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I observed a classroom of four-year-old students who are enrolled at the Child Development Center on the George Mason University campus. This observation lasted about fifteen minutes with a total of twelve students in the classroom. At the time of my observation the students were engaging in free playtime where they are allowed to play games, make crafts, and interact with their fellow classmates. I was seated in the corner of the classroom where the children could not easily see me or get distracted by me. I stayed seated throughout the whole observation so the students would not be affected by my presence. Many different activities were happening at the same time, but a couple standout situations reminded me of many subject areas we focused on in class. One particular observation was the various styles of play the students were engaging in. About half of the students were engaging in constructive play while the others were engaging in dramatic play. Constructive play is characterized by the act of creating or constructing something while dramatic, or make-believe play, is characterized by acting out everyday and imaginary roles (Berk, 2010, p262). The two play styles are very common in children around the age of four.
There were about five children playing “house.” In the family there was a child pretending to be the mommy, the daddy, the older brother, the younger sister, and the puppy. The mommy was making dinner while the daddy was watching television and supervising the children while they did their homework. The young girl who was acting as the puppy gave out a few occasional “ruffs” to make her presence known. The young girl, who assumed her role as the mother, yelled out “dinners ready.” The two young kids pretending to be the children stopped doing homework and sat down at the dinner table. The young girl playing the mom sternly said to her children “be careful, the food is very hot. It just came out of the oven.” They continued this story for the remainder of my observation with various story lines and new characters added to the story. This scenario depicts the perfect explanation of the type of play style described as dramatic play.
Dramatic play permits children to fit the reality of the world into their own interests and knowledge. One of the purest forms of symbolic thought available to young children, dramatic play, contributes strongly to the intellectual development of children. Young children learn by imagining and doing and dramatic play allows them to do so. Dramatic play also promotes the use of speaking and listening skills. When children take part in this type of play, they practice words they have heard others say, and realize that they must listen to what other “players” say in order to be able to respond in an appropriate fashion. This style of play also promotes the development of social skills through interaction with others, peers or adults, which is a necessary factor in a child’s future.
While some children were playing “house” others were taking part in constructive play. In this stage, toddlers have a deep understanding of what various objects can do and will now try to build things with the toys and everyday objects they find around them. One child had a box of blocks and was building a train track. Once he finished he assembled a line of trains to ride along the track he had just built. He repeatedly made noises that trains usually make such as “choo-choo.” Other children were interlocking Lego blocks and creating various structures while some were playing with play-dough and sculpting whatever came to their mind. When toddlers play with these open-ended materials, they have the chance to build many different skills. These could include using art materials to create a picture or project giving toddlers practice using fine motor skills that they need to write and perform tasks that they will need for the rest of their lives. You may never think that the different styles of play a child engages in effects them or their future, but when you look deeper into the various cognitive and motor developments these plays enhance you can see that it is very important for all children to participate in these behaviors.
Berk, L. (2010). Development Through The Lifespan. (5th Edition). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.