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Why Is It Important For Children To Play?

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For children, peer play is an activity that plays a big part in their development.

It is during the performance of such activities that essential and vital skills are learned and honed, ranging from making social connections, to other abilities such as cognitive, language and emotional ones.

Dr. Rebecca J. Bulotsky-Shearer, an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Miami (UM) College of Arts and Sciences, knows all too well that interactive play is very important for a child's growth. The research that she does focuses on social and emotional development in children, specifically children who live in poor conditions.

In the Miami-Dade community, a large number of families are categorized as low-income households from Hispanic or Latino backgrounds. Regarding this, there is a huge concern that children from low-income households are not quite ready to go to kindergarten.

To shift the negative impressions on latino children who are poor and the issue of them not being ready for kindergarten, Dr.Bulotsky-Shearer and her team focused on the strengths that these children were actually showing in preschool.

Children at Play

Researches conducted nationwide are suggesting that there is an achievement gap when children enter kindergarten, especially for those with ethnic minority backgrounds living in poverty, and many people view this from a negative perspective. A couple of studies being done by Dr. Bulotsky-Shearer and her team show that peer social competence is actually one of the strengths that young children display. She and her team wanted to show this strength in Latino kids that they work with in the Head Start Programs in Florida. One of the measures that Dr. Bulotsky-Shearer and her colleagues have been collecting is regarding children's play in school, which is quite important for boosting learning in preschool.

To check whether peer play was really important for the development of the Latino children involved in the Head Start Programs, the researchers used a tool called The Penn Interactive Peer Play Scale (PIPPS). This is a behavioral rating measure that is used for assessing and understanding peer play behavior. Three factors are being examined in the PIPPS: play interaction (which includes sharing, collaborative play, and encouragement); play disruption (including aggressive and antisocial behaviors); and play disconnection (which is withdrawal behavior while playing).

Using the PIPPS and observing the Latino children, the team was able to discover that the children display a high level of interactive peer play in positive learning environments. They also observed general behaviors of the children, and saw that they were quite engaged, motivated and social.

They also looked on how the three factors being measured in the PIPPS are related to two other sets of measures that are quite fundamental for children, with regards to being ready for going to kindergarten. The first measure is how children approach learning, and learning-related behaviors. The second is the direct assessment of a child's language, literacy and math skill. Both measures can actually help teachers assess their students better in the classroom, and can also help them make recommendations to the parents.