Physical Literacy and Play
Play presents a key means of “learning about the world” available to children. Piaget, the famous child psychologist, was very interested in these dynamic aspects of children’s play which he saw “as a biological model of interaction between child and environment”. In other words, children are able to learn about themselves and subsequently the world through hands-on interactions which researchers, educators and grown-ups call play.
During play, objects act as mediating elements between children and their surroundings because they connect the two. Garvey describes the role of objects: “They provide a means by which a child can represent or express his feelings, concerns, or preoccupying interests. Further, for the child an unfamiliar object tends to set up a chain of exploration, familiarization, and eventual understanding: an often-repeated sequence that will eventually lead to more mature conceptions of the properties (shape, texture, size) of the physical world”
Engaging objects is one of the outwardly visible signs that play is necessarily a physical and tactile experience. Froebel developed a series of “gifts” which were designed as objects that young children could manipulate in order to learn. These “manipulatives” have evolved into a mainstay of the preschool environment. In the playground, physical play and the manipulation of objects can be brought together in an especially engaging way through more full-body play patterns.
Different types of physical play dominate at various developmental stages, but they are all beneficial to children’s general development according to Pellegrini and Smith who have extensively studied the benefits of physical play. The benefits of play are related to the interconnected nature of different play styles. Large-motion physical play has a series of benefits that exceed physical health.
There are social, cognitive and different aspects of physical skills which are supported and enhanced through self-directed, full-body physical play. Many children experience this type of play in the playground. Over the short term and the long term, the relationship between children and their surroundings changes and so does their ability to interact with objects inside their environment. Hutt asks two questions which are constantly being (unconsciously) asked in play “what does this object do” and “what can I do with this object”. The environment’s role also changes over time as it is a “living, changing system” which allows children to grow.