Encouraging Play Activities (page 2)
Vygotsky suggested that play is hardly the frivolous activity it appears to be. Quite the contrary, play enables children to “stretch” their abilities in many ways (Vygotsky, 1978). For example, as a kindergartener, my son Jeff often played “restaurant” with his friend Scott. In a corner of our basement, the two boys created a restaurant “kitchen” with a toy sink and stove and stocked it with plastic dishes, cooking utensils, and “food” items. They created a separate dining area with child-sized tables and chairs and made menus for their customers. On one occasion they invited both sets of parents to “dine” at the restaurant, taking our orders, serving us our plastic “food,” and eventually giving us our bills. Fortunately, they seemed quite happy with the few pennies we paid them for our “meals.”
In their restaurant play, the two boys took on several adult roles (restaurant manager, waiter, cook) and practiced a variety of adult-like behaviors. In real life such a scenario would, of course, be impossible. Very few 5-year-old children have the cooking, reading, writing, mathematical, or organizational skills necessary to run a restaurant. Yet the element of make-believe brought these tasks within the boys’ reach.
Furthermore, as children play, their behaviors must conform to certain standards or expectations. In the early elementary school years, children often act in accordance with how a “daddy,” “teacher,” or “waiter” would behave. In the organized group games and sports that come later, children must follow a specific set of rules. By adhering to such restrictions on their behavior, children learn to plan ahead, to think before they act, and to engage in self-restraint—skills critical for successful participation in the adult world.
Play, then, is hardly a waste of time. Instead, it provides a valuable training ground for the adult world, and perhaps for this reason it is seen in virtually all cultures worldwide.
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