One of the many aspects of children’s development, that we observe and assess, is their ‘entry to play’ skills. In their 3rd and 4rd year, children usually display a repertoire of social skills which allow them to develop friendships, to enter and sustain their play experiences.
To a parent, this may seem of little significance, but for children’s continuing success, this is of vital importance.
I prepared the following for the team, to encourage some more thought about the importance of children’s ‘entry to play’ skills.
The Importance of ‘Entry to Play’ Skills
There is a tendency in Early Childhood Education to ‘let the children play’ without educator involvement. There are some good reasons for this, such as:
• providing children with opportunities to practice play and social skills
• allowing children space and time to develop play scripts that represent their own ideas
• allowing children to play and interact at their chosen level
• freedom from adult intervention and expectation.
As you will read below, there are some very important reasons to both monitor children’s play and to intervene strategically in their play. In a nutshell, the reasons that it is important to monitor children’s play are to assess the following:
• Children’s social development
• Children’s language development
• Children’s emotional development
• Children’s cognitive development
With this information, educators may assess that some children, if not all children, need some extra support in developing key skills. In this instance, we will explore social skills and acknowledge that social skills provide a gateway to the development of language, cognition and self-regulation.
Research tells us that:
• Assertive children who gave commands, both negatively and positively, and who argue during interactions with peers, receive more peer acceptance and are able to achieve their goals in social contexts (LaFreniere & Charlesworth, 1983).
• Popular and socially active young children enter play more easily than children who are withdrawn in group play situations
• Strong ‘entry to play’ behaviours (direct initiation strategies and contingent responses) are a strong indicator of children’s social acceptance and competence
• Successful achievement of one’s goals through interaction with a partner (i.e., effective peer functioning) is considered a good index of social competence with peers (Kemple et al., 1992).
• Social competence is assessed both by peers and adults. These unconscious and conscious assessments will affect the ways that these people perceive individuals and respond to them.
Therefore, intentionally teaching skills to enter play, increases the likelihood of social competence, peer acceptance, sophisticated play experience which enhance development across all areas.
Tools for Assessing Children’s ‘Entry to Play’ Skills
Children will already have strategies for socialising with others. They will either have a tendency towards ‘low risk’ skills or ‘high risk’ skills. ‘Low risk’ skills may gain them attention but are unlikely to gain them entrance to play or to sustain their participation in play. Including others in play also requires a range of social skills from ‘low risk’ to ‘high risk’.
Children’s low-risk tactics for entering play:
• Waiting to join in and/or hovering around an activity
• Interfering with the flow of the game, disrupting play
• Removing an important play prop
• Hitting others to gain attention
Children’s low risk strategies for inclusion of others
• “Bossy” and controlling behaviours
• Actively stopping others from joining the game
• Using violence to assert their power
• Leaving the game when others are not compliant to their wishes
Children who can draw on ‘high risk’ social skills have a broader repertoire of behaviour and tend to have a higher participation rate in meaningful friendships and play experiences. They also tend to employ a broader range of skills in including others in their play.
Children’s High-risk tactics for entering play
• Subtly mirroring/mimicking others’ actions
• Making group-oriented statements
• Recognizing relevant behaviours related to the group members’ play and understanding the relevance of these behaviours
• Participating in negotiation and showing agreement
• Giving relevant information
Children’s High risk strategies for inclusive play
• Social competent children tend to be effective in their initiation attempts and also sensitive to peers’ initiations.
• Social competent children accept rather than reject peers’ initiations,
• Social competent children make contingent responses to a peer’s preceding initiation,
• Social competent children give an alternative idea when they reject a peer’s initiation (Kemple et al., 1992).
Supporting ‘Entry to Play’ Skills Development – Educator Strategies
Monitoring children’s play is essential in the assessment of all areas of development and the acknowledgement of children’s interests and learning dispositions. Monitoring children’s play will also provide the information needed to assess which children need support (‘entry to play’) and specific skills to focus on.
Strategies that support children’s ‘entry to play’ skills:
• Facilitating play with younger children (Kemple, 1992).
• Pairing a child or a small group of children who have demonstrated acceptance to others in a carefully arranged situation, such as play that involves a shared space (e.g., a small tent, a big box, or a play house), also increases confidence with peers.
Teachers can increase children’s pretend play by:
1) providing play themes and suitable materials
2) encouraging children to join in and adopt specific play behaviours,
3) assuming a role and actively joining in the children’s play 4) modelling the target play behaviours (Saltz, Dixon, & Johnson).
Positive affection between peers strongly correlates with sociability with peers in subsequent years. Positive affection toward peers is expressed through:
smiling, hugging, comforting,
Sharing, and helping.
Teaching alternative behaviours to aggressiveness, such as:
Reading others’ emotional cues and using negotiation skills
Facilitating small-group or one-to-one peer play interaction for withdrawn children
Modelling the use of entry behaviours, communication skills, and complex pretend play
Creating environments that support interaction with younger children and complex pretend play
Developing classroom rules that help reduce experiences of rejection, such as “everyone can play this game” (Paley, 1992, p. 36).
Heidemann, S., Hewitt, D. (2002) Play: The Pathway from Theory to Practice, St. Pau: Redleaf Press
Kemple, K. M. (1992). Understanding and facilitating preschool children’s peer acceptance (Report No. EDO-PS-925). East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 345866)
Kemple, K., Speranza, H., & Hazen, N. (1992). Cohesive discourse and peer acceptance: Longitudinal relations in the preschool years. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 38, 364-381.
LaFreniere, P. J., & Charlesworth, W. R. (1983). Dominance, attention, and affiliation in a preschool group: A nine-month longitudinal study. Ethology & Sociobiology, 4, 55-67.
Putallaz, M., & Gottman, J. M. (1981). Social skills and group acceptance. In S. R. Asher & J. M. Gottman (Eds.), The development of children’s friendships (pp. 116-149). Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press.
Saltz, E., Dixon, D., & Johnson, J. (1977). Training disadvantaged preschoolers on various fantasy activities: Effects on cognitive functioning and impulse control. Child Development, 48, 367-380.