dominates play and that the child thus adapts objective reality to fit his subjective inner self.
Piaget demonstrates that play and imitation are not one and the same thing because imitation is the opposite of play because it is dominated by the accommodation process. But both play and imitation are of course important processes in the child’s intellectual development.
With reference to Piaget’s description of the above, Smilansky (1968) points out, however, that the influence of environment in relation to the child is probably more important than Piaget suggests.
She believes that there are six capabilities/competences which a child has to command before he can participate in role play:
- The child must be able to imitate and play a role in word and action.
- The child must be able to make substitutions in play (e.g. a spoon is a telephone).
- The child must be able to transform environmentto action by means of verbal descriptions.
- The child must possess a certain degree of perseverance, must be able to maintain a role or a theme over a period of time(at least ten minutes).
- The child must be able to interact with another child or several other children within the framework of the game.
- The child must be able to communicate verbally about the game and in the game.
Similarly, Schwartzman claims (1978:50-51) that Piaget completely disregards the significance of the socio-cultural environment in which play takes place.
Sutton-Smith (1966, 1971:326-342) points out that Piaget does not allow for the fact that play can be a creative process in which the child learns about reality on an entirely different level and in new ways.
Bruner (1962, 1972) shows that giving one’s imagination free rein with the structures of objects, instruments and environment is a prior condition for the problem-solving, intuitive processes in play which are dominant in any situation where experience or learning takes place. Also, Garvey (1977) gives examples of the constructive significance of play for learning. Common to these last-mentioned theories about play and cognition is that they attribute a significant importance to toys and props for the child’s development and learning through play.