Summary of Children's Play in the Preschool Years
The years from two to five are characterized by a decrease in rigidity and stubbornness, by increasing degrees of stability, reliability, and predictability, and by a move from primarily large muscle play to that involving small muscle activities. Sensory exploration during play is on the decline, and increases occur in play that is social and reflects children's interest in and identification with adults.
Between the ages of two and five, children move from solitary and onlooker play to parallel play, and then to associative and cooperative forms of play. The size of the play group increases with age, and the same play materials are used differently at different ages, with younger children typically playing with them isolation and older ones integrating them into cooperative social activities.
Pretend play can be a solitary activity, it can occur ill parallel, or It can involve extensive cooperation, as in the case of sociodramatic play. Solitary and parallel pretend play can be found among children of all ages, but a disproportionate amount of solitary, as opposed to cooperative, pretense is thought to be a sign of social immaturity.
The central roles in dramatic play are family roles, but children typically assume a variety of character and functional roles as well. The dramatic play props most likely to stimulate the processes of creative thinking are those that are the least structured. However, if props leave too much to the imagination, many children, and particularly very young ones or older ones with little experience at dramatic play, may not know what to do with them. The functions of dramatic play are many and include simple imitation of adults, intensification of real-life roles, reflection of home relationships, expression of pressing needs and forbidden impulses, and the reversal of roles. Finally, dramatic play appears to have a number of affective, intellectual, and social benefits for the preschool child.
The play of preschoolers is influenced by family factors, such as the security of parent-child attachment and the stability of the marriage, by the familiarity of the child's peer group, and by the amount of experience the child has had in a group setting, such as a day-care center. The quality of play is affected also by such elements in the physical environment as the size of the play space and the extent to which it is organized into definable activity areas. Finally, excessive television watching can inhibit the play of the average preschooler, but children who are initially less imaginative appear to benefit from exposure to intellectually stimulating television programs.
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