Benefit of symbolic play

Issuing time:2019-10-12 13:45

Benefits Of Symbolic Play

1. Symbolic Play And Language Development

This was the question addressed by Orr and Geva (2015). First, the researchers trained data collectors to make bi-weekly in-home visits to families with children 6 to 18 months of age.

Fifty objects were presented to the babies and their play behavior was videotaped for one hour. The objects differed in terms of size, shape, color, and texture.

The videos were later analyzed and coded according to: the type of symbolic play (e.g., single object action, or object sequence actions) and vocal output (e.g. babbling, one-word utterances). This classification scheme produced a total of 288 symbolic play scenes.

Analysis of the video recordings revealed that single-object play emerged at approximately 8 months of age, single-object sequences at 10 months, and multiple-object play and sequences at around 12 months. Babbling occurred at approximately 10 months and one-word utterances at around 12 months.

The results point to the importance of symbolic play in later linguistic development.

According to the researchers, “The key finding of this study is the primary role played by the initiation of single-object play in the long-term progression of all symbolic and audio-vocal milestones that arise thereafter” (p. 157).

2. Seeing From Other Perspectives

Role-playing is a form of symbolic play. It’s not only fun, but it can also help children develop perspective-taking skills, which is a component of empathy and emotional intelligence. For this reason, many teachers like to integrate role-playing activities into their students’ lessons.

For example, to help children understand the value of conservation and preserving animal habitats, a third-grade teacher has designed a clever role-playing activity.

First, she creates a mock jungle habitat in one corner of the classroom. Then she has several children play different roles in a play. The roles consist of: a mother tiger, two cubs, tourists, tour guide, hotel owner, and poacher.

The play involves two scenes. In scene one, the tiger and cubs play together as the tourists take photos. At the end of the scene, the tourists return to the hotel, pay for their room and dinner, and then go to bed. The hotel owner expresses gratitude.

In scene two, the poacher kidnaps the tigers and sells them to three different zoos. The tourists return to the habitat and see nothing, so they check out of the hotel and go home. The hotel owner looks quite sad.

The students run the play for a week, each time taking turns playing different roles. The next week, the teacher holds a class discussion wear students take turns wearing the hat for each role and talking about what happened from that character’s point of view.

3. Role-Playing, Batman, And Executive Function (EF)

Role-playing is a form of symbolic play and a common activity in kindergarten classrooms all over the world. Children love to pretend to be other characters by wearing hats and costumes that symbolize those characters and help them become fully immersed in the role.

Role-playing may also improve executive functioning (EF), which is defined as “cognitive processes that are required for the conscious, top-down control of action, thought, and emotions, and that are associated with neural systems involving the prefrontal cortex” (Müller &Liben, 2015, p. 271).

Veraksa et al. (2019) tested the hypothesis that role-playing could improve EF. They assigned 80 children, 5-6 years old, to play either a hero, a sage, a villain, or no character at all (control condition).

For boys, the hero was Batman, the sage was a wise sorcerer, and the villain was a well-known character in Russian culture. For girls, the heroine was a princess, the sage a wise sorceress, and the villain a well-known female villain. The kids wore costumes and accessories to help them become immersed in the character.

EF was measured the same way as in previous research and is considered a valid assessment.

The results showed that

“…children in the Sage and Control conditions showed significantly improved performance on [EF] tasks. Children who were asked to play protagonists and villains did not show any significant improvements in [EF]” (p. 12).

Although role-playing Batman did not improve EF, the authors suggest that the experience may have been too intense emotionally, which then disrupted EF.

4. Prosocial Behaviors

Vygotsky (2004) postulated that imaginary play, which incorporates symbolic play, informs the child about what is appropriate in real-life situations.

The lessons learned during play are transferred to reality. “This ability to transfer skills from the imaginary to the real world is supported by research….contributes to the development of an understanding of the social relations, thinking and emotional states of other people …” (Veraksa et al., 2019, p. 3).

Therefore, teachers often use role-playing to teach children about appropriate behavior in regards tohealthy habits or how to handle various social issues.

It can also be used to teach lessons about safety. Hence the play Crash, which depicts a scenario of two families going to the supermarket.

As one family enters their car, the parents are giving clear instructions for their children to “buckle-up,” while the kids remind their parents about“no texting or browsing the internet.”

As the other family enters their car, the scene is more chaotic. The kids don’t buckle-up and the parents are texting and making phone calls.

The two cars eventually cross paths and crash into each other. One family escapes with only slight bruises. The other family however, has serious injuries and need emergency care; enter the ambulance and hospital staff.

The goal is for the students to apply the lessons learned in the play to real life, and ultimately help their families practice safety habits.

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