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THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY AND GAMES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

Etymologically, the word GAME comes from the Latin LOCUS, which means joke, mockery and was used in place of ludus: toy, game, amusement, pastime.

The introduction of children into the Early Childhood Education system represents one of the opportunities for them to broaden their knowledge in their new phase of life. They experience unprecedented learning that becomes part of their universe, which involves a diversity of relationships and attitudes; alternative ways of communicating between people; the establishment of rules and limits and a set of cultural and moral values that are passed on to them.

The acceptance and use of games and play as a strategy in the teaching and learning process has been gaining momentum among educators and researchers in recent years, as most of them consider it to be a form of pedagogical work that stimulates reasoning and favors the experience of content and the relationship with everyday situations.

Play as a teaching and learning strategy in the classroom should encourage children to construct scientific knowledge, providing them with the opportunity to experience real or imaginary situations, offering them challenges and encouraging them to seek solutions to the situations that arise during the game, leading them to reason, exchange ideas and make decisions.

Play is, therefore, a natural, spontaneous and necessary activity for children. It is an extremely important part of their education and its role transcends the mere control of skills. It is much broader. Its importance is remarkable, since through these activities, children build their own world.

In their own view, it is through play that children learn about nature, social events, internal dynamics and the structure of their bodies. Children who play freely, at their own level, in their own way, are not only exploring the world around them, but also communicating feelings, ideas, fantasies, exchanging the real and the imaginary.

Play is related to pleasure. Whether creative or not, play should always bring pleasure to the child.

In addition, while it stimulates the child’s intellectual development, it also teaches them, without them realizing it, the habits that are most necessary for their growth, such as persistence, perseverance, reasoning, companionship, among others.

In this way, play and games in Early Childhood Education should be seen as a strategy used by the educator, who should focus on teaching the contents of reality. Play has a prominent place in pedagogical planning.

THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER AS AN AGENT OF TRANSFORMATION

 Since the teacher is responsible for providing guidance, be it theoretical, methodological or technical, it can be considered that, in this sense, he or she is a transforming agent, since he or she contributes to the transformation of his or her students.

This reality therefore demands critical awareness from all those who work in education. The important thing to know is that, even today, this critical awareness and questioning of existing educational policies cannot be forgotten. For Ruiz (2003, s/p), education professionals need to have a very clear position, that is, they need to strive for change. For the author:

“The roles of education professionals need to be rethought. They can no longer act neutrally in this society of conflict, they can no longer be absent, relying only on content, methods and techniques, they can no longer be silent, because students demand a position from these professionals on social problems, but as someone who has an opinion on the most emerging issues and who is willing to engage in dialogue, conflict and problematize their knowledge.” (RUIZ, 2003, s/p).

Teachers can be agents of transformation, especially in situations that require them to take a firm stance. Not just in the classroom, but in society, in the school or university environment, and be attentive to discussions about the world around them. It’s important to take part in study groups, get involved in research and encourage your students to always seek to know more.

Instead of being an agent of transformation in teaching and learning processes, teachers are constantly used as a tool to serve the interests that govern the educational models established in schools and universities. As a result, those professionals who are concerned about improving teaching and education are seen as a problem, given the conservative concept that still prevails in society.

The teacher has to start from the students’ experiences and knowledge and offer meaningful activities, favoring understanding of what is being done by establishing relationships between the school and the social environment.

SOME OF THE TEACHER’S ROLES IN RELATION TO GAMES

One of the educator’s responsibilities is to promote socialization among students, helping them, within their age range and potential, to get along with their groups, with an emphasis on the school group. Regardless of the level of education, pedagogical actions aim, in a certain way, to promote good social coexistence, knowledge of others and respect for differences.

The play activities chosen by educators, as well as providing opportunities for fun and learning as a pedagogical function, must also consider the development of the people involved.

Pedagogical work with the aim of knowledge can acquire greater meaning when it is developed using different methodological approaches.

Games, playful activities and play, if used properly, contribute significantly to the construction and understanding of knowledge and are essential activities in children’s development and learning. It is important for teachers to know each type of activity and its purpose in order to promote quality work in this area.

Play or games are only valid if they are used at the right time, and that time is determined by the teacher, who determines for the student the purpose of the game, the rules and the timing.

Throughout the process of a child’s physical, moral and social development, the environments they are in and spontaneous or directed play can make a significant contribution to their integral formation. It’s important for children to play, as they will develop permeated by everyday relationships and thus build their identity, their image of themselves and the world around them.

Children are sociable beings who relate to the world around them. According to their understanding and potential, they play spontaneously and independently of their environment and context. For this reason, the greater the number of children’s games included in teaching activities, the greater the child’s development will be. However, each stage of their development must be respected in order to achieve the objectives.

 THE CONTRIBUTIONS THAT PLAY AND GAMES MAKE TO DEVELOPMENT IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

 Play has gained a great deal of space in early childhood education. Play is the essence of childhood and its use enables pedagogical work that makes it possible to produce knowledge and also to stimulate the child’s affectivity. The educational function of play makes it possible for the individual to learn, to know, to know and to understand the world. Therefore, the subjects presented through playful activities become engaging and favor the construction of meanings of knowledge from the child’s own world.

Playfulness is a necessity for children at any age and cannot just be seen as fun. Play facilitates learning, personal, social and cultural development, contributes to good mental health, facilitates the processes of socialization, communication, expression and the construction of knowledge.

Playful activities are the essence of childhood, so when addressing this topic we can’t help but also refer to children. Looking at the history and evolution of man in society, we will realize that children were not always considered as they are today. In the past, they had no social existence, they were considered miniature adults, or almost adults, or miniature adults. Their value was relative, in the upper classes they were educated for the future and in the lower classes the value of children began when they could be useful at work, helping to generate family income.

This important stage of childhood follows two phases of Piaget’s development, which are the sensorimotor period (0 to 2 years) and the concrete operant period (2 to 7 years). Cunha (1988) establishes behaviors, actions and types of toys and games for children’s learning and development, according to the stages of development proposed by Piaget. According to the author, sensory-motor conduct comprises the actions of repetition, sensory-motor recognition, sensory-motor generalization and practical reasoning.

By playing, children come into contact with the cultural differences that exist in the group, solve problems and broaden their way of seeing and understanding the world, expanding their concepts. For example, when a child plays house, they come into contact with different views of the concept of mother, which can broaden their own concept. In this sense, play creates the conditions for children’s development, as it expands the possibility of thinking and acting on their own daily lives. Therefore, playing is not just a pastime, but an activity that allows them to work with dreams, fantasies, anxieties and knowledge.

THE ACT OF PLAYING

A large proportion of educators in the 0-5 age group use games and play as a daily pedagogical practice, defending their use as an excellent resource for children’s learning and development.

However, sometimes play is misunderstood by educational bodies, especially teachers, when they confuse the concept of games, in which most of the time the child is left to choose what they want to do, without the support of an adult. On yet another occasion, some teachers treat play as an element that facilitates learning, but exercise extreme control over the child through games and play (OLIVEIRA, 2002). The fact is that any of these conceptions removes the teacher from partnership, from interaction with their pupil and this is what we need to be extremely careful about, because a proposal that includes games for Early Childhood Education must take care to offer not only specific activities (games and play), but also interactions between children and children and between children and their teachers.

Two- and four-year-olds have very active motor skills, they like to run, jump, drag, pull and push. As for language, there is better organization, which allows the child to speak more easily, articulating words better. From the age of two, children refer to people and objects by name and this activity considerably increases their vocabulary.

Children are also more sociable at this age, but their sense of ownership of their toys is beginning to show. Also at this age, their energy, exuberance, imagination and curiosity are in full force. All the learning that play allows is fundamental to a child’s development at all stages of their life and to their auditory, motor, space and time, and language development.

Play and games are basic instruments of the child’s psychic life. Children seek out play as a necessity and not as a distraction. It is through play that the child reveals himself: his good and bad inclinations, his vocation, his abilities, his character, everything that is latent in his developing self, becomes visible through play and the toys he plays with.

For Piaget (1978), games are characterized into three main types: exercise games (0 to 2 years), symbolic games (2 to 6 years) and rule games (6 years onwards). According to the author himself: “the function is what differentiates these games, which have no other purpose than the pleasure of functioning” (PIAGET, 1978).

BELOW IS A BRIEF EXPLANATION OF EACH OF THESE TYPES OF GAMES:

  •  Exercise games: this is the first form of play that the child knows and appears before complete verbal development. Its characteristic is that the child plays for the pleasure of getting to know the object, exploration, motor development or, as the name suggests, pure exercise. At this stage, the child basically plays alone or with their mother, or whoever represents the maternal figure.
  • Symbolic play: this is a form of play in which the child pretends to be someone else or imagines themselves in another situation, or assigns another function to an object. For example: Anabel plays house, makes fake food; Davi, who is holding a cardboard plate, imagines he is driving a car; Anabel, who is playing house, experiences the role of the mother in her home, while Davi experiences the role of the father. Symbolic play is, in a way, a way for children to communicate what they feel to others,
  • Rules game: characterized by a set of laws imposed by the group. As such, it requires partners who agree to comply with the obligations defined in the rules. It is a strictly social game.

Games and play activities in nursery schools bring many advantages to the teaching and learning process, they are elements for children’s development, but it is up to teachers to create pedagogical proposals that combine learning with the great fun that games and play provide.

Games should be a permanent part of early childhood education spaces, as they enable children to work fully on their physical, psychological, cognitive and social aspects.

In symbolic play, as discussed above, some projections allow us to obtain information about the child. These are cited by Aroeira, Soares and Mendes (1996, p. 167):

  • Simple combinations: Fernanda talks to a piece of wood: “okay, I’ll give you some food”. She uses the object to represent the hungry child.
  • Compensatory combinations: forbidden to climb the stairs, Malthus creates a character who will climb the stairs. He uses fantasy to cope with his frustration.
  • Liquidating combinations: Fabiana, when she falls, says to herself: “it was nothing” to face the situation of displeasure.
  • Anticipatory symbolic combinations: Thiago witnesses a robbery (real scene), then tells his father that he beat the robber until he bled (imaginary). He tries to understand the violence and the importance of his father as a protector.
  • Orderly symbolic combinations: playing at preparing christenings and birthdays implies order, tidiness, organization and sequence. It’s an attempt to organize reality.

It is also necessary to include exercise games, played with the body, starting with simple movements and progressing to more complex ones; sensory games, which stimulate the child’s sensory experiences and creativity; language games, which help with communication (circles, songs, spoken presentations); and rule games.

Games with rules manifest themselves around the age of five. In these, children play together and begin to establish rules, for example: hopscotch, marbles, burnout.

Throughout the process of development and maturity, every child reaches specific stages in various age groups. In this respect, several thinkers, such as Vysgotsky and Piaget, share the idea that a child’s growth is accompanied by phases, each with its own peculiar and significant aspects, such as physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual, which are important for their integral formation.

The influence of the act of playing on a child’s development is indispensable for the formation of a person’s character and personality; in addition, the act of playing can incorporate moral and cultural values and a series of aspects that help shape their lives, as children and as adults. By playing, children can activate their thoughts to solve problems that are important and meaningful to them, and the way they play reveals their inner world, allowing them to learn by doing, thus achieving meaningful learning.

Thus, the child’s development is the result of the interaction between natural and stimulated learning, which occurs through the experience acquired in the environment and the child’s own capacity, in which each one has their own rhythm and individual capacity.