Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

The Development of Play in Infants, Toddlers, and Young Children

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

The Development of Play in Infants, Toddlers, and Young Children

Article excerpt

The developmental domain of play is critical to early intervention efforts. It often may be one of the few areas that can be reliably and validly observed in infants, toddlers, and young children with, or suspected of having, developmental disabilities. It is imperative that professionals involved in early, intervention efforts have a deep and broad knowledge and understanding of play. This article, the first in a two-part series, presents a comprehensive, illustrative review of the development of play in infants, toddlers, and young children.

Early intervention personnel have expressed a strong desire and need for information concerning typical/atypical development, including developmental sequences, and information on assessment procedures and processes (Gallagher, Malone, Cleghorne, & Helms, 1997). Today's practices in early intervention with infants, toddlers, and young children require a breadth and depth of knowledge, understanding, and competence vis-a-vis play. Few areas of development are as important to early intervention as play. Play serves as both a process for and content of early intervention. Play also has an integral relationship to early social, cognitive, representational/ symbolic, and linguistic development. Early interventionists need to be extremely well versed in the development and importance of play in both the basic and applied senses. This article presents a comprehensive and illustrative review of the development of play in infants, toddlers, and young children. In particular, it will address object-based play, from early exploratory manipulations to planned symbolic, multischeme sequences. It will not address play from a social-interactive, sociodramatic/thematic construct per se (cf. Garvey, 1974; Parten, 1932; Patterson & Westby, 1994; Smilansky, 1968).

A strong knowledge and understanding of the development of play is paramount to the goals and objectives of early intervention (Lifter & Bloom, 1998; Rossetti, 2001). Relevant information from important research reports on the development of play are discussed in this article to present readers with enough information, detail, and procedural and historical context to increase their knowledge, understanding, application, analysis/synthesis, and evaluation of the construct of play, thus enhancing early intervention for infants, toddlers, and young children.

PLAY AND ITS DEVELOPMENT

A considerable amount of interest and research has focused on the content and development of play in infants, toddlers, and young children. Although several developmental theorists (Vygotsky, 1966; Werner & Kaplan, 1963) have been interested in play, much of the contemporary work on this subject, and on symbolic play in particular, has been based on the work of Piaget (1951). Piaget offered a developmental account of play wherein he claimed that various ordered stages developed during the first 4 years of life. As such, Piaget's developmental model has served as the basis for a number of contemporary explorations of play. Some replication research, perhaps most notably that of Nicolich (1977), has sought to further describe, objectify, and verify the content and order of Piaget's stages of play. Other research efforts (cf. Watson & Fischer, 1977, 1980) have sought to further examine the individual components of play suggested in Piaget's theory (e.g., the role of self- and other-directed play activities, the role of object substitution/transformation, and the role of combinations/sequences of play schemes).

Piaget's Observations on the Development of Play

Piaget presented his observations and views on the development of play with his classic observational style in his book Play, Dreams, and Imitation in Childhood (1951). He envisioned play as "leading from activity to representation [italics added], in so far as it evolves from its initial stage of sensory-motor activity to its second stage of symbolic or imaginary play" (p. …

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