theoretical overview

2.1.0 Meaning of Play
Different philosophers and psychologists have propounded
different theories of play and provided different definitions for the word
Play is a term so loosely used that its real significance is apt to
be lost. According to Hurlock (1981),in its strictest sense, play means
enjoyment it
gives, without
consideration of the end resLlt. I t is entered into voluntarily and lacks
tn external force or compels.
2.2.0 Play and Work
In the growth and dev~lopmentof a n individual, play has been
identified as a pervading significant factor which acquires prominence
in the field of education.
was to
differentiate it from work. E:arly writers thought that while work is
goal-directed, play is aimless and useless (NCERT Publication, 1964).
This view has been azcepted by the scholars and they assert
that play activities and its tierivatives have always been an essential
part of the educational programme.
Hurlock (1981) differentiates "workn from "play". Work is an
activity towards an end while
play, the end result of the activity is of
little or no importance. Any activity that is directed towards an end
other than enjoyment cannot be rightly called play.
The enjoyment aspect cf play, thus is an essential element of
play. But a t the same time, play as a vehicle of learning received
acceptance during the first quarters of the 20& century.
Medows (1986) notices the distinction between work and play.
'Play' is seen a s voluntary and not obligatory. Voluntary activity is seen
a s free, absorbing, spontanecus, enjoyable, not serious and done for
2.3.0 Definitions of Play
Elmar Mitchell and Bernad Mason have gathered many of the
definitions of play traditionally used. These include the following
Schiller : The aimless expenditure of exuberant energy
Froebel : The natural unfoldirig of the germinal leans of childhood.
Scencer: Superfluous actlonz taking place instinctively in the absence
of real actions
. . activity l~erformedfor the immediate gratification
without regard for ulterior benefits
Lazarus: Activity in itself free, aimless, amusing, or divefing.
Hall: The motor habits and spirit of the past persisting in the present
Gross: Instinctive practice, uithout serious intent, of activities, that
will latter be essential to life.
Seashore: Free self-expressior just for the pleasure of expression.
Dewey: Activities not conscioilsly performed for the sake of any result
beyond themselves.
Shand: A type of play directed a t the maintenance of joy
Dulles: An instinctive form of self-expression having an emotional
escape value. (Spodek, 1982)
To conclude, Bailey and Wolerg (1984) cited Weisler's and
Macall's review of several definitions of play and offered the following.
Play consists of behaviours and behavioural sequences that are
organism dominated rather than stimulus dominated, behaviours that
appear to be intrinsically motivated and apparently performed for
"their own sake" and that are conducted with relative relaxation and
positive effect.
According to Frost and Klein (1979) the characteristics of play
are: (1) play is active, (2) play is spontaneous, (3) play is fun, (4) play
is serious and play is linked to exploratory work/play behaviours and
to learning.
Spodek enumerates the features of play behaviours a s those which
1. Play is intrinsically motivated and not governed either by appetitive
drives or social demands.
2. Play is characterised by a.ttention to means rather than attainment
of specific goals. Goals are self-imposed and play behaviour is
3. Play occurs when objects are familiar. I t follows exploration of
unfamiliar objects. Children impose their own meanings on the
activity and internally control it.
4. Play is related to instrumental behaviour. They can be non-literal.
5. Play is free from externally imposed rules and the rules of play that
do exist are not iron clad.
6. Play requires that its participants be actively engaged in the
2.4.0 Play Theories
Play perhaps is the: most authentic expression of child's
behaviour which today hias gained phenomenal importance and
sophistication. It has been subject to a wide range of criticism and
evaluation. Several theories have been proposed u p since then. Early
scholars of the late 1800 and 1900 stood the common ground that
play was natural to a human organism and that it fulfill the biological
needs of child's develop men^.
Table 2.1
Theories of Play
Reasons of play
Surplus Energy
To dischzuge the natural
energy 01' the body
Renewal of Energy
(G.T. W. Patrick)
To avoid boredom while the
natural rnotor functions of the
body are restored
I (H. Spencer)
/ Recapitulation (G.S.
1 Hall)
To relive periods in the
evolutior~aryhistory of the
human species.
Practice for
To develop skills and
necessary for
as an adult.
Psychoanalytic (S.
Freud, A. Freud, E.
To reduce anxiety by giving
the chilc, a sense of control
over the world and a n
acceptable way to express
forbidden impulses.
Greatest benefits
Physical, Intellectual
Emotional, Social
Cognitive (J. Bruner, To facilitate general cognitive
Intellectual, Social
J. Piaget, B. Sutton- development to considerate
learning that has already
taken place while allowing for
the possibility of new learning !
in a relaxed atmosphere.
Arousal Modulation
(D.E. Berlyne, G.
Fein, M.J. Ellis)
I (0 Weloninger, D.
To keep the body a t an
optimal state of arousal. To
relieve t~oredomand to reduce
To integrate the modes of
/ information processing carried
I out by the right and the left
j cerebra. hemisphere.
Emotional, Physical
Intellectual, Physical
(Hughes et. al., 1996)
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer propagated surplus energy theory. This theory
postulated that a quantity of energy is supplied to an organism which
it uses for its survival. When an organism is left with excess energy, it
tends to engage in play activities.
Herbert Spencer believed that play is carried out for the sake of
the immediate gratifications involved without reference to ulterior
benefits (Smith and Lowie, 1998). But this view has been criticized by
theorists like G.T.W. Patrik.
which he argued that play is
He propounded the Relation Theory in
means to replenish the extended energy
through the involvement in a relaxing activity.
Although the views of Spencer and Patrik cannot be ruled out it
does not reveal the true implications gf play as a primordial expression
unique to children. G. S. Hsill explained play in relation to primitive
activities of organisms. He thought that play was a means for children
to work through primitive atavisms, reflecting our evolutionary past.
The function of play was thus cathartic in nature, and allowed the
'playing out' of those instincts that characterized earlier human
Though Hall's Recapitulation Theory attracted interest, it was
not supported by scientific evidence and therefore not beyond the
reaches of unfalsifiability.
K. Gross
The German philosopher K. Gross exposition was that play is a
prior experience for all future mature behaviours. But again the theory
lacks comprehensiveness and is not supported by scientific evidence.
All these theories lack precision and evidence. At the same time
they succeeded in focusing children's play a s the central theme of
childhood educational programmes.
Twentieth century theories attributed psychological significance
of play over the physical. The Psychoanalflc Theory propounded by
Freud stressed emotional social benefits of children's play. For Freud
play is primarily anxiety objective a s well a s instinct-reducing
Freud considered play as a cathartic activity, allowing children
to master difficult situations The child can use fantasy play situations
to act out adult roles gaining a feeling of mastery that allows him to
cope with reality situations. The child can use play to act out
personally painful occurrences and to master the pain by coming in
grip with it in the fantasy of i2e play situation.
Further, W a s and Diarle (2000) are of the opinion that Freud
genuinely attributed the first psychological functions to play. Children,
he said, need play because t:ney do not have more sophisticated and
logical ways of dealing with anxiety producing events. Children repeat
everything in play that they cannot deal within life, and in so doing
they change from being pass:lve victims of their situation to becoming
active master. These conflictive actions, Freud said, take on such
patterns in play a s wish fulfil!.ment and compensation.
Woods (1998), disagreeing with Freud, points out that play is a
means to build up child ego or sense of self through a variety of
physical and social slulls. F'lay enhances self-teaching, as the child
often attempts to organize and master to think and plan through the
medium of "playlng out".
Further, Erikson argued that children are partners with their
futures in play because play seemed to serve a s a metaphor for their
lives. When children grow up, their adult life style will get implicit in
their childhood free play. It
through play that they learn to deal with
Cognitive Theorists like J. Bruner, S. Sutton Smith and J. Piaget
regarded children's play as a11 instrument of cognitive development.
Smith and Lowie (1988) emphasize Bruner's suggestion that
play in the advanced mammals, and especially in human children,
serves both as practice for mastery in skills, a s an opportunity for
trying out new combinations of behaviour in a safe context.
Bruner, clearly influenced by Gross and Vygotsky, noted that
the increased dominance ol' play during immaturity among higher
primates serves a s practice of the technical social life that constitute
human culture.
Sutton Smith
Along with Bruner, Siltton Smith maintained that play helps
children to solve problems in a stress free situation which later
enables them solve complex problems.
Jean Piaget
Spodek opines that the most celebrated among the Cognitive
theorists is J. Piaget. Piage:t believes that the development of the
human intellect involves t.wo related processes: assimilation and
accommodation. According tz~Piaget, play is a way of taking the out
side world inside and manipulating it to so that it fits a person's
present organisational schenles. A s such, play serves a vital function
in the child's developing intellect and remains, to some extent, as
always present in behaviour.
But Piaget does not consider play as equal to intellectual
development. For him intellectual development takes place through
adaptation, which involves both, accommodation and assimilation,
and yet play retains its character after a period of consolidation.
(1998) has
considered play to be characterized by the primary function of
assimilation over accommodation. The child incorporates events and
objects into existing mental structures. A s the child evolves through
cognitive developmental stages there is an equivalent manifestation in
play behaviours. First, sensory motor play is practice play involving
repetitious actions, which gri~duallybecome purposive. When language
and representations emerge, the child is able to play symbolically.
However this is a solitary affair directed initially towards self, and is a
simple ability, for instance, to pretend to go to sleep out of the context
of reality. Soon, the child will move from this self-reliance to other
reference, eg. he or she will put teddy to sleep. This is followed by the
ability to use objects symbol:~cally,e.g., a peg serves as a substitute for
a doll. Finally the child is able to make sequential combinations i.e. a
whole play-scene. Socio-drzmatic play is evident between four and
seven years, when the child e-?gages in pretend play with others. Play
thus moves from purely individual, idiosyncratic, private process and
symbols to social play and collective symbols. A s play is about
assimilation, pretend play serves to enable the child to relieve past
experiences, rather than to create possible future ones.
anthropological orientation represented by Vygotsky. Fromberg (1993)
has observed that for Vygotsky the value of play is related to both
cognitive and affective development through the fulfillment of child's
needs, incentives to act and motivations. The maturing of new needs
and new motives for action are a dominant factor in development.
Through play, children satisfy certain intrinsic needs. In order to
understand play, we need to understand the special character of these
need inclinations, incentives and motives. This links with Vygotsky's
ideas about learning and inotivations. Through play children are
motivated to learn and henc,? the learning that occurs in meaningful
context becomes a spur to further motivation and hence to further
Vygotsky considered play a s a leading source of development in
the preschool years and considered pretend play as a means to
liberate the child from situational constraints.
The child's capacity for representational thought now allows a
greater variety of cognitive activities and thus a greater range of
exploration. Children can now play more complex ways than ever
before, including elements of fantasy and re-enactment. (Gallotti,
Vygotsky considered that the developmental course of play is
situations and rules in play. In free play, children create an overt
imaginary situation with rules. These are sometimes implicit and
sometimes explicitly negotia.:ed a t the onset of play or during the
development of play sequence. Children establish rules about roles,
proper actions and behaviour. They are to a large extent dependent on
the play context and are the preconditions of successful experiences
(Fromberg, 1993).
Play for Vygotsky is mainly role play and he was concerned with
~ t function
a s developmenta activity. He regarded play a s the leading
source of development in tht: preschool years, but not the dominant
form of activity.
Vygotsky discussed play a s arising from social pressures, i.e.
social and emotional needs For Vygotsky, play is always a social
symbolic activity. Even when a child plays alone, there will be implicit
socio-cultural themes, eg., toys are cultural inventions and role play
entails socially constructed rules for behaviour and interaction.
Vygotsky believed that solitary play was a later development than
social play, and that genuin'z play emerged a t about 3 years of age.
Genuine play has two ma111 characteristics, namely the imaginary
situation and the rules implicit in that imaginary situation.
Woods has highlighted Vygotsky's opinion that it is through play
that the child creates the 2ofi.e of proximal development. In play a child
is always above his average age, above his daily behaviour: 'in play it is
a s though he were a head taller than himself.' Through these words
Vygotsky argued that in play children's actions and behaviour are
influenced by contexts and situational constraints (Fromberg, 1993).
Arousal Modulation theorists like D. Berlin, G. Fein and M.J.
Ellis consider play as a drive in the central nervous system of humans
to keep our bodies a t optimum level of arousal. At extremely high or
low arousal levels a persor. is uncertain or confused. To keep the
arousal a t optimum level, hcman beings explore the environment. But
when the environment does not provide adequate stimulation, the
child resorts to play a s an alt:ernative.
In modem times, thir.kers like Lessle found pretend play a s a
means whereby a child develops knowledge about his or her own and
other peoples' thinking or in other words Metacognition.
Weiner and Fitz
Recent studies in human behavioural genetics have shed light
upon an interesting question of biological factors influencing children's
play. Wiever and Fitz Gerald prove that symbolic play is the function of
integration of both functional and asymmetrical human brain. The left
hemisphere processes information in analytical, conceptual and
abstract ways and is mainly responsible for verbal functioning. The
right hemisphere controls nonverbal, specific, affective and perceptual
sides of human behaviour. The right hemisphere dominates the
preschool years. On the contrary the left hemisphere excerts concrete
influence during the late childhood.
An integration of both these spheres, which happens a t a later
stage prepares the background for heightened interest in symbolic
play. While engagmg in play children may continuously change their
play routines and explore various possibilities and gradually come to
understand the conceptual significance of plays they experiment with
and acquire functional understanding. A s understanding is attributed
to the left hemisphere, in
nutshell, Neuro-Psychological theorists
view play a s the function of integration-one which is perceptual,
physical and structural and Ae other abstract and conceptual.
2.5.0 Developmental Sequence of Play
The examination of children's play explicates several stages of
evolution both structural and its essence.
In the first year children's play is sensori-motor in structure and
function. By the end of the first year it turns out to be discriminative
representational in play modes. This lateral development includes
decontextualized behaviour, self-other relationship, object situation
and sequential combination.
At the end of the decontextualized
behaviour the child
demonstrates familiar behaviour plainly without the use of objects. It
takes the help of several objects by the middle of second year, which of
course, is the beginning of' the second mode of play: self other
Bonstain has rightly pointed out that during early childhood,
play progresses in sophistication, as it moves from sensory motor
expressions of pretense. At that point, children engage in acts that
may be detached from real objects, and they enact experiences and
events through symbolic gesture.
Child's play a t the enc. of twelve months is centered around its
own body. But play acquire!; the merit of other orientation, the other
being essentially inanimate objects of availability. Between 20 and 30
months the other becomes active representation where in which the
child acquires the ability to identify one object with that of the other
(object substitution), whicli later becomes
basis of
development of the individual.
In the view of Kohen (1960) the play of a little child a t first is
essentially individual and non-social, though the two-year-olds will
probably be interested in wa~chingthe play of others. A child of three
shows progress in this direct~ona s the amount of ground play steadily
increases in the years that go by, if the companionship of other
children is freely offered.
In the words of Lissa (1939), during the pre-school years, the
child's play is of three main ypes (1) Active physical play by means of
which the child co-ordinates and gain control of his body and its
complicated mechanisms;
'2) Play concerned with investigation,
exploration and manipulation, that leads to mastery of materials and
creativity (3)Imaginative or dramatic play of the "Let's ponetend" sort
into which fantasy frequently enters.
Beginning in early infancy, children manipulate objects, usually
small ones, for reasons that have nothing to do with biological needs
like hunger, thirst and warmth. During the second year these
manipulations often get rep]-oduced a s acts that children have seen
adults perform, such as talkmg on a telephone or drinking from a cup.
These are early instances of :symbolic acts.
Rutter and Norman 11990) fsund that a n interesting change
occur in the second year of child's life. At this time children begin to
replace themselves with toys as active agents in play. For example, a
child may put a toy bottle tc a doll's mouth rather than to her own, or
place a toy telephone, beside a n animal's head rather than her own.
The role of these toys has changed. Instead of being mere participants
in the development of child's sensori-motor schemes, they act as
symbolic agents in a play a s the child invents and directs.
Piaget described a developmental sequence from practice play,
through symbolic play, to g,ame with rules, while acknowledging that
these were overlapping stages. Thomas(1996) rightly emphasized that
Piaget based his taxonorny of play on his theory of cognitive
t each stage of development certain
development and argued t ~ a in
types of play become predominant. Thus in the sensori-motor stage
(the first two years of life) practice play is common. This consists of
repetition of patterns of movement or sound, beginning with sucking
and babbling and finally developing into reacting with the environment
in ways in which activities are varied systematically and their effects
After the second year, the child moves into the preconceptual
stage with ability to master symbolic functions. Games reflect this
change by play becoming synbolic-games of make believe. This is
exemplified by the child's usc: of objects a s things different from their
apparent intention. Children also begin to place themselves in
symbolic relationships with the external world.
Smilansky postulated a fourfold sequence; from functional play
(similar to practice play), to c:onstructive play then dramatic play and
finally game with rules (Smith and Lowie, 1988)
Bailey and Wolerg (1984) has rightly pointed that the conclusion
of Sutton-Smith that though different levels of play predominate a t
different ages, each type of play follows a sequence in its own right,
cutting across infants and preschool children. Sutton-Smith identified
four modes of children's play (excl- ding social play). These include
imitation - copying the behaviour of others, exploration
finding out
what can be done with things and how they work, prediction - testing
assumptions about the effects of behaviour, and construction - putting
things together.
It is true that the sequence of play interests never vary. Different
types of play follow one another, reach other peak, and fade out to be
replaced by the next in Nature's well-ordered succession. This
sequence is closely related tcl general development.
2.6.0 Gender Differences in Play
A close examination of different studies asserts that there exist
traditional stereotypes in mde-female play preferences. Elkind and
Weiner (1978) asserted that a child's awareness of his sexual role and
sexual stereotype develop quite early. By the end of the third year most
boys and girls know what :sex they are and understand the major
aspects of stereotyped sex-role behaviors. Even a three-year old child
can correctly identify picture:$of clothing, toys, tools and appliances a s
to whether they belong to men or women.
These subtle differences in play activities are evident in the types
of play children are engaged in. While females take interest in
sedentary constructive behs~viour,males are explicit in gross motor
In the opinion of Holfinan, and Softparis (1988) around the age
of three boys becomes more proficient than girls a t play that requires
strength such a s throwing
ball for instance, but three-year old girls
are more skillful a t most act~vitiesthat do not require power.
Given the facts that gmder differences affect play preferences, it
would be seen a s a hallmark of emerging cognitive skills. It becomes
pronounced in the type of play and play materials used. Boys engage
in such modes of play a s i~dventures,rough and tumble play, group
play and constructive play. Girls often exhibit their play preferences a t
house keeping, cooking, cleaxing etc.
According to Bee (1985) one of the first areas in which we see
the child's classification skil. is in gender identity, which begins to be
seen at about two and a hz.lf or three years. Noticing whether other
people are boys or girls, and what toys boys and girls play with, is
itself the first step in the long chain of sex role learning. So the
preschooler's emerging cognitive skill lies a t the root of her gender
concept a s well.
The same view has been expressed by Rutter and Norman
(1990) and they are of the opinion that children's behaviour is sex
typed very early. By age two children select toys and activities that fit
sex stereotypes.
Some investigators believe that sex differences in play are
socially conditioned by the toys and rewards children are given.
Usually, girls receive dolls and other house keeping materials and are
rewarded for playing with lhem. Boys usually receive construction
materials, trucks, cars, and so forth, and they are rewarded for playing
in "masculinen ways.
This widespread and persistent sex difference in preschool play
is not exogenous to the famiky set up. Even within the same family, sex
becomes a prior factor. In this connection Lissa (1939) writes, "sex
too influences the choice of
brother and sister of the same age will
play with different things in the same environment, the girl probably
choosing doll play and the boy play with engines or motor cars."
This way of gender stc:reotyping of preschoolers is much more
traditional. Lissa (1939) has :maintained that gender differences in play
are related to cultural condition and adult intervention.
This factor becomes transparent in the behaviour of children
exposed to non stereotyped models. Frost and Klein (1979) have also
indicated that sex difference?;in children's play appear early in life and
may be attributed in large part to culturally determined adult
expectations. In brief', in play boys and girls show a definite sex-typed
~nterestfrom the early preschool years onwards.
2.7.0 Play and Culture
There are two factors
culture and adult intervention, which
exerts overwhelming, influence to evolve distinctive patterns of play
preference in preschool children.
In this context Seefeldt and Galper (1990) opine that cultural
influences are significant irk how children play, what they do, with
whom, where it is done, and how adults intervene.
Children living in a distinctive cultural set u p exhibits selective
patterns of play culture and cognitive development, intricately woven
with that culture.
Play itself can be viewed a s characteristically bi-functional.
Hughes et. al.
(1996) argues that children's play is found in virtually
every culture in the world, but there is much variety in the amount of
play, and the complexity of the games children engage in. The study of
play in any particular culture provides u s with much information
about the nature of the cu1tu:-eitself.
According to Berk (195j7) culture shapes environment in which
children's interaction and p:ay activities take place. Cultural beliefs
about the importance of play also affect the quantity and quality of
peer associates.
The effect of environment, its physical and cultural aspects a t
home, in the community, etc:. are important in determining the ages
at which children reach cemain stages of their development and the
particular skills which they may develop (UNESCO Publication, 1976).
The impact of culture 'on the development of the individual may
easily be perceived. Each fanlily has a particular culture. Each society
wants to maintain its partitzular culture. The individual comes into
direct and immediate contact of the family, because he is born and
nurtured into it. So its culture leans its inevitable impact on him
(Chaube, 2003).
The cultural-anthropo:.ogical orientation contends that play
functions a s "accommodativr: behaviour in advance of development".
Lev Vygotsky's zone of proxirrlal development suggests that play serves
a s a symbolic bridge or pivot between objects and thoughts.
2.8.0 Physical Play
Children a t preschocl years meet their unique needs by
appropriating different play situations. Every child develops physically,
mentally and emotionally a t varying depth.
Physical play is the l ~ a s i sof Neuro-Muscular development of
Mohanthy (1998) observes the importance of active play. At
nursery or lundergarten or ;at home, the early years of childhood are
very active years of life. The child poses a natural urge to play i.e. to
apply his budding powers a:nd abilities in a variety of ways to explore
himself and his environment.
The application of mere physical force help the children to
achieve both fine and gross inotor control through their play activity.
Rosalind and Worth (:1000) visualizes play a s a rigorous activity.
It begins around the end of the first year when children are able to
move about at will, peaks around a t four or five years of age, and
gradually declines during the primary grades.
Sobut and Neuman (1991) classified motor skills into two types:
fine motor skills, which invtAve small muscles and gross motor skills
which involve large muscles Most fine motor skills relate to the hands.
They usually include finger dexterity and the coordination and speed
of the finger muscles, wri!it flexibility, and the coordination of the
hands with eye movement Activities designed to build these skills
include building with blocks, stringing beads, cutting with scissors,
doing finger plays, lacing, l~uttoningclothes, printing, and colouring.
Gross motor skills include ~ u c hbasic abilities as balance and posture,
and strength and coordination of the muscles so that the child can
walk, run, s h p , catch a bal and climb.
Shickedang et al (1993) propounded that the preschooler's
center of gravity gradually moved down to the abdomen, providing a
more secure base for balance and locomotor activities. They assert
that the control of fingers and th~ecoordination of movements take
place through skills such as cutting, drawing, galloping, hopping,
skipping etc.
The advantages of out-door play to the development of neuro
setting u p such
environments which provide children with adequate physical contexts.
Hughes et a1 (1996) emphasise the importance of physical
context of play. The type of materials or objects in the play
environment can also influence how young children play.
Wills (1958) also asserts the importance of physical context of
play. Nursery school and kindergarten enrollees need many types of
physical exercise. They also need opportunities to use a variety of large
muscle and other play equipments.
this view, Spodek (1985) demanded
for such
equipmental totality for out door play activities. Outdoor play activities
and equipment should alloTw opportunities for climbing, running,
jumping, riding on large pieces of equipment and digging.
Another dimension of physical play of preschoolers is roughand-tumble play. According to Berk (1997) rough-and-tumble play is a
form of peer interaction involving friendly chasing and play fighting
that, in our evolutionary Fast, may have been important for the
development of fighting skills.
According to Morrison (1997) all children, to a greater extent,
engage in rough-and-tumble play. One theory of play says that
children play because they sue biologically programmed to do so; that
is, it
part of children's and adults' genetic heritage to engage in play
At the preschool period play fighting seems distinct from serious
fighting a t least in the greater majority of cases. The former is carried
out with friends, who often slay together after the episode. The latter is
often not between friends, in~olvesdifferent facial expressions and the
participants usually do not stay together after the encounter.
2.9.0 Fantasy Play
Most of the psychologists and educational thinkers have
proposed that a large amount of time on pretense activities play an
important role during preschool years. Fantasy play blossoms during
these years.
According to 2aporozht:ts and Elkonin (1971) the emergence and
the formation of one of the rlost basic psychological processes can be
observed in the preschool child, namely, imagination or the ability to
form new representations or1 the basis of previous experience, which
allows for the planning of future action.
Montessori (1959) opi.les that the mind of the child does not
limit itself to the objects. They can see their qualities, but goes beyond
this, showing imagination. Accordingly, children in play visualize a
table a s a horse, a chair, a fairy land etc.
imaginative play. A s used in the study, the term equates to that of
'fantasy play'.
Frost and Klein (1979) enumerate a variety of terms that are
used for the flights of imaginz.tion occurring in children's play, such a s
make believe play, imaginative play, fantasy play, pretend play, and
symbolic or dramatic play.
Fantasy play is a process in which children engage themselves
in imagined situations. Pretending is the basis of this kind of play.
Moore and Kilmer (19i3) are of the view that pretending is the
striking characteristic feature of much of the play of young children.
Children in the nursery s c ~ o o lcan be observed pretending to be
mothers, babies, ferocious animals, store keepers, cows, boys or
anything else that occurs to them.
According to Smith ancl Lowie (1988) the onset of fantasy play is
visible even from the child's 12-15 months of age. The earliest pretend
play tends to involve the child directing action towards himself. Early
pretend play also depends heavily on realistic objects - actual cups,
combs, spoons, etc or very realistic substitute objects.
Children a t the beginning imitate through gestures of the action
of other persons and movement of inanimate moving objects and
develop to gestural representations of specific objects.
Pretense play which commences a t about one year is not the
same in all stages. Changes take place in children's play as their
cognitive skills develop. Smith and Lowie (1988) sequence those
changes a s decentration, decc~ntextualisationand integration.
Imagnation and imaginative skills have a definite role in
symbolic play. This is the period in which child uses symbols in play.
Between the ages three and six, children become much more
skilled in playing pretend They can give roles to an increasing
number of dolls or figures and they can coordinate their role with an
increasing number of real players.
Massen and Janeway expounded the relationship between
fantasy and reality. When children pretend, they transform objects
(e.g. Sofa
train) or invent them out of vacuum (e.g. the ticket). With
age children become increasingly free from the actual properties of
objects, although they often use toy objects in realistic ways,as for
example, a toy telephone is ulsually used as a "real" telephone.
Piaget ascribes this
representational thinking, in which
children are able to think about the world even when they are not
experiencing it directly and they start to use symbols to represent
In symbolic play systt:matic assimilation takes the form of a
particular use of semiotic (symbolic) function - namely the creation of
symbols a t will in order to express everything in the child's life
experience that cannot be formulated and assimilated by means of
language alone.
The nature of symbolic play is imitative, but it is also a form of
self-expression with only the self a s the intended audience. There is no
intention of communicating vrith others. In symbolic play, the child,
without constraints, constrccts symbols (which may be unique),
inventions, that represent anything he or she wishes. There is a n
assimilation of reality to the st-lf rather than the accommodation of the
self to reality.
Sharma (1985) signifies the importance the relationship between
fantasy and play when he maintains that imagrnation and fantasy
grow during pre-school stage: through play. Pre-school children very
often adopt imaginary companions or playmates to indulge in play
activities, when left alone. These may assume any form, human or
animal, male or female. The imaginary mate gives outlet to his hostility
and aggression.
Read and Patterson (: 980) claims that fantasy and reality are
often confused in young children's thinking. What they think appear
true to them, whether or not it is true in reality. Children need help
and time to make the distinc:tion between reality and fantasy without
having to reject their fantasies.
Vygotsky reaffirms the view of Read's and establishes that the
child a t play operates with meanings detached from their usual objects
and actions. However, a highly interesting contradiction arises in
which he fuses real actions and r e d objects. This characterises a
transitional nature of play; it is a stage between the purely situational
constraints of early childhooc and adult through which the child can
be totally free of real situation.
The imaginary situation of any form of play already contains
rules of behaviour, although it may not be a game with formulated
rules laid down in advance. The child imagines himself to be the
mother and the doll to be thr: child and so he must obey the rules of
maternal behaviour.
Mohanthy (1998) has explicitly stated that their interest in
personifying and potraying past experiences, television plays and adult
activities would not be governed while they are being guided to reach
real implications of the symbolic play.
Vygotsky contents tha': symbolic play used by children is a n
essential link for associatirlg abstract meanings and the related
concrete objects. In other words, concrete objects are substituted by
imaginary play materials. Symbolic play when repeated is useful in
allowing the child to conceive meanings independent of the objects
that may represent them. (Husen and Postlchwaite, 1994).
It is often seen a t any stage that fantasy in symbolic play is
dramatic. Dramatic way is one of the basic ways in which children can
bring out their talents for s,tructuring life. It is to be noted that
children's play with symbols :-ather than reality will not deviate from
the sense of mastery of the sul~ject.
A s a result of this dramatization of r e d 86 imaginary events,
imitation of different role modt:ls get a close correspondence that exists
between inner & outer stimulus in the outdoor environment (Lissa,
In dramatic play the ch .ld develops concepts of his own sex role.
He tries out numerous social roles and increases his depth of
understanding of many other roles. He begins integrating the rules of
Brand (1968) views that the full range of feelings and emotions
are expressed and experienced as and when the child plays with
others in dramatic play. Thus he knows joy and sorrow, affection,
anger & pressure, satisfactioil and dissatisfaction. Finally he learns to
know himself as a person.
Kolumbers (1983) substantiates the fact that dramatic play gives
them a n opportunity to explc~revarious roles, often of adults or people
who are important in their lives.
All areas of a child's gn~wthcan be stimulated by dramatic play.
Briefly, dramatic play cont-ibutes to development of the mental,
physical, creative, social and emotional components of the child's
The child's dramatic roles expand as his world broadens. The
child integrates concepts from every area into the imaginative play he
Language skills, so cnlcial in concept formation, are called for
and practiced in dramatic play.
Many dramatic roles request fast, rugged action which fosters
good health and physical stamina.
Make believe play provides another excellent example of the
development of representation during the pre-operational stage. Like
language, it increases dramatically during early childhood. Piaget
believed that through pretending, children practice and strengthen
newly acquired symbolic schemes (Berk and Winster, 1996).
Children apparently hegin with symbolic transformations that
are suggested to them by the objects themselves and move towards a
higher degree of thought i n their make-believe use of objects and
enactment of situations. Their use of objects becomes secondary and
optional a s they are capable of planning and sustaining a make-believe
episode with mental representation alone. Moreover, the child does not
merely imitate actions which she has seen adults do but she is
pretending to be the adult. Symbolic transformation of object
situations and roles can even be shared by several children a s the
development of imaginative play activity reaches a high level.
In compliance with Spodek, Berk and Winster (19951, see makebelieve play a s the major means through which children extend their
cognitive skills and learn a b m t important activities in their culture.
Vygotsky's theory and findings that support it tell us that providing a
stimulating environment is only part of what is necessary to promote
early cognitive development.
The above review of theoretical constructs emphatically convey
that play has a unique influence which shapes not only the characters
of a child but his life a s a =,hole. Imaginative play or fantasy play is
exerting greater influence thrs3ugh which they develop symbols thereby
facilitating better language acquisition. Through play, child can
contribute itself for the development of symbolic language, the
primordial of which is expressed in symbolic play. Symbolic plays
generate acquisition of cultilre in relation to the specified cultural
setting. Thus the problem under investigation assumes greater
importance in the context of cultural settings and associated free play
activities in which children are engaged.