Let’s Play
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The purpose of this article is to show how important and beneficial a child’s play is to their learning experiences. These experiences are inclusive and apply to all areas of their life rather than being exclusive to one compartment of their life. Friedrich Froebel was born in 1782. He was a German educator and the founder of the Kindergarten movement. He combined the experiences that he had gained from studying plants and trees to working as a mineralogist. Friedrich Froebel’s father was a minister which greatly influenced Friedrich’s religious beliefs. His concepts stressed the spiritual dimensions of a child and how spirituality, mathematics, and nature are all connected.

On the “Young Child Ministries” website there’s an article titled “Spiritual Development of Young Children”. The author of the article (Dr. Gillian Byrne) points out the difference between Religion and Spirituality. He basically says that religion is an organized practice based on the instruction of a person’s beliefs. This may include their belief in a “Higher Power” and a person’s relationship with that “Higher Power”. This may also include how humanity was created, a set of practices and principles, and what happens to a person after they die.

Dr. Byrne says that spiritual development is different from religious instruction. Religious instruction and beliefs may one day be a part of the child’s spirituality but spirituality is more than religious instructions. Dr. Byrne shows the characteristics of a child’s spiritual growth by going through each dimension (Affective, Cognitive, Social and Emotional, Self-Concept) of spiritual development.

Trust is the primary element or factor of any relationship. The level of an infant’s bond to his or her caretaker is contingent on the amount of love and affection that the child receives from his or her caretaker.

Dr. Byrne says that the Affective Dimension is applied to an infant but the rest of the dimensions are directly connected to the Affective Dimension and do not exist without it. The Affective Dimension is built on “smiles, gentle touches, soothing words, songs, tenderness, which all demonstrates love, acceptance, care, concern, trust and contentment”.

The Cognitive Dimension happens when a child’s cognitive processing continues to develop and the child starts to get a better understanding of good and bad as the result of the rewards and consequences that they receive from the decisions they make. Of course, a parent/caretaker has the responsibility to assist a child with navigating their way through life by making wise decisions, but it appears that experience is the greatest teacher.

The Social and Emotional Dimension takes place when the child starts to become more independent. At this dimension the child begins to get a better understanding of their own thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings of others. The child’s awareness of the fact that they are a part of a greater whole increases. They also come to realize the quality of their life is contingent on how well they interact with others.

The Self-Concept Dimension is a time when a child’s view of the world sets them apart from others based on their beliefs, values, and role models. Some children may be in an environment where bullying is an acceptable behavior and the measure of success is based on how much is taken from others. On the other hand, a child that lives in an environment that identifies a philanthropist as their hero measures success on how much they give to others without expecting anything in return.

Spirituality is the difference between being selfish and self-centered, or being conscientious and practicing humility. Maybe spirituality is putting the instructions of religion into action. Friedrich Froebel believed that everything was connected. He was able to show how the process of spiritual dimensions and meaningful play complement each other.

Meaningful play may be defined as an activity with a purpose to gain knowledge while it is combined with pleasure and enjoyment. Froebel created the “gifts”, which were the first ten out of twenty educational activities. Four of his “gifts” (gifts 2 through 6) are the “building gifts” that consist of blocks. Froebel’s gifts start from a simple task and progress to more complex tasks.

The goal was to stimulate a child’s intelligence and challenge them to have a higher understanding of the environment that they are connected to. A child may not be thinking about how fast the speed of light is at the age of 4 or 5, but one day the child may find out that Albert Einstein and many scientist following him would define and redefine the speed of light by using scientific methods including math. The children start to grasp the mathematical and logical explanation to all things in nature.

For example, nature uses unique atmospheric conditions such as wind and humidity to create a snowflake with complete symmetry. Each arm of a snowflake is a precise replica of the other. Honeycombs are constructed by hexagons which is the most proficient shape to store honey in because it fits flawlessly together. The sun’s width is approximately four hundred times larger than the moon. However, nature makes it possible by the orbit, distances, and alignment of the earth, moon, and sun to create a Total Lunar Eclipse.

Tina Bruce was a student at the Froebel Institute, which is now the Froebel College and part of Roehampton University. She is now a member and co-founder of the Early Childhood Research Center and also a trustee of the National Froebel Foundation.

Tina Bruce believes that adults should assist a child in their play, but not dictate how the children play. A child should be permitted to decide what the rules are instead of being told what they should or should not do. It appears that more often than not, parents are focused on their child accomplishing an outcome or obtaining an end result.

Tina Bruce says that “play is an active process” and not an end result. The child’s development takes place while he or she is on a journey. The destination is a long list of options that a child will be able to choose from as the result of having a wide range of skills that they have obtained from all of their experiences while playing. Children take the part of different roles with a different set of characteristics when they play. This challenges a child to concentrate while using their imagination as they are absorbed in play.

Tina Bruce is most known for her 10 Common Principles of Early Years Education: (1) The best way to prepare children for their adult life is to give them what they need as children. (2) Children are whole people who have feelings, ideas and relationships with others, and who need to be physically, mentally, morally and spiritually healthy. (3) Subjects such as mathematics and art cannot be separated; young children learn in an integrated way and not in neat, tidy compartments. (4) Children learn best when they are given appropriate responsibility, allowed to make errors, decisions and choices, and respected as autonomous learners. (5) Self-discipline is emphasized. Indeed, this is the only kind of discipline worth having. Reward systems are very short-term and do not work in the long-term. Children need their efforts to be valued. (6) There are times when children are especially able to learn particular things. (7) What children can do (rather that what they cannot do) is the starting point of a child’s education. (8) Imagination, creativity and all kinds of symbolic behavior (reading, writing, drawing, dancing, music, mathematical numbers, algebra, role play and talking) develop and emerge when conditions are favorable. (9) Relationships with other people (both adults and children) are of central importance in a child’s life. (10) Quality education is about three things: the child, the context in which learning takes place, and the knowledge and understanding which the child develops and learns.

Genevan Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712 to July 2, 1778) said, “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” Italian physician, educator, and innovator Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 to May 6, 1952) said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist… Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Philosopher Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (February 25, 1861 to March 30, 1925) said, “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility, these three forces are the very nerve of education.” Jean Piaget (August 9, 1896 to September 16, 1980) said, “Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do… Play is the answer to how anything new comes about.”

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