The Importance of Make-Believe Play

Vygotsky’s Theory: The Importance of Make-Believe Play
Author(s): Laura E. Berk
Source: Young Children, Vol. 50, No. 1 (NOVEMBER 1994), pp. 30-38
Published by: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
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Research in Review Vygotsky’s Theory: The Importance of Laura E. Berk In ment, only most minimally. theories the social of Rather and cognition the than cognitive and being cognitive truly make joined develop- contact and ment, the social and the cognitive make contact only minimally. Rather than being truly and interactive, they are viewed as separate domains of functioning. At best, the social world is a surrounding context for cognitive activity, not an integral part of it. Early childhood educators have a long tradition of re- garding what the young child knows as personally rather than socially constructed – a tradition that follows from the massive contributions of Piaget’s cognitive-develop- mental theory to our field. The ideas of the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who early in this century forged an inno- vative theory granting great importance to social and cultural experience in development, have gained in- creasing visibility over the past decade. In Vygotsky’s ([1933] 1978) sociocultural theory, the “mind extends beyond the skin” and is inseparably joined with other minds (Wertsch 1991, p. 90). Social experience shapes the ways of thinking and interpreting the world available to individuals. And language plays a crucial role in a socially formed mind because it is our primary avenue of communication and mental contact with others, it serves as the major means by which social experience is represented psychologically, and it is an indispensable tool for thought (Vygotsky [1934] 1987). A basic premise of Vygotsky’s theory is that all uniquely human, higher forms of mental activity are jointly constructed and trans- ferred to children through dialogues with other people. Vygotsky’s ideas are stimulating a host of new ways to educate young children that emphasize opportunities for discussion and joint problem solving. A central Vygotskian concept that has played a formative role in these efforts is the zone of proximal development, which refers to a range of tasks that the child cannot yet handle alone but can accomplish with the help of adults Laura E. Berk is professor of psychology at Illinois State University. Her research interests include Vygotsky’s theory on children ‘s private, or self-directed, speech and applica- tions of Vygotsky’s ideas to education. She has been NAEYC’s Research in Review editor for the past three years. and more skilled peers. As children engage in coopera- tive dialogues with more mature partners, they internal- ize the language of these interactions and use it to organize their independent efforts in the same way (Berk 1992). According to sociocultural theory, support- ive guidance from adults that creates a scaffold for children’s learning is essential for their cognitive devel- opment. Such communication sensitively adjusts to children’s momentary progress, offering the necessary assistance for mastery while prompting children to take over more responsibility for the task as their skill in- creases (Wood & Middleton 1975; Wood 1989). Further- more, cooperative learning – in which small groups of peers at varying levels of competence share responsibil- ity and resolve differences of opinion as they work toward a common goal – also fosters cognitive maturity (Forman 1987; Tudge 1992). The vast literature on children’s play reveals that its contributions to child development can be looked at from diverse vantage points. These Vygotskian ideas about teaching and learning have largely been implemented in academically relevant early childhood contexts, such as literacy, mathematics, and science (Moll 1990; Forman, Minick, & Stone 1993); but a close look at Vygotsky’s writings reveals that they recur as major themes in his view of play. Although Vygotsky’s works contain only a brief 12-page statement about play, his discussion is provocative, innovative, and ahead of his time. In accord with his emphasis on social experience and language as vital forces in cogni- tive development, Vygotsky ([1933] 1978) emphasized representational play – the make-believe that blossoms during the preschool years and evolves into the games with rules that dominate middle childhood. Vygotsky 30 Young Children • November 1994This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
Social and cultural experience are very important in develop- ment. Children learn a lot through the social activity we call play , where communication – the sharing of information and ideas – abounds . This is especially true if children are of differ- ent backgrounds and ages . Of course children learn a lot through discussions and conversations with adults , too . -a c Ctí X <v < Cl >> u c ctí Z o accorded fantasy play a prominent place in his theory, granting it the status of a “leading factor in develop- ment” (p. 101), as the following frequently quoted re- marks reveal: Play creates a zone of proximal development in the child. In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development, (p. 102) As we discuss Vygotsky’s theory and the research stimulated by it, we will see that he situated play squarely within a sociocultural context. Adults and peers scaffold young children’s play, nurturing the transition to make-believe and its elaboration throughout the pre- school years. Representational play serves as a unique, broadly influential zone of proximal development within which children advance themselves to ever- higher levels of psychological functioning. Conse- quently, Vygotsky’s theory has much to say to teachers about the importance of promoting make- believe in preschool and child care programs. Development and signifìcance of make-believe play Vygotsky began his consideration of the impor- tance of play by suggesting that if we can identify its defining features, we can gain insight into its functions in development. To isolate the distinc- tiveness of play, Vygotsky explored characteristics regarded by other theorists as central to playful activity and found them wanting. For example, the common assumption that play is pleasurable activ- ity is not specific to play. Many other experiences, such as eating a favorite treat, being granted the undivided attention of a parent, or listening to an exciting story, are at least as gratifying and some- times more so than is play. Furthermore, certain playful experiences – games that can be won or lost – are not pure fun for the child when they result in disappointing outcomes. A second way of understanding play is to high- light its symbolic features, as Piaget ([1945] 1951) did in his characterization of make-believe as a means through which children practice repre- sentational schemes. Yet symbolism is another feature that is not exclusive to play. Both Piaget and Vygotsky noted that it also characterizes language, artistic, and literacy activities during the preschool years. Vygotsky concluded that play has two critical features that, when combined, describe its uniqueness and shed light on its role in develop- ment. First, all representational play creates an imaginary situation that permits the child to grapple with unrealizable desires. Vygotsky pointed out that fantasy play first appears at a time when children must learn to postpone grati- fication of impulses and accept the fact that certain desires will remain unsatisfied. During the second year, caregivers begin to insist that toddlers delay gratifica- tion (e.g., wait for a turn) and acquire socially approved behaviors involving safety, respect for property, self- care (e.g., washing hands), and everyday routines (e.g., putting toys away) (Gralinski & Kopp 1993). The creation of an imaginary situation in play, how- ever, has often been assumed to be a way in which children attain immediate fulfillment of desires not sat- isfied in real life. Vygotsky pointed out that this com- monly held belief is not correct. A second feature of all representational play is that it contains rules for behav- ior that children must follow to successfully act out the play scene. Games that appear in the late preschool period and flourish during the school years are clearly Young Children • November 1994 31This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
Vygotsky concluded that play has two critical features that , when combined , describe its uniqueness and shed light on its role in development . First, all representational play creates an imaginary situation that permits the child to grapple with unrealizable desires . Games that appear in the late preschool period and ñourish during the school years are clearly rule based . Even the simplest imaginative situations created by very young children proceed in accord with social rules , although the rules are not laid down in advance , A second feature of all representational play is that it contains rules for behavior that children must follow to successfully act out the play scene. 0) -a c a3 X CD < CL >> u G CS Z © rule based. Even the simplest imaginative situations created by very young children proceed in accord with social rules, although the rules are not laid down in advance. For example, a child pretending to go to sleep follows the rules of bedtime behavior. Another child, imagining himself to be a father and a doll to be a child, conforms to the rules of parental behavior. Yet a third child playing astronaut observes the rules of shuttle launch and space walk. Vygotsky ([1933] 1978) con- cluded, “Whenever there is an imaginary situation, there are rules” (p. 95). A child cannot behave in an imaginary situation without rules. These attributes of play – an imaginary situation gov- erned by rules – provide the key to its role in develop- ment. According to Vygotsky, play supports the emer- gence of two complementary capacities: (a) the ability to separate thought from actions and objects, and (b) the capacity to renounce impulsive action in favor of deliberate, self-regulatory activity. Separating thought from actions and objects In creating an imaginary situation, children learn to act not just in response to external stimuli but also in accord with internal ideas. Infants and very young chil- dren, Vygotsky ([1933] 1978) for distinguishing the meaning “baby” from a real baby. This adjustment in thinking occurs because children change the substitute object’s real meaning when they behave toward it in a pretend fashion. Vygotsky emphasized that young children have diffi- culty severing thinking – or the meaning of words – from objects; they do so only gradually. Indeed, such re- search reveals that object substitutions become more flexible as children get older. In early pretense, toddlers use only realistic objects – for example, a toy telephone to talk into or a cup to drink from. Around age 2, children use less realistic toys, such as a block for a telephone receiver. Sometime during the third year, children can imagine objects and events without any direct support from the real world, as when they say to a play partner, “I’m calling Susie on the phone!” while pretending to dial with their hands or without acting out the event at all. By this time, a play symbol no longer has to resemble the object or behavior for which it stands (Bretherton et al. 1984; Corrigan 1987). According to Vygotsky ([1930] 1990), in helping chil- dren separate meaning from objects, the pretending of early childhood serves as vital preparation for the much later development of abstract thought, in which sym- bols are manipulated and propositions evaluated with- explained, are reactive be- ings; momentary perceptions trigger their behavior. A baby who sees an attractive toy grabs for it without delay. A toddler runs after a ball that has rolled into the street without considering conse- quences. “[I]n play, things lose their determining force. The child sees one thing but acts differently in relation to what he sees. Thus , a condition is reached in which the child be- gins to act independently of what he sees ” (p. 97). Just how does imaginative play help children separate thought from the surround- ing world and rely on ideas to guide behavior? According to Vygotsky, the object substi- tutions that characterize make-believe are crucial in this process. When children use a stick to represent a horse or a folded blanket to represent a sleeping baby, their relation to reality is dra- matically changed. The stick becomes a pivot for separat- ing the meaning “horse” from a real horse; similarly, the blanket becomes a pivot 32 Young Children • November 1994This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
Psychoanalytic theorists have highlighted the emotionally integrative function of pretense, pointing out that anxiety-provoking events – such as a visit to the doctor’s office or discipline by a parent – are likely to be revisited in the young child’s play but with roles reversed so that the child is in command and compensates for unpleasant experiences in real life. out referring to the real world. And in detaching mean- ing from behavior, make-believe also helps teach children to choose deliberately from among alternative courses of action. This capacity to think in a planful, self-regulatory fashion is also strengthened by the rule-based nature of play, as we will see in the following section. Renouncing impulsive action Vygotsky pointed out that the imaginative play of children contains an interesting paradox. In play, chil- dren do what they most feel like doing, and to an outside observer, the play of preschoolers appears free and spontaneous. Nevertheless, play constantly demands that children act against their immediate impulses be- cause they must subject themselves to the rules of the make-believe context or the game they have chosen to play. According to Vygotsky ([1933] 1978), free play is not really “free”; instead, it requires self-restraint – willingly following social rules. As a result, in play the young child displays many capacities that “will become her basic level of real action and morality” in the future (p. 100). By enacting rules in make-believe, children come to better understand social norms and expecta- tions and strive to behave in ways that uphold them. For example, a child occupying the role of parent in a household scene starts to become dimly aware of paren- tal responsibilities in real situations and gains insight into the rule-governed nature of the parent-child rela- tionship (Haight & Miller 1993). When we look at the development of play from early to middle childhood, the most obvious way in which it changes is that it increasingly emphasizes rules. The greater stress on the rule-oriented aspect of play over time means that children gradually become more con- scious of the goals of their play activities. Vygotsky ([1933] 1978) summarized, “The development from games with an overt imaginary situation and covert rules to games with overt rules and a covert imaginary situation outlines the evolution of children’s play” (p. 96). From this perspective, the fantasy play of the pre- school years is essential for further development of play in middle childhood – specifically, for movement toward game play, which provides additional instruction in setting goals, regulating one’s behavior in pursuit of those goals, and subordinating action to rules rather than to impulse – in short, for becoming a cooperative and productive mem- ber of society. Play, in Vygotsky’s theory, is the preemi- nent educational activity of early childhood. Impact of imaginative play on development Was Vygotsky correct in stating that make-believe serves as a zone of proximal development, supporting the emergence and refinement of a wide variety of competencies? A careful examination of his theory re- veals that the benefits of play are complex and indirect; they may take years to be realized (Nicolopoulou 1991). Still, considerable support exists for Vygotsky’s view that play contributes to the development of a diverse array of capacities in the young child. Sociodramatic play, the coordinated and reciprocal make-believe with peers that emerges around age 2 V¿ and increases rapidly until age 4 to 5, has been studied thoroughly. Compared to social nonpretend activities (such as drawing or putting together puzzles), during social pretend activities, preschoolers’ interactions last longer, show more involvement, draw larger numbers of children into the activity, and are more cooperative (Connolly, Doyle, & Reznick 1988). When we consider these findings from the standpoint of Vygotsky’s empha- sis on the social origins of cognition, it is not surprising that preschoolers who spend more time at sociodramatic play are advanced in general intellectual development and show an enhanced ability to understand the feelings of others. They are also seen as more socially compe- tent by their teachers (Burns & Brainerd 1979; Connolly & Doyle 1984). Piaget underscored the opportunities that make-believe affords for exercising symbolic schemes. A growing body of research reveals that make-believe play strengthens a variety of specific mental abilities. For example, it promotes memory. In a study in which 4- and 5-year-olds were asked either to remember a set of toys or to play with them, the play condition produced far better recall. Rather than just naming or touching the objects (strategies applied in the “remember” condi- tion), children who played with the toys engaged in many spontaneous organizations and uses of the materi- als that enabled them to memorize effortlessly (Newman 1990). In this way, play may provide a vital foundation for more sophisticated memory strategies mastered dur- ing middle childhood that depend on establishing mean- Young Children • November 1994 33This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
ingful relationships among to-be-remembered informa- tion. Other research confirms that opportunities to en- gage in fantasy play promote children’s storytelling and story memory (Saltz, Dixon, & Johnson 1977; Pellegrini & Galda 1982). Language is also greatly enriched by play experiences. As children engage in play talk, they often correct one another’s errors, either directly or by demonstrating acceptable ways to speak. For example, in enacting a telephone conversation, one kindergartner said, “Hello, come to my house please.” Her play partner quickly countered with appropriate telephone greeting behav- ior: “No, first you’ve get to say ‘what are you doing?”‘ (Ervin-Tripp 1991, p. 90). Vocabulary expands during make-believe as children introduce new words they have heard during recent experiences. One 4-year-old playing nurse remarked to an agemate, “I’m going to give you a temperature” (p. 90). Although her first use of the term was not correct, active experimentation increases the chances that she will notice more about the context in which “temperature” is applied and move toward correct usage. Furthermore, the linguistic skills required to express different points of view, resolve disputes, and persuade peers to collaborate in play are numerous. Play offers an arena in which all facets of conversational dialogue can be extended. Make-believe also fosters young children’s ability to reason about impossible or absurd situations – a finding highly consistent with Vygotsky’s emphasis that fantasy play assists çhildren in separating meanings from the objects for which they stand. A repeated finding in the cognitive development literature is that through much of early and middle childhood, thinking is tied to the here and now – to concrete reality; but under certain conditions, young children attain a “theoretical” mode of reasoning. Consider the following syllogism: All cats bark. Rex is a cat. Does Rex bark? Researchers had a group of 4- to 6- year-olds act out problems like this with toys. A second group of children were told that the events were taking place on a pretend planet rather than on Earth. A control group merely listened and answered the ques- tion. Children in the two “play” conditions gave more theoretical than factual responses and were also able to justify their answers with theoretical ideas – for example, “In the story, cats bark, so we can pretend they bark” (Dias & Harris 1988, 1990). Entering the pretend mode seems to enable children to reason with contrary facts as if they were true – findings that provide striking veri- fication of Vygotsky’s ([1933] 1978) assumption that in play, the child is well “beyond his average age, above his daily behavior” (p. 102). Finally, young children who especially enjoy pretend- ing or who are given encouragement to engage in fantasy play score higher on tests of imagination and creativity. When children use play objects in novel ways, the objects seem to stimulate the discovery of new relationships and enhance children’s ability to think flexibly and inventively (Dansky 1980; Pepler & Ross 1981). In sum, fantasy play contributes to social maturity and the construction of diverse aspects of cognition. For people who have questioned whether play activities, so indigenous and absorbing to children, must be curbed in favor of more “productive” activities or whether play constitutes a powerful zone of proximal development, the findings just reviewed clearly grant play a legitimate and fruitful place in children’s lives. Scaffolding children’s make-believe play The Piagetian view, dominant for the past three de- cades, claims that make-believe emerges spontaneously when children become capable of representational thought. Piaget and his followers assumed that children lack the cognitive competencies to share play symbols with others – both adults and peers – until well into the preschool period (e.g., Fein 1981). Not until recently have researchers seriously addressed the social context of children’s play experiences. Their findings challenge the notion that fantasy play is an unprompted phenomenon arising solely from tendencies within the child. Instead, new evidence suggests that make-believe, like other higher mental functions, is the product of social collaboration. Âdult-child play Twenty-four-month-old Elizabeth is being carried upstairs for a diaper change by her mother. Elizabeth: My going Sherman Dairy. (Sherman Dairy is the family’s favorite dessert restaurant.) Mother: You’re going to Sherman Dairy? Elizabeth : Yeah. Mother : Is Andrew the cook? (Andrew is a 4-year-old friend who is playing with Elizabeth’s sister.) Elizabeth: Yep. (Pause) My cook. Mother : (Putting Elizabeth on the changing table and begin- ning to change her) You’re the cook? You can cook with your dishes, right? Do you have some pots and pans? Elizabeth: Yep. (Adapted from Haight & Miller 1993, p. 46) In the play sequence above, 2-year-old Elizabeth ini- tiates a make-believe scenario in which a trip upstairs for a diaper change is transformed into a journey to buy All theorists recognize that pretense permits children to become familiar with social role possibilities in their culture, providing important insights into the link between self and wider society. 34 Young Children • November 1994This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
The fantasy play of the preschool years is essential for further development of play in middle childhood – specifically, for movement toward game play, which provides additional instruction in setting goals, regulating one’s behavior in pursuit of those goals, and subordinating action to rules rather than to impulse – in short, for becoming a cooperative and productive member of society. Play, in Vygotsky’s theory, is the preeminent educational activity of early childhood . Oí) G 3 S cö Z “>> cu -C o © ice cream. Her mother en- courages her to expand the imaginative theme and act it out with toys. The play epi- sode is elaborated and sus- tained as her mother asks questions that help Elizabeth clarify her intentions and think of new ideas. Vygotskian-based research on play emphasizes that make-believe is, from its be- ginnings, a social activity (El’konin 1966; Garvey 1990). In Western industrialized so- cieties, play first appears be- tween caregivers and chil- dren; children initially learn pretense and games under the supportive guidance of experts. From these interac- tions, children acquire the communicative conventions, social skills, and representa- tional capacities that permit them to carry out make-believe on their own. In the most extensive study of caregiver scaffolding of make-believe, Haight and Miller (1993) followed the de- velopment of pretend play at home of nine middle-class children between 1 and 4 years of age. Social make-believe was common across the entire age span, consuming from 68 to 75% of children’s total pretend time. Furthermore, mothers were the children’s principal play partners until 3 years of age. By age 4, children played approximately the same amount with their mothers as they did with other chil- dren (siblings and peers). Children’s pretending with mothers, however, was not caused by a lack of child playmates at the youngest ages. Several investigations reveal that 1- and 2-year-olds who have fairly continuous access to other children prefer to play with their mothers (Dunn & Dale 1984; Miller & Garvey 1984). These findings confirm the Vygotskian view that play with caregivers gradually gives way to play with peers as children’s com- petence increases. Further evidence that caregivers teach toddlers to pretend stems from Haight and Miller’s observation that at 12 months, make-believe was fairly one sided; almost all play episodes were initiated by mothers. From age 2 on, when pretending was better established, mothers and children displayed mutual interest in getting make- believe started; half of pretend episodes were initiated by each. At all ages, mothers typically followed the child’s lead and elaborated on the child’s contribution. Thus, although pretense was first introduced to 12- month-olds by their mothers, it quickly became a joint activity in which both partners participated actively in an imaginative dialogue and in which the adult gradually released responsibility to the child for creating and guiding the fantasy theme. Children’s object substitutions during make-believe are also largely traceable to episodes in which their mothers showed them how to engage in object renaming or suggested a pretend action to the child (Smolucha 1992). By the time their children are 2 years old, moth- ers talk more about nonexistent fantasy objects, a change that may prompt children to widen the range of object substitutions in their play (Kavanaugh, Whittington, & Cerbone 1983). Furthermore, many par- ents and early childhood teachers surround children with toys designed to stimulate pretend themes. By offering an array of objects specialized for make-believe, caregivers communicate to children that pretense is a valued activity and maximize opportunities to collabo- rate with them in integrating props into fantasy scenes. Consequences of supportive caregiver-child play In their longitudinal study, Haight and Miller (1993) carefully examined the play themes of mother-child pretense and found that it appeared to serve a variety of functions, including communicating feelings, expressing and working through conflicts, enlivening daily rou- tines, and teaching lessons. These diverse social uses of caregiver-child play suggest that adult support and Young Children • November 1994 35This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
Vygotsky’s special emphasis on the imaginative and rule-based nature of play adds an additional perspective to the viewpoints just mentioned – one that highlights the critical role of make-believe in developing reflective thoughts, as well as self-regulatory and socially cooperative behavior. expansion of preschoolers’ make-believe should facilitate all the developmental outcomes of play already discussed, although as yet, no systematic research on the topic exists. Accumulating evidence does show that children’s make- believe play with their mothers is more sustained and complex than is their solitary make-believe play. One- to 3- year-olds engage in more than twice as much make-believe while playing with mothers than while playing alone. In addition, caregiver support leads early make-believe to include more elaborate themes (Dunn & Wooding 1977; O’Connell & Bretherton 1984; Zukow 1986; Slade 1987; Fiese 1990; Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein 1991; Haight & Miller 1993; O’Reilly & Bornstein 1993). In line with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, very young children, for whom make-believe is just emerging, act more competently when playing with a mature partner than they otherwise would. In Haight and Miller’s study, suggestive evidence emerged that mother-child play promotes effective child-child play. Children whose moth- ers ranked high in pretending when their children were 1 year old ranked high in peer play at 4 years. And children of the most enthusiastic and imaginative parents were among the most highly skilled preschool pretenders. Critical features of adult-child play Although mother-child play has been granted consider- able research attention, a search of the literature revealed no studies of teachers’ participation in young children’s play. Yet evidence on the effect of adult-child play sug- gests that it is vital for teachers in preschool and child care programs to engage in joint play with children. Teachers’ effective playful involvement with children requires early childhood environments that are devel- opmentally appropriate. Especially important are gener- ous adult-child ratios, a stable staff that relates to children sensitively and responsively, and settings that are richly equipped to offer varied opportunities for make-believe. These factors are critical because they ensure that teachers have the necessary time, rapport, and play props to encourage children’s imaginative contributions and to scaffold them toward social pre- tend play with peers. At the same time, adults walk a fine line in making effective contributions to children’s pretense. The power of adult-child play to foster development is undermined by communication that is too overpowering or one sided. Fiese (1990) found that maternal questioning, instructing, and intrusiveness (initiating a new activity unrelated to the child’s current pattern of play) led to immature, simple exploratory play in young children. In contrast, turn taking and joint involvement in a shared activity resulted in high levels of pretense. Furthermore, adult intervention that recognizes children’s current level of cognitive competence and builds on it is most successful in involving children. Lucariello (1987) re- ported that when 24- to 29-month-olds were familiar with a play theme suggested by their mother, both partners displayed advanced levels of imaginative activ- ity and constructed the scenario together. When the theme was unfamiliar, the mother took nearly total responsibility for pretense. Promoting social pretend play with peers At preschool, Jason joins a group of children in the block area for a space shuttle launch. “That can be our control tower,” he suggests to Vance, pointing to a corner by a bookshelf. “Wait, I gotta get it all ready,” states Lynette, who is still arranging the astronauts (two dolls and a teddy bear) inside a circle of large blocks, which represent the rocket. “Countdown!” Jason announces, speaking into a small wooden block, his pretend walkie-talkie. “Five, six, two, four, one, blastoff!” responds Vance, com- mander of the control tower. Lynette makes one of the dolls push a pretend button and reports, “Brrm, brrm, they’re going up!” (Berk 1993, p. 311) When pretending with peers, children make use of the many competencies they acquire through their play with adults. Yet pretend play with peers must also be responsive and cooperative to result in satisfying play experiences and to serve as a zone of proximal develop- ment in which children advance their skills and under- standing. According to Göncü (1993), social play with peers requires intersubjectivity – a process whereby in- dividuals involved in the same activity who begin with different perspectives arrive at a shared understanding. In the play episode just described, the children achieve a high level of intersubjectivity as they coordinate sev- eral roles in an elaborate plot and respond in a smooth, complementary fashion to each other’s contributions. The importance of intersubjectivity for peer social play is suggested by the work of several major theorists. A basic premise of Vygotsky’s theory is that all uniquely human, higher forms of mental activity are jointly constructed and transferred to children through dialogues with other people. 36 Young Children • November 1994This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
Piaget ([1945] 1951) notes that for children to play together, they must collectively construct play symbols. Likewise, Vygotsky ([1933] 1978) claimed that in pre- tense with peers, children jointly develop rules that guide social activity. And Parten (1932) labeled the most advanced form of peer social participation cooperative play, in which children orient toward a common goal by negotiating plans, roles, and divisions of labor. Recent evidence indicates that intersubjectivity among peer partners increases substantially during the pre- school years, as the amount of time children devote to sociodramatic play rises. Between 3 and A-Vz years, chil- dren engage in more extensions and affirmations of their partners’ messages and fewer disagreements, assertions of their own opinions, and irrelevant statements during play (Göncü 1993). Interestingly, preschoolers have much more difficulty establishing a cooperative, shared framework in “closed-end” problem solving, in which they must orient toward a single correct solution to a task (Tudge & Rogoff 1987). Here again is an example of how children’s competence during play is advanced compared to other contexts. By middle childhood, the social skills mastered during sociodramatic activities generalize to nonplay activities. When we look at the features of harmonious child- child play, the relevance of warm, responsive adult communication for encouraging such play becomes even clearer. Even after sociodramatic play is well underway and adults have reduced their play involvement, teach- ers need to guide children toward effective relations with agemates. Observational evidence indicates that teachers rarely mediate peer interaction except when For teachers who have always made sure that play is a central feature of the early childhood curriculum, Vygotsky’s theory offers yet another justification for play’s prominent place in programs for young children. intense disagreements arise that threaten classroom order or children’s safety. When teachers do step in, they almost always use directive strategies, in which they tell children what to do or say (e.g., “Ask Daniel if you can have the fire truck next”) or solve the problem for them (e.g., “Jessica was playing with that toy first, so you can have a turn after her”) (File 1993, p. 352). A Vygotskian-based approach to facilitating peer in- teraction requires that teachers tailor their intervention to children’s current capacities and use techniques that help children regulate their own behavior. To imple- ment intervention in this way, teachers must acquire detailed knowledge of individual children’s social skills – the type of information teachers typically gather only for the cognitive domain. When intervening, they need to use a range of teaching strategies because (like cognitive development) the support that is appropriate for scaffolding social development varies from child to child and changes with age. At times the adult might model a skill or give the child examples of strategies (e.g., “You could tell Paul, ‘I want a turn'”). At other times, she might ask the child to engage in problem solving (“What could you do if you want a turn?”) (File 1993, p. 356). In each instance, the teacher selects a level of support that best matches the child’s abilities and momentary needs and then pulls back as the child acquires new social skills. Vygotsky’s ideas are stimulating a host of new ways to educate young children that emphasize opportunities for discussion and joint problem solving. Children can be socialized into sociodramatic play by a variety of expert partners. In a recent comparison of the make-believe play of American and Mexican siblings, Farver (1993) found that American 3-Vi- to 7-year-olds tended to rely on intrusive tactics; they more often instructed, directed, and rejected their younger sib- lings’ contributions. In contrast, Mexican children used more behaviors that gently facilitated – invitations to join, comments on the younger child’s actions, sugges- tions, and positive affect. In this respect, Mexican older siblings were similar to American mothers in their scaf- folding of play, a skill that appeared to be fostered by the Mexican culture’s assignment of caregiving respon- sibilities to older brothers and sisters. These findings suggest that multi-age groupings in early childhood programs offer additional opportunities to pro- mote make-believe and that older siblings from ethnic- minority families may be particularly adept at such scaf- folding – indeed, they may be as capable as adults! Because of their limited experience with the caregiving role and their more conflictual relationships with siblings, children from ethnic-majority families may need more assistance in learning how to play effectively with younger peers. In classrooms with a multicultural mix of children, children of ethnic minorities who are skilled at scaffolding can serve as models and scaffolders for agemates, showing them how to engage young children in pretense. Conclusion The vast literature on children’s play reveals that its contributions to child development can be looked at from diverse vantage points. Psychoanalytic theorists have highlighted the emotionally integrative function of pretense, pointing out that anxiety-provoking events – such as a visit to the doctor’s office or discipline by a parent – are likely to be revisited in the young child’s play but with roles reversed so that the child is in command and compensates for unpleasant experiences Young Children • November 1994 37This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to
in real life. Piaget underscored the opportunities that make-believe affords for exercising symbolic schemes. And all theorists recognize that pretense permits chil- dren to become familiar with social role possibilities in their culture, providing important insights into the link between self and wider society. Vygotsky’s special emphasis on the imaginative and rule-based nature of play adds an additional perspective to the viewpoints just mentioned – one that highlights the critical role of make-believe in developing reflective thought as well as self-regulatory and socially coopera- tive behavior. For teachers who have always made sure that play is a central feature of the early childhood curriculum, Vygotsky’s theory offers yet another justifi- cation for play’s prominent place in programs for young children. For other teachers whose concern with aca- demic progress has led them to neglect play, Vygotsky’s theory provides a convincing argument for change – a powerful account of why pretense is the ultimate activ- ity for nurturing early childhood capacities that are crucial for academic as well as later-life success. References Berk, L.E. 1992. Children’s private speech: An overview of theory and the status of research. In Private speech: From social interac- tion to self-regulation, eds. R.M. Diaz, &L.E. Berk. 17-53. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Berk, L.E. 1993. Infants, children, and adolescents. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Bretherton, I., B, O’Connell, C. Shore, & E. Bates. 1984. The effect of contextual variation on symbolic play: Development from 20 Have You Read These Articles? Blau, R., A. Zavitkovsky, & D. Zavitkovsky. 1989. Play is … . Young Children 45 (1): 30-31. Chenfeld, M.B. 1991. “Wanna play?” Young Children 46 (6): 4-6. Elkind, D. 1988. From our president. Play. Young Chil- dren 43 (5): 2. Myhre, S.M. 1993. Enhancing your dramatic-play area through the use of prop boxes. Young Children 48 (5): 6-11. Nourot, P.M., & J.L. Van Hoorn. 1991. Research in re- view. Symbolic play in preschool and primary settings. Young Children 46 (6): 40-50. Trawick-Smith, J. 1988. “Let’s say you’re the baby, OK?” Play leadership and following behavior of young chil- dren. Young Children 43 (5): 51-59. You may obtain copies of these or any other Young Children articles. • For articles from the past 5 years, contact the Institute for Scientific Information, 3501 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; phone 215-386-0100; fax 215- 386-6362. • For articles more than 5 years old, send $5, your address, and the title of the article to NAEYC’s Edito- rial Department. to 28 months. In Symbolic play and the development of social understanding, ed. I. Bretherton. 271-98. New York: Academic. Burns, S.M., & C.J. Brainerd. 1979. Effects of constructive and dramatic play on perspective taking in very young children. Developmental Psychology 15: 512-21. Connolly, J.A., & A.B. Doyle. 1984. Relations of social fantasy play to social competence in preschoolers. Developmental Psychol- ogy 20: 797-806. Connolly, J.A., A.B. Doyle, & E. Reznick. 1988. Social pretend play and social interaction in preschoolers. Journal of Applied Devel- opmental Psychology 9: 301-13. Corrigan, R. 1987. A developmental sequence of actor-object pre- tend play in young children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 33: 87-106. Dansky, J.L. 1980. Make-believe: A mediator of the relationship between play and associative fluency. Child Development 51: 576-79. Dias, M. G., & P.L. Harris. 1988. The effect of make-believe play on deductive reasoning. British Journal of Developmental Psychol- ogy 6: 207-21. Dias, M. G., & P.L. Harris. 1990. The influence of the imagination of reasoning by young children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 8: 305-18. Dunn, J., & N. Dale. 1984. I a daddy: 2-year-olds’ collaboration in joint pretend with sibling and with mother. In Symbolic play, ed. I. Bretherton. 131-58. New York: Academic Press. Dunn, J., & C. Wooding. 1977. Play in the home and its implications for learning. In Biology of play, eds. B. Tizard, & D. Harvey. 45-58. London: Heinemann. El’konin, D. 1966. Symbolics and its functions in the play of children. Soviet Education 8: 35-41. Ervin-Tripp, S. 1991. Play in language development. In Play and the social context of development in early care and education, eds. B. Scales, M. Almy, A. Nicolopoulou, & S. Ervin-Tripp. 84-97. New York: Teachers College Press. Farver, J.M. 1993. Cultural differences in scaffolding pretend play: A comparison of American and Mexican mother-child and sibling-child pairs. In Parent-child play, ed. K. MacDonald. 349-66. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Fein, G. 1981. Pretend play: An integrative review. Child Develop- ment 52: 1095-118. Fiese, B. 1990. Playful relationships: A contextual analysis of mother-toddler interaction and symbolic play. Child Develop- mental : 1648-56. File, N. 1993. The teacher as guide of children’s competence with peers. Child & Youth Care Forum 22: 351-60. Forman, E.A. 1987. Learning through peer interaction: A Vygotskian perspective. Genetic Epistemologist 15: 6-15. horman, L.A., N. Minick, & L.A. Stone. 1993. Contexts tor learning. New York: Oxford University Press. Garvey, C. 1990. Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Göncü, A. 1993. Development of intersubjectivity in the dyadic play of preschoolers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 8: 99-1 16. Gralinski, J.H., & C.B. Kopp. 1993. Everyday rules for behavior: Mothers’ requests to young children. Developmental Psychology 29: 573-84. Haight, W.L., & P.J. Miller. 1993. Pretending at home: Early develop- ment in a sociocultural context. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Kavanaugh, R.D., S. Whittington, & M.J. Cerbone. 1983. Mothers’ use of fantasy in speech to young children. Journal of Child Language 10: 45-55. Lucariello, J. 1987. Spinning fantasy: Themes, structure, and the knowledge base. Child Development 58: 434-42. Miller, P., & C. Garvey. 1984. Mother-baby role play: Its origins in social support. In Symbolic play, ed. I. Bretherton. 101-30. New York: Academic. 38 Young Children • November 1994This content downloaded from on Thu, 06 Oct 2016 19:47:36 UTCAll use subject to

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