Play is probably the very first thing that comes to our minds when we start thinking about our childhood. Certainly it’s hard to talk about early years without referring to play, as it is a part of children’s natural behaviour, embedded in their spontaneous day-to-day life. The fact that the play is enjoyable is generally agreed, but the value of play in school, however, has been in the centre of much debate in the past (and it seems like that debate is still going on today).
The roots of contemporary understanding of the role of play in early childhood education extend clearly to Friedrich Froebel, a German educator, who organized and systematized the methods of early childhood in accordance with the idea of “the spontaneous, self-sustaining nature of children” (E. Evans, 1971, p. 43). Froebel believed that every child had within him all he was to be at birth, and that the proper educational environment was to encourage the child to grow and develop in the most favourable manner.
“Young children are to be regarded and tended essentially like plants.
Like these, if they were given the right conditions, they would grow and unfold and flower, by their own law, each according to its individual capacity and destiny. ” (E. Lawrence, 1969, p. 195) In his study of child-nature one of the most marked characteristics, which attracted Froebel’s attention, was the child’s inborn desire for activity, which reveals itself in play. According to Froebel, “play is the freest active manifestation of the child’s inner self which springs from the need of that inner living consciousness to realize itself outwardly. ” (H. Bowen, 1907, p.
116) Froebel made a significant contribution to early childhood education by seeing play as a process in which children bring to realization their inner nature. He recognized that children began to learn as soon as they began to interact with the world, and he reasoned that since the interaction was mostly in the form of play, the way to educate a child was through play, “as a means of awakening and developing the active and presentative side of his nature; wherefore none, not even the simplest gifts from a child, should ever be suffered to be neglected. ” (F.
Froebel, 1901, p. 77) Froebel’s continuous studies of the function of play in a child’s life came to fruition in the concept of the Kindergarten ? a place where children “instruct and educate themselves” and where they develop and integrate all their abilities through play. Froebel believed that play provided the means for a child’s intellectual, social, emotional and physical development. Games were not just idle time wasting, but the most important steps in the child’s development, and they were to be watched by teachers as clues to how the child is developing.
“It is through play that the child learns the use of his limbs, of all his bodily organs, and with this use gains health and strength. Through play he comes to know the external world, the physical qualities of the objects which surround him, their motions, action, and reaction upon each other, and the relation of these phenomena to himself, ? a knowledge that forms the basis of that which will be his permanent stock for life. ” (H. Bowen, 1907, p.
101) However, Froebel didn’t think that the play of young children should be unprompted at all times. For him the skill of adults was in knowing how and when to intervene, how to support and extend children’s play to help them “to grasp and to try out their learning in concrete ways. ” (T. Bruce, 1997, p. 23) To stimulate learning through well-directed play Froebel designed a series of instructional materials, which he called “gifts” and “occupations”.