Understanding Play and Its Value: An Article by Lyn van Lidth de Jeude

Every month during the school year, the Bowen Children's Centre puts out a newsletter, into which my mother, Lyn, pours her time, and considerable knowledge and experience, and usually this newsletter carries extremely valuable information for parents just learning how our children work. So I've decided that, once in a while, when it relates to things we're dealing with in our lives, I'll post her monthly article on this blog. You can view the original newsletter, here: (link to .pdf)

Understanding Play and Its Value
Lyn van Lidth de Jeude

As adults, we like to say that “Play is a Childs Work”, but what do children say? Generally, regardless of the activity, children say that “If they choose to do it… its play and if they are asked to do it… its work”.

Quality play time” is play that is rich in child-initiated activity. These activities may be guided or enhanced by parents and educators, but the essential learning component is that they are the product of the childs interests.
  • Child initiated play pays attention to the process of the play. It is not a means to an end.
  • Adult initiated play reduces a childs opportunity to make rules and define the process.

Curiosity is driven by authentic questions and hands on learning. Authentic experience allows the child opportunity to predict, experience and evaluate. Childrens play grows and matures in a predictable way.

There are four play styles that early childhood educators use to define different styles of play among children. Play styles progress from one form to the next and all styles of play overlap with each other.

1) The first independent play of children is Solitary Play.
Solitary play (such as object play) allows the child to investigate, make discoveries and builds a cognitive structure of understanding which supports other styles of play.
Once a child is able to play alone he/she will begin to watch the play of other children, especially those of a similar age or developmental level.

2) Observational Play (i.e. one child watching another play) builds a social understanding on which a child may begin interaction with others.

3) Parallel Play (two children playing the same game, side by side with little interaction except to exchange toys) allows a child to use the skills gathered in solitary and observational play to prepare for social integration. Parallel play scaffolds children into socially co-operative play.

4) Complex Socio-Dramatic Play (interactive role play between children) allows children to rehearse social activities and refine social skills such as how to join a group and how to accept a delay in personal gratification. This style of play is the type of play that most adults remember from their own childhood.

Although Physical Play is not generally considered a play style it has a unique and important role. Physical play enhances childrens understanding of their bodies as they work to master skills (such as hanging on the overhead ladder and kicking a ball). They watch others engaged in similar physical activities to help them understand technique and work together with other children toward organized physical games (such as catch and tag). For many children the kinaesthetic nature of their play makes this the most effective avenue for learning.

In Early Childhood centres that offer daycare and preschool, children learn from their natural activities in an adult organized environment. Children in this environment develop a social understanding of their role, their abilities and their power as they begin to understand what is in the minds of others.

What is the Adults Role?
  • To be a listener and documenter
  • To provide appropriate materials at the right time
  • To allow that all ideas are improvable and unfinished
  • To give voice to the childs experience and learning

Authentic play is an indicator of a childs health and well-being. Play and learning are one and the same thing and cannot be separated as play is truly how children learn.

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