Background to the Study

Play enhances children’s development and is fundamental for every child’s acquisition of language skills (Ginsburg, 2006). It is a critical element of early childhood, curriculum and pedagogy development. In addition to being recognized as a vehicle for learning, play is described as a context in which children can demonstrate their own learning and help scaffold the learning of others (Woolkopf, 2004). According to the United Nation High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR 2006), play is so important to optimal child development.

Play benefits children’s language development through socially interactive and cognitive elements known to enhance language skills (Shonkoff and Philip, 2000). Maria Montessori (1940), noted that play is children’s work as it often mirror in aspects of lives through development of language skills. Children talk about having fun, mingling with friends and sequencing activities for sustained fulfillment through use of language. Language performance is the manner in which the learner comprehends, how a learner uses language, the extent of vocabulary use and how one is understood using language. Language learning involves both the receptive skills (listening and reading) and the productive skills (speaking and writing) (Woolkopf, 2004). Naturally, the receptive skills should be learnt first. In schools, learning to read becomes the most celebrated achievement in a child’s schoolin Play encourages Language growth through a curriculum that introduces interesting play objects, activities, experiences and concepts  as well as creating an indoor and outdoor environment that set up to invite groups of learners to work together. As children play, they manipulate, explore, experiment and develop language and reasoning skills while they acquire concept of the world around them. In the contemporary society, play has been undervalued in school because the goals of learning in these settings have been defined narrowly in terms of mastering a set of basic academic skills. In this regard, most readers find it difficult to incorporate play in and outside classroom.

Broncher and Joyes (2003), note that currently in the UK, the government has been taking keen interest in developing the standard of the children studying in pre-schools by providing relevant facilities and play materials that enhance holistic development of the learners (Aliza and Rahety 2011). They believe that children are playful by nature. Their earliest experiences of exploring with their senses leads them to play by themselves at first and then eventually with others. Available research in Western world shows that play materials tend to be differentiated according to gender. Play materials for girls are attractive and nurturing while materials for boys are aggressive and competitive based, (Betozzi, 2008).

In California, there is well-established consensus among early childhood professionals that play is an essential element of developmentally appropriate high quality early education program. National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2003). Play provide benefits for cognitive, social, emotional, physical and moral development for children from all socio-economic cultural & linguistic background (Josef, 2006).To provide these benefits, play must be consciously facilitated by skilled teachers who are well trained in observing children and in understanding how playcontributes to the children’s mastery of concepts and skills. The exploratory and creative activity that young children initiate themselves is the primary way they develop concepts and understanding about the world. In California, teachers use the power of developing ideas, interests and competencies to promote learning through play, circle time and small groups (Elkins, 2007). Children have many opportunities to apply and integrate all types of learning – physical, social, emotional, intellectual and language development.  Children engage in activities they are interested in so that they have a natural motivation to learn (Shonkoff and Philips, 2000). These oral narratives, capacity and oral language skills form the foundation for reading comprehension, the ability to produce coherent writing

In Malaysian context, the play-based approach has been emphasized in the pre-school curriculum and teachers are encouraged to adopt play-based activities in their teaching and learning process. Manstura (2008) reiterated that play focuses on children’s natural characteristics and that learning through play is the most appropriate approach in early childhood curriculum. Nonetheless, managing play-based activities is one of the most challenging tasks that teachers in Malaysia have to face. Studies have shown that many teachers never prioritize the use of play approach in their teaching instruction (Saayah, 2004). They do not possess skills in planning and organizing activities by identifying appropriate age to use materials and resources effectively during play activities, structuring environment to suit learners’ needs during play. In addition, constant pressure for academic achievement and lack of support from school administration has resulted in play-based approach being abandoned by many teachers.

In Ghana, ECE focuses on learning through play, which Jean Piaget posits that meets the physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social needs of children. Children learn more efficiently and gain knowledge through activities such as dramatic play and social games. It is important that teachers promote children development through play by various types of play on daily basis. In Ghana pre-schools, the key guidelines for creating a play-based learning environment include providing a safe space, correct supervision and culturally aware trained teachers who are knowledgeable about early years’ foundation. Learning through play has been seen regularly as the most versatile way a child can learn. According to Rudolf Steiner (1925), believed that play allows children to talk, socially interact, use their imagination and intellectual skills.

(Frobel, 1852) stated that play was a vehicle of child’s development, “the more the child plays the more the mind becomes” hence play helps children learn to solve problems in an environment that is supportive to this process. Play enhances children’s skills to ask questions and figure out how things work. Through these activities, children strengthen their language development when given the time and basic play materials that provide the child with a variety of valuable learning opportunities. In reading, children learn to hold a book properly and turn pages, understand that words convey messages through pictures and enjoy reading picture storybooks. Children’s play unlocks their creativity and imagination and develops reading; thinking and problem solving skills. When playing with children and adults, vocabulary and language skills are fostered.

Children will learn to use language to communicate meaning as well as picking up new words and hearing grammatical structure of the English language. Children’s symbolic play is cognitively valuable occupation because such play allows them to practice thskills required in later life. The ability to pretend at a young age is a sign of early competence in understanding mental status. Even though considerable research has explored play’s development potential in early years, play has been reduced or eliminated from some early childhood classrooms in Ghana. The press for academic readiness through direct teaching is now affecting the amount of time assigned for play in pre- school in Ghana (Gmitrova and Gmitrov, 2004).

Psychologists generally agree that the period below six years is critical in the development of human beings. Theories of intellectual development take place in stages and it therefore follows that certain concepts, skills and attitudes must be developed and nurtured at particular periods in a child, failure then the concepts can be stunted or missed completely. There is a growing concern among Kenyan pre-school education practioners on the current approach to ECE that emphasizes the academic component at the expense of other areas of child development. Over emphasis on cognitive development observed, goes against child development research findings that define quality and relevance  which caters for total development of the child (Kombo and Khalayi 2011).

In Nigeria the Ministry of Education syllabus intended for use in pre-schools places emphasis on the use of play and play materials by teachers during teaching and learning process (KICD, 2008). The schools should ensure that there is equal opportunity for girls, boys, and children with special needs in all aspects of play However; there is a lot of rot learning with more emphasis on academic achievement depriving the learner time to  play. Evidence is seen in schools that have perfected teaching over the weekends even to pre-schools yet what is done is within the confines of classrooms. The school policy requires the adoption of pre-school curricula that emphasize play and child initiated activities yet both parents and teachers who believe in academic achievement hinder this.

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