Defining play can be very difficult. The term play can be used to illustrate a wide range of behaviors and activities, and can be perceived as both essential and insignificant to the child at the same time. Santrock (2012, p.437) suggests a definition of play as "a pleasurable activity that is engaged in for its own sake." However, this is argued by Kernan (2007, p.5) who states that none of the potential definitions are broad enough to encompass all of the meanings associated with play. Despite the lack of such universal definition, Rennie (2003, p.22) claims, that "we can recognize play across barriers of language, of culture, even of species", which conveys its importance in the life and development of children, as it is almost a language of its own, used by children from a very young age.
The role of play in the life of young child
The importance of play in a young child's life is well recognized. It is essential in the life of a young child as it can "make important contributions to young children's cognitive and socio-emotional development." (Bergen & Fromberg and Coplan & Arbeau, cited in Santrock, 2012, p.437.) It was especially emphasized by Vygotsky (cited in Santrock, 2012, p.438) who believed that play is "an excellent setting for cognitive development", crucial in the first few years of life. During play, children are capable of functioning within the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which means that they are able to do things they are usually not capable of yet (Vygotsky, cited in Brennan, 2012, p. 162.) This ability to operate outside their capabilities is crucial, as it allows children to expand their interests and knowledge, and play is an excellent opportunity to do so (Riley & Savage, 2000,...
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... and Assessment, NCCA.
Rennie, S. (2003) Making play work: the fundamental role of play in the development of social relationship skills. Brown, F. (Ed.), Playwork. Buckingham. Open University Press.
Riley, J. Savage, J. (2000) Bulbs, buzzers and batteries - play and science. Moylan, J., R. (Ed.) The Excellence Of Play. Buckingham. Open University Press.
Santrock, J. W. (2012) Child Development. New York. McGraw-Hill.
Smith, P., K. (2000) Play and the uses of play. Moylan, J., R. (Ed.) The Excellence Of Play. Buckingham. Open University Press.
Tassoni, P. Hucker, K. (2005) Planning Play and the Early Years (2nd Edition) Oxford. Heinemann.
The Strong (2013) Retrieved 11th November 2013 from http://www.thestrong.org/about-play/play-home/free-structured
Wood, E. Attfield, J. (1996) Play, Learning and the Early Childhood Curriculum. London. Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.
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