Play provides an opportunity for the child to explore, develop, and construct. Hughes’s (1989) definition of play addresses the characteristics identified by many play theorists. A true play experience is defined as an experience that is intrinsically motivating, freely chosen, actively engaged in, pleasurable, and nonliteral (Hughes, 1989).
Intrinsic Motivation American society has become obsessed with punishments and rewards (Goleman, 1995). Children often perform for praise, a sticker, or a piece of candy. A true play experience is motivated from within, and not from an extrinsic reward (Hughes, 1989).
Free Choice Children must be given the materials, time, and opportunity to choose their own play experiences and materials. Instructing a child to play in the block area does not allow the child to choose her own play experience. One cannot choose the experience for the child (Hughes, 1989).
Active Engagement Playing also involves the use of the physical body. Children need to be actively involved in the play experience. Television and video games do not actively involve the child (Hughes, 1989).
Pleasure A play experience involves pleasure, or at the very least contentment. Organized sports, which can bring children to tears for lack of skill, endurance, or competitiveness, do not provide meaningful play experience (Hughes, 1989).
NonLiteral (Symbolism) The final critical component of a play experience is the symbol the experience creates or represents. There needs to be some sort of pretend or symbolic experience involved in the play. Naming a block structure, pretending to answer a play telephone, drawing a representation of an experience, inventing a word, and retelling a story are all symbolic representations of witnessed experiences. Symbol development is crucial in developing an intelligence (Gardner, 1993, 1999). It allows for expression and utilization of cultural disciplines.
Each characteristic of play is meaningful and significant. Through incorporating the five characteristic definition of play, the child is given access to materials that enable him to construct knowledge.
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