Academic skills are also very much emphasised in Singapore’s educational policy as our government values meritocracy. Achieving academic excellence is top priority for all school children in Singapore. Hence, many parents are still not in favour of a play-centred curriculum, as they fear this will not help their children to achieve academic success. With ranking of schools’ performance and learning outcomes; teachers and parents are compelled to neglect play in favour of more “school-like” activities. Similar to the American context as mentioned earlier, Singaporean parents send their children to many enrichment activities to help them to be outstanding in academic studies as well as extra-curricular activities such as music and golf lessons. As a result, children are much deprived of free play. Many children have not acquired the art of making friends and even the ability to make friendly contacts (Tan et al, 1997)
The foregoing examples demonstrate that parental perspectives, socio-economic status, cultural factors, and educational policies are some issues that could negate the value and importance of play to children’s development and be viewed as having no “real educational experiences” (Leong & Bodrova, 2003, pp. 5). On the contrary, Hughes (1999, p. 109) advises that play is very often the context in which the needs of a growing child are developed and enhanced. It is vital to the development of all facets of the young child – personal awareness, emotional well-being, socialisation, communication, cognition, and perceptual motor skills (Hughes, 1999, p. 62-64, 68-69, 81-109 – 111).
There are numerous play processes that help develop these many facets in the young child. Infant games such as peek-a-boo, making funny faces in front of a mirror, and water play in bathtub promote adult-child relationship. Playing also encourages and strengthens awareness of self and others; thus, it facilitates the development of a child’s image of himself and others. Indeed, they are not meaningless play especially when adults play with children, the latter will find adults more fun to be with; it is easier to form attachment that leads to securely attached children. Secure attachment is vital to the growing child: it gives him trust and confidence in his environment; it enables him to venture, explore, and learn about his surroundings (Hughes, 1999, p. 196-197, Gonzalez-Mena & Eyer, 2001, p. 77-79).
Therefore, open-ended materials such as blocks enable the child to exercise spatial awareness concepts, perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination as well as pretend play and creative imagination (Van Hoorn & Nourot, p.255-256). Children use mathematical skills and science concepts and ideas to further expand their creativity in their construction with blocks; they will add details and complex structures to their block play (Isenberg & Jalongo, 1997, pp. 275-277). Children make use of their bodies and motor skills to move and stack up blocks that is beneficial to their physical development and strategic planning.
Much creativity, divergent thinking, and cognitive skills are developed as children engage in pretend play. Thus, children should not be viewed as “just playing”. Their minds and thoughts are actively involved as they prepare their own scripts and collaborate to direct their play. They plan, negotiate roles and actions, agree and remind each other about the rules they have made. During pretend play, children get to practise their social skills. For instance, when children are unable to agree to play hospital or grocery store, they compromise by combining both. Hence, children play and learn to problem solve (Leong et al, Mar 2003, Rogers et al, 1998).