Play opportunities today across the world form the focal point in child development and early learning. Literature suggests that stressors to play are urbanization and environmental degradation. A play is defined by Play England as the ability of children to make choices of what they want to do, how they want to do it and when they do it. Under free play children are no constrained by adult rules or imposed play curriculum. In free child play, the child takes the lead as adults follow (Gleason & Narvaez 2014). In the Romantic approach, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work understood a child as tabula rasa (blank state) implying that they are born empty, innocent, pure and with natural goodness before they are contaminated with the outer world (Gleason & Narvaez 2014). When deconstructing childhood, the educator should understand a child as unknowing, playful, needful and unauthorized. During play innocence of every child is established by unknowing errors they make hence the teacher or care giver has to take care of every child’s needs. A watchful eye should be cast on unauthorized behavior exhibited by the child. The caregiver, mother and teacher are driven by the mentality that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child.
Some communities or societies contrast play with work. Many characterize play as less important because it is perceived to be unimportant, insignificant and unserious in intention. It is perceived as something done by immature children or a process they grow out into adulthood. The attitude of most parents of care givers with a puritanical mentality aim at imparting correct values, norms and beliefs. Those perceived to be naughty are engaged in a disciplinary system aimed at correcting bad behavior.
On the other hand, when play is understood from the frames ofdevelopmental approach, it developmentally and sequentially enables a playful child to acquire higher skills. Children play alongside literary, cultural and technological ethic and ethos for highest achievement of skills. Without play, other processes of development cannot be optimally attained.
UN and other international organizations have formalized conventions that guide policies on children’s right to play either at school or at home. On Nov 1989, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by UN General Assembly and has been ratified by various countries across the world. The convention places liability on governments to ensure that governments work for the welfare of the children. Article 31 states that parties must recognize the right of the child to rest, leisure, engage in recreational activities that are age appropriate (Bolstad, 2004: UNICEF, 2006). The protectionist approach adopted by UN borrows from Jean-Rousseau’s, perception of the child as innocent and vulnerable hence needs protection. It borrows from the romantic approach of ensuring that the school and home environment is secure for child development.
During play, children seek out risks which in turn help them develop and achieve their self-esteem and confidence. To be able to let out their skills and creativity, children need to engage in physically challenging experiences and risk has been identified as intelligent behavior. For adults, due to fear and caution, they tend to limit or reduce children’s opportunities. However, from the romantic approach, this has to be within a well protected environment that does not endanger the child.
The social constructivist approach views the child as competent and able like other beings. Through play among children can used as an indicator of all forms of development. Parents, caregivers and teachers observe rights of children while they engage them in activities of play. The theory advocates for listening to the voice of the child and their stories. All forms of development for children are located in play either cognitively and socially. Children’s experience is well understood during play which is necessary for brain development. Children play by exploring materials, and discover their properties and play imaginatively to express their emotions and inner feelings. Play enabled most adults to balance emotionally to maneuver birth and death, good and evil and power or powerlessness. Likewise, children are equally able and competent to acquire skills just as their parents or adults. As children play they tend to tolerate others, develop a sense of their own understanding, development of social skills such as sharing, negotiation, problem-solving or moving from dependence to independence and development of both numeracy and literacy skills.
Symbolic inter-actionists postulate that children utilize symbols as their forms of representation of their world, and so during play, they are able to unpack abstract thoughts. The complex abstracts are simplified by children through play (O’Hara, 2004). Other perspectives such as relaxation theory argue that children need to play so that they can recharge their energy that they exhaust during play (work). Surplus energy theory in contrast to relaxation theory conceptualized play as an elimination of excess energy. A play is an instinctive behavior which expects no immediate objective or goal.
Evolutionary psychology research now documents that there are developmental benefits of play. It is through evolution that complex animals evolved, their brain sizes increased and biological maturity. Increased playfulness, therefore, promote brain development and acquirement of developmental skills. The transition from primates to humans involved problem-solving by making simple tools, symbolic representational abilities that supported numeracy and literacy. Through symbols mammals found out verbal and artistic representation, role plays, pretence and games which are inter-linked to language and symbolic abilities (Pellegrini 2008). He further notes that animals and humans do play, they do not work. The evolutionists argue that play in humans contributed more to success as a highly adaptive species. Playfulness is inter-connected with cognitive development and emotional well-being. The play also regulates emotional balance among children leading to emotional intelligence. Each of the forms of play is significant in child development such as physical play, pretence (drama), games and rules. Play among children varies in degrees and opportunities. Disabled children are limited in play and this has an impact on the holistic development of the body. Playful children are more securely and emotionally attached to their parents or adults (Bolstad, 2004).
When children are limited due to poverty and urban conditions of living, such as stressed parenting and reduced access to outdoor environments, it results into play deprivation. Such children exhibit low self-esteem and under-development in skill achievement. On the contrary children in richly endowed environments are over-supervised leading to scheduling that limits risky play. Children with inhibited opportunities of play suffer from abnormalities in neurological development. Play can correct some of the inabilities by training or learning new skills such as order, routine and adventure. Media practitioners can be involved in the development of documentaries to showcase why risky child play is necessary. Outdoor and indoor activities among children that promote skills development should be encouraged. Media can promote awareness and change attitudes regarding child play. Document to parents, schools, county governments and other social settings the need for enough space for child plays. Creating an environment that enables children to experience risks and develop resilience is a critical aspect of child development (Petterson, 2004).