Brief Notes on the Cognitive Theory of Play

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1. Lewis, Buytendijik and Piaget were the main supporters of this theory.

According to Lewis play reflects the child’s unstructured cognitive functioning. The young child cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. The manner in which he plays will therefore reflect his level of cognition and his internal state of mind, e.g., angry, shy, sad, etc.

Buytendijik postulates that the child’s internal infantile dynamics (cognitive and intellectual functioning) are primitive.

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Because of the child’s lack of cognitive coherence, play is virtually the only activity he is capable of.

Piaget suggests that cognitive development takes place as a result of the interaction between the child and the environment.

Piaget felt that play emerges in the sensor motor stage (0-2 years) during which the child practices basic sensor motor skills (blowing, sucking, grabbing, etc.). Play, like cognitive development, develops sequentially. In the 2-4 ages period preconception thought emerges.

The child at this stage is able to utilize objects symbolically. Intuitive thought (4-7 years) is marked by the child’s ability to perceive and to imagine.

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The child can form a more accurate representation of his environment during the concrete operations stage (7-11 years) and in the formal operations stage (11-15 years) his skills become socialized, refined and expanded.

Throughout these stages the child is developing cognitive schemes and adopting aspects of the environment that fit these schemes (assimilation).

In addition the child may revise or adapt his cognitive schemes to fit in with realities observed through interaction with his environment (accommodation). During this developmental process three types of play can be distinguished: practice play (sensor motor exercise), symbolic play (imagination and representation using symbols) and play with rules (development of moral concepts).

The crucial point made in respect of play has to do with the process of accommodation and assimilation.

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These processes indicate that throughout play the child is developing a concept of reality and is not merely imitating what is seen in the environment.

The child’s initial sensorimotoric play reactions contribute a basis to his future thought and reason.

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