Childhood Development Through Play


Young infants are naturally vibrant, active and exploratory seeking to learn from their immediate environment through play. Children thus learn better through play, where they get curious; developing a sense of awe about their immediate environment from which they build meaning and understand realities. Early researchers such as Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky, Erikson and Freud, maintained convergent views that play in children are the foundation of developing their affective, cognitive and psycho-motive domains (Sokol, 2009). This essay’s arguments are constructed on the propositions of such scholars in her pursuit to understand children.

The essay deliberately conceals the actual name of the child under study to calls her name, Polly for the purpose of her privacy. The study aims to understand Polly based on her observable qualities and characteristics reciprocated during my weekly observation at her school. She is two and a half years old, of a white ethnic extraction studying; in her Nursery level.


Attachment Theory (Mary Ainsworth)

Bretherton (1992) defines attachment as the affectionate tie or bond between an infant and the attachment figure (caregiver or parents). Such relationships are reciprocated in this context by Polly and her mother, and between Polly and her appointed school keyworker; or with her peers. Mary Ainsworth expounded on Bowlby’s study and developed a framework to examining infants’ attachment to caregivers. Attachment theory postulates that infants are always side-lined to establish a close relationship at least to one primary caregiver, from who they derive emotional and social development (Cherry, 2012). This explains why Polly felt abandoned by the departure of her mother, during my visit. Observantly, I enthusiastically learned that Polly after her mother is gone would run to her appointed worker at school, where she seemed to draw solace and consolation from, and stopped crying. The early child caregivers play crucial role in the future emotional characteristics of a child. The caregivers should thus establish favourable platforms and emotional grounds which the children can learn from.

Development Psychology and Erikson Development Theory

During weeks 1,2,3,4,5 visitation periods, it was apparent that Polly could become clingy, and suck her fingers upon the face of discomforts. During the sixth week, Polly was listening to the story while inserting her fingers to the mouth and unconsciously starts sucking them. The keyworker worker noticed and asked her to take them off the mouth. I really felt amused by her loyalty. Polly was always active, and one could hardly find her relaxed. Children peculiarly perceive their immediate world far from how adults do. They according to Erikson regard inanimate things around them as animate objects with feelings. I was amused when her keyworker asked her who she taught was on her bag. She responded it was Kitty and went ahead saying “Hello Kitty”. Besides, she could embrace her Gruffalo toy with so much care so as not to hurt it; she treated the doll as a child with emotions and the ability to feel pain. Vygotsky was keen on the role of experiential learning development. His socio-cultural theory postulates that caregivers, parents, culture, and peers are crucial in shaping a child’s mental, social and behavioural capacities (Kozulin et al., 2003).

Observantly, I also realized little Polly was too self-centred. She behaved as if anything on disposal belonged to her. She was very selective on what she wanted whether to listen to a story, nurse her toy, or take her fingers to her mouth. Any obstruction to what she wanted to do made her cry. It was a fantastic observation. Erikson theorized that as infants develop, they go through crises or dilemmas at every developmental stage (Erikson, 1959). In her two and a half years, Polly is under a crisis which Erikson terms as “Autonomy vs. shame/doubt.” Polly is in the stage, according to Erikson where she is developing a healthy attitude towards getting to be autonomous and reactionary to the immediate environment. The child under this circumstance should be given freedom to express herself, and their independence boosted because through that they develop their autonomy instead of shame (Erikson, and Erikson, 1998).

Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory

This theory rests on thought-development processes whereby Piaget maintains that it is through the cognitive development that infants begin to comprehend their immediate environment. Jean Piaget developed the model to exemplify the development of children’s mental states; and how these thoughts impact the ability to understand and interact with the world (Piaget, 1976). Piaget constructed his theory based on four steps through which intellectual development is anchored. Contextually, Polly belongs to the second stage which Piaget terms as “Preoperational Stage” which is a constitution of children within two to six years(Fonagy, 2018). During weeks 1,2,3,6, I observed at lunchtime, Polly uses both her left hand and right hand in eating. Remarkably, she would hold her cup using the left hand with the right hand targeting the snack food. During playtime, I observed Polly turning the cooker knob with her right hand, she then again uses both hands to place toy pot in the oven she then closed the door with her left hand and turned the knob again. I felt thrilled and excited to observe all these done by a young girl! Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory suggests that kids under the preoperational age (where Polly belongs) cannot either synthesize mental information, understand actual logic and are unable to take other people’s point of views; which makes the egocentric and aggressive at times (Keen, 2011).

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The infant’s immediate environment does contribute a lot in his cognitive and emotionaldevelopment. Asdepicted in the essay, Children should be granted opportunity to manipulate their environment, and freely express themselves to gather confidence in their own doings. Adults should be there to watch over them and passively guide them (Bandura, 1978). At times, looking at Polly play left me laughing, especially when she would try to imitate her peers playing. It would at times take me a bit longer to compose myself from the loud chuckles and moments of fun she induced. Interacting with Polly was exciting!My experience with Polly emancipated and informed me how children behave and learn while linking to literature. Polly was such a practical representative of many other pupils who demonstrated similar traits.


  • Bandura, A., 1978. Social learning theory of aggression. Journal of Communication, 28(3), pp.12-29.
  • Bretherton, I., 1992. The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), p.759.
  • Cherry, K., 2012. Child development theories. Psychology. About. com. The New York Times.
  • Erikson, E., 1959. Theory of identity development. Psychological Issues: Identity and the Life Cycle, Monograph, 1, pp.1-8.
  • Erikson, E.H. and Erikson, J.M., 1998. The life cycle completed (extended version). WW Norton & Company.
  • Fonagy, P., 2018. Attachment theory and psychoanalysis. Routledge.
  • Keen, R., 2011. The development of problem solving in young children: A critical cognitive skill. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, pp.1-21.
  • Kozulin, A., Gindis, B., Ageyev, V.S. and Miller, S.M. Eds., 2003. Vygotsky's educational theory in cultural context. Cambridge University Press.
  • Piaget, J., 1976. Piaget’s theory. In Piaget and his school (pp. 11-23). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  • Sokol, J.T., 2009. Identity development throughout the lifetime: An examination of Eriksonian theory. Graduate Journal of CounsellingPsychology, 1(2), p.14.
  • Werner, H., 1948. Comparative psychology of mental development.

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