The Concept And Meaning Of Play In Early Childhood Education

All of us have experienced play and we all know how enjoyable it is. Those are the memories which each one of us cherish when we go back to our childhood. Isn’t it? The concept and meaning of play in early childhood education occupies a very significant place, as it prepares a child for many aspects of development while growing into an adult.

While this article will deal with the concept, importance, definition and meaning of play, the benefits of play will be covered in the next article.

In this article:

  1. The Concept and Importance of Play in Early Childhood Education
  2. Meaning of Play in Early Childhood Education
  3. Definition of Play in Early Childhood Education According to Experts
  4. Characteristics of Play in Early Childhood Education
  5. Play and United Nation’s Convention on The Rights of The Child 1989

The Concept and Importance of Play in Early Childhood Education

Have you ever thought about the concept of play? Play is an important and integral part of the life of any child. Play is a non-serious and self-contained activity engaged for the sheer satisfaction it brings to children. It helps children achieve mastery in certain skills and they learn to have control over their environment the environment.

The environment and play are important elements that support each other. Play has a significant role which helps in the holistic development of the child. For children, play is considered to be fun, which is enjoyable for its own sake and its own reward.

During play, children follow their own ideas and interests. Any activity which is done during the leisure time without any pressure from an outsider can be considered as playtime. Play in early childhood is a vital experience through which children learn social, conceptual and creative skills, as well as increase their knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

Play is highly motivating and complex. Although play is not the only way in which children learn, it is an essential part of their early development and learning.

Meaning of Play in Early Childhood Education

Play serves as a path for the child to develop their thinking and learning abilities, which lead to their holistic well-being. Every child has the right to play. Through play children choose to follow their own ideas and interest in their own way for their own reasons.

Play helps a child strengthen their bodies, expand their minds, and thereby influences many dimensions of development. A child learns a lot through play and to achieve this children need appropriate time period to get involved in play.

Play is considered as the most or even the only developmentally appropriate way for young children to learn.

According to Webster’s Dictionary of the English language, the word play has more than 30 different meanings. In terms of young children and play, the following definitions from popular dictionaries are useful:

  • Light brisk or changing movement
  • To act or imitate the part of a person
  • To employ a piece of equipment
  • Exercise or activity for amusement or recreation
  • Fun or just as opposed to seriousness
  • The action of a game

Also Read | 14 Crucial Benefits of Play in Early Childhood Development

Definition of Play in Early Childhood Education According to Experts

Let us look at how five highly prominent early childhood educationists and experts refer to and look at play in children.

Friedrich Froebel, the German educator who created the concept of Kindergarten refers to it as the natural unfolding of the terminal seeds of childhood.

Karl Groos, a German philosopher and psychologist defined it as an instinctive practice without serious intent of activities that will be essential later in life.

Dr. Pam Schiller, a freelance early childhood author and consultant, referred to play as an aimless expenditure of exuberant energy.

Jean Piaget referred to play as assimilation, or in other words, the child’s efforts to make environmental stimuli match his or her own concepts.

According to Sigmund Freud and Erik Erickson, play helps the child master anxieties and conflicts. This is because tensions are relieved through play and children can cope more effectively with life’s problems.

Play, in the real sense, is difficult to define. The broad category of activities that are covered by the term “Play” include a great variety of behaviors such as swinging, sliding, running, digging in the dirt, building with blocks, dancing to music, making up nonsense rhyming words, dressing up and pretending.

Play is often interpreted as the opposite of work, something that is done on the weekends during vacations or with children.

Therapists use play therapy both to allow the child to work off frustration and to analyze the child’s conflicts and ways of coping with them.

They claim that play was just for pleasure, which reminds them from the previously learned practices or activities, though it’s not necessarily been a result in learning new tasks. Play is also an important context for cognitive development.

Characteristics of Play in Early Childhood Education

Children are born to play. They learn about the world and themselves through the freedom to play. The characteristics of children’s play in early childhood are as follows:

  • It is self-chosen and self-directed
  • Exploration without care of what the end result will be
  • Imaginative and active
  • Is individually constructed
  • Communicative
  • Adventurous and risky
  • Involved
  • Enjoyable
  • Sociable and interactive
  • Meaningful
  • Therapeutic
  • Symbolic
  • Voluntary

Play is the ‘work’ of a child and thus it is an excellent setting for cognitive development.

Marcus Garvey, a civil rights activist from the Caribbean island of Jamaica defines play as an activity which is positively valued by the player, self-motivated, freely chosen, engaging and which has certain systemic relations to what is not play.

These characteristics are important for teachers to remember, because imposing adult values, requirements or motivations on children’s activities may change the very nature of play.

Play and United Nation’s Convention on The Rights of The Child 1989

As per UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, it’s the birthright of every child to “….. be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity”. But this right is sometimes violated by engaging the child’s time in child labor or other means in which the child’s time is exploited.

However, not a lot of children are fortunate enough towards play. In the present society, children are pressurized to pursue knowledge or a skill, which as per parents’ thoughts are more beneficial in securing their children’s future.

Because of this, the child loses the opportunity to develop the unique potential and factors that in turn will be helpful in the holistic development that happens through play.


By knowing the concept and meaning of play in early childhood education, it becomes important to remember that children are born with the drive and capacity to learn through play, especially through some of their natural attributes like curiosity, playfulness and sociability.

Whether you are a parent, teacher or a caregiver, the child’s ability to play can be enhanced and supported through participation of elders in their play, encouraging mistakes, building a playful space and trusting them.

Also Read | 11 Advantages of Play Way Method of Teaching during Early Childhood

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.