Play is generally identified as a basic tool for effective learning and development in children. This study explores the ways in which amorphous or unstructured play contributes to children's overall development at the pre-primary level, helping to develop cognitive, social, and motor skills. The findings indicate that through unstructured play, children enhance their cooperative skills, build knowledge through imitation, and gain new insights through trial and error. The study has implications for parents, teachers, and other stakeholders involved in child upbringing in terms of understanding the positive effects of engaging in unstructured play and providing opportunities for such developmental activities, both at home and school.
The word "play" seems synonymous with children. Play essentially means engaging in enjoyable and recreational activities, and is especially associated with the lives of young children. For some people, play is considered to be an informal and generally frivolous activity that children engage in to pass the time. However, many others point to a more important purpose for play. We note that there is no absolute and complete definition of play that covers the demands of all the stakeholders involved in child development activities, including parents, teachers, and educators.
Play can be described as a range of self-chosen activities, undertaken by children according to their own interests, enjoyment, and resulting satisfaction. In Aistear: The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, n.d.), play is a method of doing things that is active, adventurous and risky, communicative, enjoyable, involved, meaningful, sociable and interactive, symbolic, therapeutic, and voluntary. According to the Aistear framework, these characteristics are defining qualities of play.
It is important to discuss what is meant by the word "meaningful" in this description of play. The word indicates understanding, clarification, and creation. Thus, learning should take place during meaningful play. "Play nourishes every aspect of children's development. Play forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills necessary for success in school and life; it paves the way for learning" (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011, n.p.). As the literature points to the important role of play in young children's learning, it is pertinent to consider just how play contributes to children's total development and learning.
CONTRIBUTION OF PLAY TO CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING
Educating young children should bring about development in all aspects of life. Play is a basic tool that can bring about effective learning and total development in children. Because play is a natural means for children's interaction, they learn important social skills as they play with one another, such as cooperation, taking turns, sharing, listening, and negotiating (Spode & Saracho, 1998, cited by Riley & Jones, 2010). Garaigordobil and Berrueco (2011) found that play also develops verbal creativity (fluency, flexibility, and originality); graphic intelligence (elaboration, fluency, and originality); and the behaviors and traits of an inventive personality. Such inventive play meaningfully affects creative thinking among preschool children.
More so, studies shows that play contributes to preschoolers' academic abilities in the areas of mathematics and literacy (Goble, 2010). In...