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Children And Play In the first

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Children And Play In the first

Child's Play:

The First Two Years of Life

In the first two years of life play is both a reflection of and an influence on all areas of infant development: intellectual, social, emotional and physical. Play is a central, all'encompassing characteristic of infant development, allowing children to learn about the world and themselves. Even during the first half-year of life infant's really do play, even though the interpretation of what is play and what is exploration must first be established. The focus of this paper is to discuss three forms of play that occur during the first two years of life. The work of Jean Piaget and other psychologists in supporting and developing these ideas is critical. The first of these is sensorimotor play which begins with the infant's accidental discovery of an activity that is inherently satisfying, and consists of the continuos repetition of that activity for the sheer joy of doing so (Hughes, 1991). The second is play with objects involves the intentional handling of an object that leads to satisfaction from the handling. Finally symbolic play is the use of mental representation, in which one object represents another (Hughes, 1991).

Exploration or Play?

The differences between play and exploration can be difficult to assess. When infants are exploring their surroundings, they are usually cautious and serious. While examining an item during exploration an infant would smell, taste and perhaps rub the item against his/her cheek in a ritualistic manner. In play however, an infant would jump from one object to another without care, and play activities are completely devoid of the rigidity previously described.

Finally, when children explore their entire attention is drawn on the object begin explored. Their heart rates are steady, and they are unwilling to be interrupted. Yet, during play the children's heart rate is variable and they are interrupted easily (Hughes, 1991). It should be easier to tell the difference between play and exploration using these behavioral differences as a guideline.

Sensorimotor Play

The first year of life consists of what Jean Piaget called sensorimotor play or practice play (Piaget, 1962), the repetition of already assimilated sensory or motor activities for the sheer pleasure of doing so. Piaget suggests that such play reflects the child's gradual intellectual progress through a series of substages during the first eighteen-month period of development.

The first of these stages is primary circular reaction: When a baby accidentally discovers an interesting sensory or motor experience related to its own body, and then continues to repeat it. This type of behavior is typically seen between one to four months. This is evident through a description of Piaget's own eight week old son Laurent 'scratches and tries to grasp, lets go, scratches and grasps again, etc... Laurent scratches the sheet which is folded over the blankets, then grasps and holds it for a moment, then lets it go, scratches it again, and recommences without interruption' (Piaget, 1963, p.191).

Laurent seems to be fascinated by the actions of grasping, scratching and letting go of the object and shows little attention for the actual object he does it to. There is no actual attraction to the object since Laurent would likely react to any object in a similar fashion as long as it was put directly in front of him. Put a rattle in front of a three-month-old baby and the child will play with it by shaking, chewing, or looking at it (Hughes, 1991).

The second stage is secondary circular reaction, and it appears at about four months. This stage is similar to the first, except now the child enjoys the pleasing effects that their actions make in the external world, and continue to repeat it. Piaget describes the actions of his son Laurent at four months. Lying in his crib, his father ties a watch chain to a set of rattles stretched above Laurent. 'Laurent pulls...the chain or the string in order to shake the rattle and make it sound: the intention is clear' (Piaget, 1963, p.164). Thus, we see that Laurent's focus has shifted from his own actions to the environmental consequences of such actions.

The third and final stage is tertiary circular reactions, which appears in children between eight and twelve months. Now the repetition of the previous stage is accompanied by an attempt to vary the activity without repeating it precisely. This form of play is very clear as the child experiences novelty and actively looks for new ways of producing experiences. Consider Piaget's thirteen-month-old daughter Jacqueline as she plays in her bath: 'Jacqueline engages in many experiments with celluloid toys floating on the water...Not only does she drop her toys from a height to see the water splash or displace them with her hand in order to make them swim, but she pushes them halfway down in order to see them rise to the surface. Between the ages of a year and a year and a half, she amuses herself by filling with water pails, flasks, watering cans, etc... by filling her sponge with water and pressing it against her chest, by running water from the faucet...along her arm, etc' (Piaget, 1963, p.273).

Play With Objects

Once a child's attention has moved from its own body to the external world, they are ready for the appearance of play with objects. Of course for such play to occur the child must also have developed the appropriate motor skills to be able to handle toys in an effective manner. Thus this kind of play does not occur in children during the first three months of life since they spend most of the time laying on their backs. It is not until approximately four-and-a-half months that a child has acquired some eye-hand coordination when reaching for objects. At five-months-old a child will play with a piece of string or a piece of paper and will, sometimes playfully bang a spoon or other object on a table (Sheridan, 1977).

Despite refined motor skills, a child up to eight months of age will use objects as props in their play sequences. The child does not fully understand the difference between each objects properties. If given a spoon the child will bang it on the table, replace it with a crayon and they will bang it as well, offer a doll and the doll is immediately banged on the table as well. All objects are assimilated into the child's activity, regardless of their physical properties.

At nine months a child is able to pick up objects using only the thumb and forefinger. In addition, the child is able to bring two objects together in play, for example, banging two blocks together. The child also pays attention to the differences between different objects. The child takes note when a plaything is unfamiliar, there is more interest and the unfamiliar object will hold the child's attention much longer (Hughes, 1991). Psychologist Holly Ruff suggests through experiment that older children are more sensitive to the features of specific objects, and handle them in ways that are appropriate for learning as much about them as possible (Garvey, 1990). 'They seem particularly to enjoy putting things into one another and taking them out again. Stacking or nesting toys appeal to them, as do plastic pop beads, sponges for play in the tub, and 'toys' like pots and pans of different sizes or spoons to stir in plastic cups' (Hughes, 1991, p.53).

By the age of ten months a child will look at individual pictures in a book rather than regarding the book as toy in its entirety, two months later the child can turn individual pages (Sheridan, 1977). The rapid development of a child's interest in ...

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