What Is Play?
In a preschool classroom, two four-year-old children pretend to go grocery shopping. One child methodically checks her grocery list and asks her friend what they need to buy. The other child places pretend groceries consisting of empty cans and boxes into his grocery sack. Once his sack is full, he asks his friend if she has any money in her purse to pay for the groceries. As she digs in her purse for the plastic coins and paper money, he approaches another child at the toy cash register to make his purchase.
As typical children grow and learn, they progress through stages of increasingly more complex levels of play. The above example illustrates a sophisticated level of play, where children pretend to be grocery shopping and take on the roles of shoppers, and employee. Jean Piaget, a well-known Swiss psychologist who extensively studied how children think, would have suggested that this example of play is reflective of the children's experiences and interactions with their environment. In his study of children and development, Piaget described play as a "child's work."
Holding views similar to Piaget's is Francis Wardle, an author and instructor at the University of Phoenix (Colorado), who defines play as "child-centered learning." Play then, is a natural, child-directed way for children to learn new concepts and to develop new skills that will provide the basis for success in future settings.