By Dr.Pratibha Jain
( Scholar in Child Development, PhD in Child Development , Delhi University )
International Education Consultant
The role that pre-school's play in a child's development" for special supplement on pre-schools.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss Psychologist of the early twentieth century , pioneered the concept of
Schema or the four stages in the development of a child from birth to adulthood. He was the
first to prove a positive correlation of a stimulating environment in early childhood with
the cognitive, social, intellectual and motor development of the child which had a long term
impact on an entire lifespan . Piaget’s theory emphasized the importance of structured play
designed to stimulate varied senses of the child . Till date, this is largely the basis for the
curriculum and pedagogy of Preschools all over the world. A conscious and informed design
of activities with an eye on learning outcomes differentiates a Preschool from a Crèche ( which
is just for care-giving in the absence of the parent).
Scientific evidence supports the theory that while learning capabilities of humans continue for
most of their lives , the impact of experiences in the early years of life is the greatest . With
this in mind, Preschools are gaining importance as they provide a consortium of planned and
informed activities which contribute to the intellectual, social and emotional development ,
laying the foundation for later school success.
The two stages of Piaget’s Schema which influence and shape Preschool activities are:
The Sensori-motor stage which ranges form 0-2 years. During this time children learn the most
through a series of tactile experiences, ie more physical, hands-on activities , imitation and
repetitive actions .Touch and feel are important. Most Preschools achieve this by playing
with all kinds of clay , moldable materials, making simple crafts . Games like hopping, skipping,
jumping, catching, walking along a line develop motor coordination. Letting the children do
what they want within a broad structured format encourages individuality . Toddlers enjoy
playing with dough because they can get hands and fingers in it for poking, rolling, and shaping.
This develops thinking , reasoning and creativity. The natural world of plants , animals and
simple activities like washing, cooking, cleaning the room are used to stimulate curiosity and
a questioning attitude .
Multi-faceted play becomes important for cognitive and emotional development . Group
play helps children learn relationships, social, pro-social skills, developing values of sharing
and caring for each other . Functional play develops motor and practice skills. Water and sand
are universal favorites as valuable teaching tools. Constructive play is characterized by building
or creating something. Toys that encourage this type of play are simple puzzles, building blocks,
easy craft activities, and puppets.
The Preoperational stage which extends from 2-7 years is most critical for language
development and recognizing symbolic form like those used in mathematics . Story telling,
nursery rhymes, music and dance are used creatively as stimuli for cognitive development .
Pretend play allows children to express themselves and events in their lives. Role play especially
with doll houses , puppets, toy cars, simulated themes helps children process emotions .
Expressing thoughts develops language and imagination. This is the precursor to all other
skills which are a part of formal education .
Preschool years of 18 months to 5 years biologically coincide with high separation anxiety.
Hence, the child’s separation from the parent must be handled with extreme sensitivity. An
environment which allows the parents to be a part of the activities and gradually introduces
separation for short durations is ideal, as it makes the weaning process stress free for both
mother and child.