human development

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  • Must learning precede play? Or can play be a source of learning?

Many of you will have been acquainted with Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory and the stages summarized in this chapter. Of particular interest are the characteristics apparent and limitations present in the ways this theory deals with the basic issues at hand for a developmental theory.

One of the interesting and often overlooked aspects of this theory, which is contested by other theorists is the notion that children cannot engage in activities that require development beyond their current level. For Piaget, development must precede activity. Indeed, Piaget believed that development could be seen in the limits that were apparent in children’s activities and play. In other words, if a child does not use a deck of cards to symbolize a phone in pretend play we might say that the child has not mastered symbolic representation. However, according to Piaget no extent of experience in activities or play beyond a child’s ability will help him/her to develop those cognitive abilities. (So don’t pretend play with kids until you see them pretending themselves because they don’t understand and it won’t help them.)

Other theorists have suggested that play and other activity may help children to develop cognitively. Indeed, this is a crucial part of Vygotsky’s theories of development, which suggest that the environments in which children develop will afford them different sorts of learning because they are introduced to different activities which will encourage different aspects of cognitive ability.

  • What are some implications of this? for research? for practice?
  • Can we teach through play, or through activity that is which is not previously understood?
  • If activity can only be used as a measure of cognitive ability but not a tool for advancing it how might that change assessment? How might this influence how we teach children?
  • What implications might this have for adult learning?
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