This paper seeks to define what play is in the context of early holding classrooms, and provide a rationale for understanding play within the classroom. The types of play are outlined based on social and cognitive play stages. A closer look is taken into whether or not teachers actually need to teach play. Finally, the use of integrated play groups is investigated Synthesis Defining Play Play has been defined by a number of researchers and theorists, and encompasses many different behaviors. Common definitions of play include several common elements.
Having a common definition Of what play is and the behaviors associated with play facilitates discussion among educators and enables them to have a common understanding. It also contributes to an increased understanding of when children are not playing and sets the stage for further adult involvement. Rationale for Understanding Play Research has suggested that children learn from playing (Bedroom & Leone, 2007; Kim, 2005; Trappers & Tempura, 2008). They begin to form an understanding of social roles, the process of sharing with each other, how to communicate with others, and ways to respond to difficult situations (Trappers & Tempura, 2008).
Kim (2005) notes that when children engage in block and dramatic play spaces they are provided, “… Opportunities to create elaborate, meaningful, pretend play themes with others, communicate verbally and nonverbally, negotiate and reconcile differences of opinions, and as a result develop social competence, including the development of friendships,” (p. 167). Scripts of everyday events are created, and the children are engaged in representing their specific social or cultural experiences as well as learning implicit rules of the world (Kim, 2005).
Play also allows teachers to see where students are going developmentally by creating the zone of proximal development or ZAP (Bedroom & Leone 2007; Kim, 2005). The ZAP is significant, because it represents the continuum of skills that are just beyond the child’s independent level of functioning (Bedroom & Leone, 2007). When children participate in play they are able to do so at levels just above their independent performance. “In a a-year-olds play, we can observe higher levels of such abilities as attention, symbolizing, and problem solving than in other situations. We are actually watching the child of tomorrow,” (Bedroom & Leone 2007, p. 33). It is important for early childhood teachers understand the value of play for young children’s development, because they ay become less hesitant to use it in their classrooms and feel more confident answering questions that are posed regarding its usefulness (Shabby, 2007). Types of Play Play has been categorized based upon social stages as well as cognitive. Social play stages focus on the level of involvement the child has with other children or adults. Cognitive play stages focus on the level of mental functions that are required to participate in specific forms of play. Social play stages. Solitary play is considered the starting point, and is typically observed in children from two to two and a half years (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005). Children in this form of play are found playing alone. They are unaware of others’ play actions surrounding them. Solitary play eventually gives way to parallel play. Parallel play is defined as play in which a child may be sitting near another and engaging in similar materials; however, the children do not interact (Bout, Gunter, & Cozier, 2005; Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005).
This is often seen in children from two and a half to three years (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005). Around three and a half to four and a half years children begin to engage in associative play, which is where children egging to play together and share materials (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005). Eventually, children engage in cooperative play, where they take on different play roles and define a play purpose (Bout, Gunter, & Cozier, 2005; Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005). This form of play is most often seen in children that are four and a half years and older (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005).
Children will vary what types of play they participate in, and won’t always engage in the highest level of play in which they are capable. Cognitive play stages. Functional play is considered the lowest cognitive level of play. Functional play is also called constrictor, practice, object, exploratory, or manipulative play (Bout, Gunter, & Cozier, 2005; Hurwitz, 2002; Mistranslates, 2009). It involves “Repetitive muscle movements with or without objects,” (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005, p. 80). Constructive play involves “Using objects (e. G. Blocks, Logos, Tinkers) or materials (e. . Sand, modeling clay, paint) to make something,” (Johnson, Christie, Warble, 2005, p. 80). The next level of play is dramatic. It is also known as symbolic or pretend. This form of play is where children engage in “Relaying and/or make- live transformations. Examples include role playing (e. G. Pretending to be a parent, baby, firefighter, shark, superhero, or monster) and make-believe transformations (e. G. Pretending to drive a car by moving an invisible steering wheel or giving a pretend injection with a pencil,” (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005, p. 80).
This type of play can also be further divided by functional symbolic in which a child uses toys as their intended purpose suggests, and imaginative symbolic in which a child uses objects to represent other things (Bout, Gunter, & Cozier, 2005). It tends to develop between 18 months ND two years (Bout, Gunter, & Cozier, 2005). Rule based games are the final play category, and involve play that is based upon external rules (Hurwitz, 2002). Children engaging in this type of play must recognize the rules, accept them, and agree to follow them in order to participate in this type of play (Johnson, Christie, & Warble, 2005).
According to Visigoths theory, the leading activity for preschool and kindergarten is make-believe play, which he considered to be the one true form of play (Bedroom & Leone, 2007). Viscosity felt play had three components: an imaginary situation, aging on and acting out roles, and following rules set by the roles (Bedroom & Leone, 2007). DO Teachers Need to -reach Play? Teachers have the specific challenge of teaching play, as not all children know how to enter and maintain play. This is especially pertinent to children with disabilities in integrated settings.
Three to five year olds are aware of differences in abilities based upon special needs, and without intervention they have the tendency segregate based on likeness (Shabby, 2007). Children without disabilities play with other children without disabilities and children with disabilities play with children with disabilities. Children with special needs are also 33 percent more likely to be rejected by their peers than their typically developing peers at ten percent (cited in Kim, 2005). One possible reason for this discrepancy is that children with special needs tend to be more involved with adults than other students (Kim, 2005).
Trappers & Tempura (2008) advocate for specific training for children with special needs, and for children without special needs so that play is not segregated. Another reason for intervention is that children with special needs tend to engage in less toy play, and less advanced levels of play than children who are happily developing (Discard & Reid, 2004). In Discard & Reed’s (2004) study the children with disabilities were either not observed in areas that provided pretend play materials or did not engage with the materials while they were in those spaces.
Teachers have the responsibility to facilitate play involvement with children with disabilities due to their higher rate of peer rejection and decreased involvement in play behaviors. Integrated Play Groups (PIG) Integrated Play Groups (PIG) is one method designed for working with students with autism. The purpose of this program is to work with children gees 3 to 1 1 on social and symbolic play skills (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004). Woollier, a researcher credited with creating PIG, sought to connect current research in autism with a practical means of incorporating children with autism into play situations (Woollier & Schuler, 1999).
The model is based upon social constructivist principles (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004; Woollier & Schuler, 1999). Sessions are intended to last for a minimum of 30 minutes and occur at least 2 times per week (Woollier & Schuler, 1999). Integrated Play Groups typically incorporate 3-5 children per group and a play guide. Some of the children may be designated as experts, who have appropriate social play skills, developed imagination skills, and are capable of clear communication (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004). These students should vary some in their level of abilities and serve as guides. There should be more expert players in the group.
Other children will be designated as novices, and are the individuals with autism or autism spectrum disorders (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004). These children will also display a wide variety of levels of functioning. The peer groups are intended to remain stable for the duration of the intervention. Guides are also present during the group meeting times. Guides are the adults who have been trained in the Integrated Play Groups. They may interact on three different levels with the children (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004). At level 1, the adult engages in direct instruction by modeling and guiding the direction of play.
Level 2 allows the adult to take a step back and provide verbal guidance from the perimeter of the play. Level 3 requires that the adult take on more of an onlooker role in which they provide supervision. PIG Structures The play groups are based on 8 structures that are necessary in order for the hill with autism to experience success within the setting. The setting, set up of play space, and selection of materials are important components that go into the planning for Pigs. It is also important to plan for a consistent and predictable routine, create balanced groups, and account for individual child abilities.
The principles of guided participation and full involvement are important when implementing Integrated Play Groups. The following will describe the structures in further detail. The first requirement is that the intervention takes place in a natural, integrated setting. Integrated play groups offer children with autism and related special needs ongoing opportunities to participate in play with more competent, typically developing peers in natural settings such as homes, integrated school sites, after-school programmer, recreation centers, and neighborhood parks,” (Woollier & Schuler, 1999, p. 42).
Consideration must be made to determining the appropriate setting in which to structure intervention. Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce (2002) suggest that appropriate settings can include the special education classroom, a regular education setting, the playground, a park, in he children’s homes, at play groups, or in day care facilities. The sessions are typically held in the same location for the duration of the interventions (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004). Careful consideration is also made to the actual set up of the play space. Once the setting is determined it is important to consider the particulars of the location.
Play areas need to be clearly defined and are typically smaller in size to encourage participation with the same materials as well as to facilitate interaction among students (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002; Woollier & Schuler, 1993; Woollier & Schuler, 1999). Connected to the setting is the actual materials used during the sessions. The organization and accessibility of the materials are also carefully planned to ensure that they are utilized. “Play materials are explicitly organized so that they are accessible, visible, clearly labeled, and logically arranged around activities and themes,” (Woollier & Schuler, 1999, p. 3). It is important for the play materials to be interactive in nature. They should be balanced between exploratory, constructive, and standardization items (Woollier & Schuler, 1999). ‘ ‘When selecting toys for inclusion in the play space teachers r parents should consider (a) the interactive potential of the toys to encourage social interaction and cooperative play among the children, (b) the variety of interests represented by the toys, (c) the developmental levels of the children, (d) the learning styles of the children, and (e) the cultural and gender diversity of the children,” (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002, p. 124).
Children with autism also benefit from a consistent and predictable schedule. The PIG model asks that the guides create such a schedule for their intervention sessions so that the children can more easily become involved (Woollier & Schuler, 1993). Specific opening and closing rituals should be established and maintained to ensure predictability (Woollier & Schuler, 1999). Such rituals may include an opening song and statement of play plans. Closing may include children stating what they were involved with during the play session or an adult pointing out play themes and behaviors. Another point consider in planning for PIG is balance.
Children can be supported in balanced groups where there are a variety of types of children represented, (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002). Areas to consider when forming groups may include the ages of the children involved. Age is not the only determining factor, however, as developmental levels can also be considered. Gender and interests may also play a role in determining who becomes part of a group. Finally temperament may need to be considered so that personalities are matched. Being a close observer of play is an important skill for a play guide, as observations can highlight the current skills and abilities of each child. Systematic observations of social and symbolic dimensions of play, social- communication abilities, and play preferences provide a basis for intervention and evaluation,” (Woollier & Schuler, 1999, p. 44). The focus should be on what the child is currently doing and note the level of support that will be needed to help them play at a higher level (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002). Guided participation is another component of Integrated Play Groups. (Woollier & Schuler, 1993). This piece looks at how the adult guide is interacting with the children. Initially more support is offered as the group learns to play together.
Over time the level of support is backed off so that the children are taking on increasing amounts of responsibility. Eventually the guide may be able to remain on the outskirts of play. Play guides may need o provide assistance in getting play started. Adults may engage in a type of translation as they make intentions explicit, coach children’s interactions, identify the themes in play, make props available, and help to assign roles (Woollier & Schuler, 1999). They may teach children how to invite others, participate in joint focus or action, continue interactions, and taking on roles during play.
Play guides might also step a little further back in some situations by helping students to set the play stage for them selves. Adults might comment on the activities, provide suggestions for enhancing play, give minders as needed, or provide visual or verbal cues. Play guidance is the part of intervention that nudges novice players into more advanced play situations (Woollier & Schuler, 1999). The level and quality of involvement for each child is different based upon their development. Adults can choose from a variety of strategies to encourage more advanced play. Play guidance strategies range from orienting (watching peers and activities), mirroring (mimicking the actions of a peer), parallel play (playing side by side in the same play space with similar materials), and joint focus (active sharing and informal turn-taking in the name activity) to socially coordinated activity involving joint action (formal turn-taking), role enactment (portraying real life activities through conventional actions), and role playing (taking on pretend roles and using objects while enacting complex scripts),” (Woollier & Schuler, 1999, p. 7). Care must be taken to ensure that all adult involvement is supportive In nature versus directive (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002). A final component of Integrated Play groups is full immersion (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002; Woollier & Schuler, 1993). This requires that the child with special needs is impolitely involved within the play setting. They must be actively engaged in the play activities and involved with peers during the play scenario.
Impact of Pigs Integrated play Groups have typically been analyzed based on individual case studies, especially because young children with special needs vary greatly in their skills and abilities. Research supports these play groups as they have a two part benefit. The child with special needs gains skill in more advanced play types and behaviors, and the peers who are typically developing develop more caring and sensitive attitudes.
Children with special needs have shown ins in functional object use versus manipulative play forms as well as an increase in the ability to engage in a common focus and parallel or proximity type play (Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002; Woollier & Schuler, 1993). Children have also made gains in the number and types of social interactions throughout play (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004; Trappers, Higgins, & Pierce, 2002; Woollier & Schuler, 1993).
Social language use, higher quality play, an increased number of play themes to pull from, and the development of friendships have been attributed to the use of Integrated Play Groups (Allan, Nelson, & Lofting, 2004). Peer models also benefit from Pigs according to teacher reports. Students show higher levels of sensitivity, tolerance, and acceptance for each other’s differences (Woollier & Schuler, 1999). Allan, Nelson, & Lofting (2004) found that children’s level of self-esteem improved as did empathy and caring for students with diverse needs.
There have been some concerns that this approach is too direct in teaching and staging so that it is no longer true play (Lang, et a’, 2009). There is some use of external motivators in the form of reinforcements that can take away from the intrinsic pull to participate in play. Romping and modeling are also used to teach specific skills related to play, and therefore may be a more direct approach. Other concerns focus on the logistics of using this approach (Lang et al, 2009). Finding the time to have all children meet together when not involved in the same placement can be a challenge when trying to implement Pigs.
Teacher scheduling conflicts often occur as well. Absences on the part of children or adults further compound the time issue. Other concerns rest upon the need for frequent, clear communication among all parties involved, especially when children are being pulled from multiple school settings to engage in the groups. Supporters of Integrated Play Groups feel that the benefits for the child with special needs as well as peers who are typically developing are worth the time and effort it takes to structure and manage the groups. Iterate repetition of play of others may be as instrumental in learning to play as calceolaria to learning to talk,” (Woollier & Schuler, 1993, p. 486). It is possible that mimicking is one way children with special needs become better players. Analysis I spoke with Sandy Smith, an early childhood special educator at my school setting regarding Integrated Play Groups. Sandy has worked in several settings prior to coming to Grace. She is familiar with Pigs and was willing to share her insights regarding the use of these groups when working with children who are non-players.
Sandy shared that she has seen PIG used in multiple settings such as in a home, during play groups, in the early childhood special education setting, in regular education classrooms, and in a therapy playgroup with children under the age of three who had special needs. She said that all of the teachers and therapists worked together with all of the children to get them to engage in a rarity of activities. This connects directly with what the research supported in that the play groups should be occurring wherever the children are expected to play.
Sandy currently uses a form of PIG in her classroom, and she feels the most important part of making it work is looking at where the students are developmentally and moving them forward in their play from there. She sees the need to differentiate instruction so that each child gets what he or she needs. For example, some children may need language skills to communicate during play, others may focus on social skills while playing, and a few may deed help with the ability to engage in some imitation. This also parallels with the research on PIG in that it is imperative that adults closely observe the children to know their level of development.
PIG also is flexible enough to provide leeway in allowing teachers to facilitate whatever skills or attitudes are missing. Sandy feels that PIG can be used for all students, meaning those with special needs, English Language Learners and those who are typically developing. She typically uses modeling interactions between everyone in the classroom when implementing ‘PIG. She feels it is important to give students who are happily developing the support they need to interact with all students and providing an environment that feels safe for all learners in the classroom.
For Sandy, the biggest strength in implementing PIG is that she gets a good sense of where the children are developmentally and how it allows her to help them gain so much in all areas of development. PIG is not without its challenges in Sandy setting. She finds it does take time to become aware of where the students are and figure out how to bring them forward. Observation, planning and implementation are major features of this approach, and they can not be rushed. Most of the time PIG also will address PIPE goals, but if it doesn’t address them other ways need to be sought to address these skills as well.
She also feels as if implementers need to have a strong understanding of development and a willingness to adapt and modify as necessary. PIG can sometimes become too directive in nature. She seeks to strike a balance where she models some of the teaching and then allows the opportunity for them to explore and learn from experience on their own. The research has also touched on several of Sandy perceived challenges such as time and the difficulty in getting all components balanced. Conclusion Play is at the heart of many early childhood classrooms.