Developmental Assessment of Play: A Model for Early Intervention

Article excerpt

This article is the second in a two-part series. It presents an integrated overview of the construct of play and its development in infants, toddlers, and young children. The author describes developmental levels of play ranging from early sensorimotor-exploratory to symbolic play involving complex and planned multischeme sequences. In addition, functional components of symbolic play--agent, instrument, and scheme--are specified. Finally, the author presents a developmentally based, descriptive, and criterion-referenced protocol for the dynamic assessment of play in infants, toddlers, and young children.

The role of play in the development of infants, toddlers, and young children is of great interest and utility to professionals involved in early intervention. A number of professionals have noted that measuring play is a developmental domain that is critical to early intervention (Casby, this issue; Lifter & Bloom, 1998; Rossetti, 1991, 2001). Much can be revealed about the developmental status of an infant, toddler, or young child through the observation, assessment, and evaluation of his or her play. The development of play demonstrates a strong relationship with the constructs of the sensorimotor and preoperational periods of cognitive development, as well as with early communication and language (Bates, Benigni, Bretherton, Camaioni, & Volterra, 1977; Casby & Della Corte, 1987; Lifter & Bloom, 1998; McCune, 1995). Play in and of itself can be the basis of a valuable developmental assessment and intervention strategy. Play activities, behaviors, and interactions are very often some of the only performances available for observation of infants, toddlers, and children suspected of having a developmental delay. Rossetti (2001) noted that by eliciting, observing, and describing the play of infants, toddlers, and young children, one is able to gain significant insight into the child's overall development that may provide information and direction for intervention efforts. Therefore, professionals who work with infants, toddlers, or young children need to become expert in aspects of play development, assessment, and intervention. This article focuses on sensorimotor manipulation and exploration to symbolic forms of play--sometimes referred to as object play. This construct of play is contrasted with what has been referred to as social play, which consists of such aspects as solitary, parallel, interactive, and thematic/dramatic forms of play with (or without) others (Lifter & Bloom, 1998; Rossetti, 2001; Patterson & Westby, 1994).

The early play behavior of infants and toddlers is reflective of early cognitive development (Fenson, Kagan, Kearsley, & Zelazo, 1976; Lifter & Bloom, 1998; Nicolich, 1977; Piaget, 1951; Rossetti, 2001). For example, the early levels of sensorimotor-exploratory play and nonfunctional relational play are reflective of the early stages of sensorimotor development, whereas later forms of play, such as functional-conventional and symbolic, are indicative of later stages of sensorimotor development and early aspects of preoperational development (Casby, this issue)

Some researchers believe that symbolic play is an early demonstration of young children's developing mental representation and symbolic capacity and functioning (McCune-Nicolich, 1981; Nicolich, 1977; Piaget, 1951; Sinclair, 1970; Werner & Kaplan, 1963). It is contended here that the development of symbolic play is indicative of the child's development of symbolic functioning, and as such, it is a positive developmental characteristic of the preoperational period of cognitive development, traditionally defined by its lack of concrete operational abilities on the part of the child (Brainerd, 1978; Casby, this issue; Flavell, 1963).

A number of investigators have explored the developmental relationship between symbolic play and language (Bates, Benigni, Bretherton, Camaioni, & Volterra, 1977, 1979; Bates, Bretherton, Snyder, Shore, & Volterra, 1980; Belsky & Most, 1981; Casby & Della Corte, 1987; Casby & Ruder, 1983; Lifter & Bloom, 1998; McCune, 1995; McCune-Nicolich, 1981; Nicolich, 1977; Ogura, 1991; Shore, O'Connell, & Bates, 1984; Veneziano, 1981). …