Monday, February 25, 2013

Vygotsky's view of Play and Child Mental Development

"Play and its Role in the Mental Development of the Child" is an article written by Lev Vygotsky himself on his views of play, why children do it, and how it affects their development.  This article stood out to me because I am also taking a Child and Adolescent Development class and this article perfectly encompasses that. Vygotsky begins by looking at the source of play in children.  He states that it is not a predominant form of activity, however it is the leading activity that affect their development. Vygotsky first dismisses the common idea that play stems from pleasure, saying that children could also perform other acts that produce pleasure and that as they get older, play does not even always result in pleasure, such as in sports when they begin to discover what does and does not interest them. Vygotsky feels that many theories of play's origins ignore the child's needs and that it is often intellectualized. Child development can also be described as intellectual development, where the child goes through several phases in which their intelligence increases, and play is used for different reasons. For example, preschoolers often want instant gratification, and their type of play shows their unrealized tendencies and desires, while children older than three years of age have more long term needs and desires which shows through in their play.  He then goes on to discuss how play is the imaginary, illusory expression of unrealized desires, and that imagination is play without actions; play is wish fulfillment.

In short, I interpret this first section of the article as saying that children are not yet fully developed yet and therefor have desires and needs that they are not yet aware of or do not know how to fullfill. This is where play comes in, because they are able to subconsciously enact these desires at a level that is appropriate to their intelligence level, which again is dependent mostly on age.

Vygotsky then goes on to talk about imaginary situations and how they are vital to play.  It used to be thought that imagination was only present in some types of play and not in other, but Vygotsky argues that without imaginary situations, only rules would be left and this would not be play. He says "All games with imaginary situations are simultaneously games with rules and vice versa. I think this thesis is clear". He also says that these rules are learned within the first few months of the child's life.

This then leads into a discussion on how play affects the child's development. A few main ideas stood out to me throughout this last section, one of which is that play gives the child an opportunity to be free from situational constraints through acting out an imaginary situation. In other words, I believe that Vygotsky is saying that through play, a child is able to forget about the physical constraints put on human beings or more specifically the child based on their environment. A second point that stands out to me is that play helps the child learn functional definitions of concepts, because in play they must substitute certain unattainable objects with other more accessible ones. This allows meanings to be separated from objects which is very important for the child's development. Lastly, another important aspect in the child's development is that play allows the child to act against impulse.  The pleasure of the act of playing, in the long run, is more enjoyable than the pleasure of acting out their impulse. This is a very important skill to learn, as acting on every impulse immediately would hinder everyday life.

Play is an important tool in a child's mental development in learning skills to help them in their adult life and shaping the way their mind works.  It is also something that is clearly important and interesting to Vyotsky as he has put a lot of thought and time into figuring out where play stems from and why it is important.

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