Friday, March 15, 2013

Playing Pretend, Vygotsky's theory

Lev Vygotsky is known for his theories of child development and learning. One of the ways he approached these two areas is by studying play. He realized what an important phenomenon play (especially the kind that involves pretending and wide use of imagination) is when it comes to proper mental development. For a child, pretending during play is a way of attaining something that is otherwise unachievable. 

The article, "The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development" states that children who spend a lot of time engaging in pretend play tend to grow up to be more creative and apply imagination to more areas of life. Vygotsky also theorized about why pretend play occurs specifically in childhood and tends to cease later in life. According to his ideas, the pretending still occurs but is expressed more abstractly- because an understanding of abstraction develops. 

Children tend to be more likely to engage is playing pretend if they are constantly stimulated with new information, understanding and discovery. Answering to a child's curiosities is important so they have new material to constantly keep broadening their horizons and letting their imagination run further. 

Thus, some school curriculums include "guided play". In one curriculum, Tools of the Mind, inspired by Vygotsky’s theory, scaffolding of cognitive control is woven into virtually all classroom activities (Bodrova, 2008). Instructors help children work together to discover possible direction for their play to aid in discoveries and joint focus. By helping everyone pay attention, more children end up being able to take part and include their ideas in the play. This is beneficial because in groups of children, a more outgoing and imaginative child ends up making most of the creative decisions, leaving everyone else no choice but to follow along. 

Children playing pretend is a natural part of development and everyone accepts it and expects it. My own childhood was nonstop pretending. In fact, when my friends and I stopped spending our play dates acting out life with dolls or playing house, I found it odd. However, this is something my brother's childhood mostly lacked. No matter how many action figures he had or stories my family tried to make up to aid with pretend play, it never occurred. This is not noticeable right away and most people who know him may not even realize "oh, that boy doesn't play pretend" but I think it's a definite drawback in his development. His autism keep him focused on repetition and routine. He can make up stories now but not elbarote ones and usually not voluntarily. He certainly does not need them to play. He can spend hours outdoors with his remote control truck and sometimes I watch him and wonder, "is he imagining his truck on some sort of adventure? Is he pretending that this truck has a mission or destination?" I sure hope so, but I doubt it. He likes being able to control it. He likes seeing the movement and the spinning of the wheels and the splash of the puddles...only what's really before him- not in his imagination.

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