In addition to blocks, clay, sand, water, drama, song, dance, music, and rhythm instruments offer many opportunities for social interaction and social integration. Children socialise freely, talk to one another, share, cooperate, and collaborate during the process of play (Hughes, 1999, p. 198-204). As they learn to work together, they take turns, accommodate one another’s ideas and solutions, share responsibilities and manage their play materials (Rogers et al, 1998, pp. 64-66, Blakley et al, 1993, pp. 35-37). During these processes of working together, children learn how to use and control their emotions and actions – this is enhancing their socio-emotional development.
Other forms of play such as dramatic play, and story enactment, allow children to use language extensively. They plan the scenario, use words, facial expressions, and intonations to express their feelings to fit in with their assumed characters and roles. Through play, they develop vocabulary, grammar, and language use. Not only do these settings encourage and stimulate children to further their literacy and language learning, but they develop awareness, empathy, awareness and sensitivity to diverse cultures of their classmates and in the world beyond the classroom (Van Hoorn et al, 2003, pp.211-220).
As children grow older and reach school years, the emergence of self-concept and the need to “show off” their talents or skills is reflected in play (Hughes, 1999, pp. 123). Being able to swing from one rung to the next at the “monkey bar” or to climb up a pole at the playground, a child is playing but he is also demonstrating to himself and others his ability. In doing so, he is trying to meet his need for industry, find his self-worth, and gain peer acceptance. When children reach their teens, play again takes a different form such as going to a movie with friends, listening to music, or watching television. These are very important socialising themes for older children to meet their needs for a sense of personal identity, sense of belonging, communication, and personality development (Hughes, pp. 120-123).
In this sense, Bloch and Pellegrini (1989, pp. 16-21) point out that it is vital that children must learn to be competent at the “basic skills of the human community, in language, body control, morality, reasoning, and interpersonal relations. As such, they believe that play and developing competence go together, and growing up is a time of socialising and becoming adept at socially relevant skills and beliefs. Unless children become competent in the basic social skills, they could become a problem for their family, for their society, and for themselves.
In view of this, research studies by McHale, Crouter and Tucker recommend that free-time activities in middle childhood such as sports, and hobbies are essential and important to children’s psychosocial development as well as cognitive and motivational development. Nonetheless, they caution that parents and adults need to supervise free-time activities that are constructive in development; otherwise children may indulge freely in activities that may be harmful to them.
Play is indeed the cornerstone upon which the pillars of physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, creative, and language development are built on. Parents and other significant adults need to be informed and understand that play in the lives of children are very essential and purposeful in enriching their repertoire of experiences and development. Play is not an end to itself; they help children to add on to their experiences and construct new knowledge to enhance their cognitive, social, emotional, and communication skills. Adults need to be supportive, involved, and be open to the various forms of play to help children to desire to learn and develop with enthusiasm and eagerness instead of drudging learning through stacks of worksheets.