Why Is Play with Siblings and Peers Important for Children’s Development?

Why is play with siblings and peers important for children’s development? For some time play has been considered a vital activity for children in enabling them to develop and practice real social skills in a safe setting. Whilst interactions with adults can be very important it is often, due to the nature of the relationship, when children interact with peers and siblings that the potential for development through play becomes apparent. Play can be based either on complimentary or reciprocal processes.

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A complimentary process being when one individual has more social power and reciprocal being when two individuals have similar power and education. In order to see why play is important to child development, it is important to look at how various aspects of play with peers relate to the major theories of child development. Therefore whilst looking at the developments that can take place, this essay will also consider how this development comes about through the theories of development.

Which specific aspects of development are evident in sibling and peer relationships will be analysed in light of the research that has been undertaken in this area, along with a look at the limitations of this research and a consideration of what other things influence a child’s learning. The conclusion will finally consider why play with peers and siblings is important. Firstly then play with peers can help with conflict resolution and understanding other points of view. An example of this is in Playfighting where it is felt that children can develop these skills.

Often this is a reciprocal process, in that the children are likely to be the same age and education level, as playfighting is often a playground game. Littleton and Meill (2005) consider, through discourse analysis, that children can become skilled communicators through playfighting and found that children were able to ‘instruct each other on how to behave and what to say in their respective roles’ (2005, p. 101), this happened alongside working out who would play what part and when they would change over.

Smith et al as cited in Ding and Littleton (2005) consider that playfighting also allows children to practice other skills for example not becoming too physical as to turn what was play into a conflict situation. Also taking turns at being a character and understanding each others point of view and how this might differ from how they feel the roles should be played. Piaget in his theory of constructivism detailed that through the model of stages of development children become less egocentric as they move through the stages.

Play fighting would be an example of this as playing with a peer on a similar power level may lead to conflicting egocentric viewpoints. As the child moves further through the stages of development the children will become less egocentric and more aware that other people have a different point of view. This leads to development as they are able to take their point of view into account more readily and become more able to resolve conflict in play situations. This is less likely to happen in an adult child relationship as the adult is in a position of power and the child is more likely to accept the adults view.

These skills are transferable from having practiced them in play to other situations such as at school where children work in groups and need to work together to complete tasks and an understanding of other points of view has the potential to enrich the ideas that children bring to their work. There can however be negative effects with playfighting type games. Bullying can occur when there is a power imbalance between peers or when a peer wants to maintain a position in a group. Children who have learnt to deal with aggression and conflict through play may be able to deal with this behaviour, other children may not.

It is therefore important that adults ensure that the environment in which children play with others is suitable in an aim to prevent bullying occurring. The learning of social skills, such as co-operation and societal norms, are also apparent through play. For example in socio-dramatic play children act out activities that adults themselves do around the house or outside the home, for example laying the table or taking baby for a walk. The language used in this type of play is very similar to an adult conversation and follows the same pattern each time.

When in peer or sibling play the activity may call for them to play different roles such as mother and child. This type of play has been investigated by Dunn, cited in Ding and Littleton (2005) with particular reference to sibling play. This can be seen as a complimentary process as the older sibling is in a more powerful social position. The purpose of complimentary processes is ‘to provide children with security and protection and to enable them to gain knowledge and acquire skills’ (Schaffer 2003, p. 113). This very much links to the Social Constructivist theory by Vygotsky and his work on the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

Vygotsky (1978) describes the ZPD as a complimentary process and that play with more capable peers will help a child to close the gap between their current development level and the potential level that they can gain with this sibling guidance. Whilst theoretically this may be true in Zero to Hero on ED209, DVD-ROM Media Kit (2006), Helena a child who was isolated due to health issues becomes very popular when she starts school. This must mean that learning through books, television and through adults can achieve the same developmental skills as interacting with peers.

This type of play also links to Piagets notion of schemas. Through watching adults undertake these activities, children build up schemas of the right way to undertake tasks, and they build up their language and social skills from this observation. This type of play may prepare children for tasks that they will be required to do as adults and acts as an ‘anticipatory socialisation device’ (Littleton and Meill, 2005, p 118). Sibling play can also be linked to Social Learning Theory, where the elder sibling due to their higher social status acts as a role model to the younger sibling.

The younger can learn by observation to see not only how to contribute to the play but also that what they are contributing is worthwhile through reinforcement by the older sibling. However it could be argued that siblings are not vital for this and any higher status role model would achieve the same goal for example a cousin or neighbours child. Learning skills in co-operation and strategies to deal with fears and anxieties can be seen when children play with peers in fantasy theme play, which in contrast to socio dramatic play, is much more creative.

Children pretend to be characters from their imagination and in situations that may not reflect real life. Corsaro (1986) felt that this type of play helped develop skills and reduced fears in children. In fantasy play children could for example pretend to be lost and then make the game end when they are found again, ‘this communal sharing of fears and anxieties makes a key contribution to the development of the kinds of interpersonal skills and coping strategies that children will need in later life’ (Littleton and Meill 2005, p. 118).

The Social Constructivist approach also fits with this type of play as a more knowledgeable peer may lead the play and stretch the imagination and comfort zone of the younger or less able peer, thereby increasing their learning in the ZPD. The type of analysis that is generally used in this type of research is qualitative. This means that it is not backed by statistical analysis but uses a researcher’s interpretation of the data to conclude the findings. Discourse analysis, which is analysis of the words used in conversation, is used regularly to analyse conversations that occur during play.

However the validity of this approach could be questioned as the researcher is providing their interpretation of the conversation, which may be different to someone else’s and may be vastly different to how the participants intended it to be. This could potentially mean that other influences are missed, for example aspects of the environment they are in may be having an impact on their development. For example, fantasy theme play in a forest, where it may be the different sounds or the trees that are firing the imagination rather that the interaction with other peers.

It could be argued that whilst play with siblings and peers is important, it is not the only way that children learn. Historically development was defined as a ‘two way interaction between the child and the environment’ (Woodhead 2005, p. 32). This doesn’t necessarily mean interaction with another child. In socio dramatic play for example a child may observe how an adult completes an everyday task and copies what they have seen with their dolls. Whilst they might not be having a two way conversation or interaction, they will still be learning social skills from this experience and putting them into practice.

Also play with adults, according to Vygotsky’s ZPD will lead to development as the adult has more knowledge and a higher social position so is able to give guidance to extend the child’s development. Whilst there has been a move towards a more play based learning in schools, it is clear that children do still develop without play and without interaction with other children. Whilst it may be argued that social skills require interaction with peers, formal education in a classroom, with children often working in a solitary capacity still leads to development of academic and other useful skills.

In conclusion then play with peers and siblings is important for the development of many social and cognitive skills, and it has been shown that there are different types of play situations that can help children to achieve this development, supported by the main theories of development. Positive skills that will be useful to children in other settings, for example school, and in adult life can be practised in a safe interactive play environment. Whilst play can also allow children to share and deal with negative experiences either about play itself, for example bullying, or experiences such as fear and other anxieties.

However it is also apparent that these skills can be learnt through other means, such as with adults or in solitude, and that the environment in which play is based can have an effect on development. Therefore it is not immediately apparent what the best way to develop these skills is. This may simply mean that providing opportunities for children to use various methods to practice these skills, they will develop well rounded social and cognitive skills, which will continue to develop as they get older. Word Count: 1811 References Corsaro, W. 1986) cited in Ding, S. and Littleton, K. (eds) (2005) Children’s Personal and Social Developments, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University pg. 118 Ding, S. and Littleton, K. (eds) (2005) Children’s Personal and Social Developments, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University Littleton, K. and Meill, D. (2005) ‘Children’s interactions: Siblings and Peers’, in Ding, S. and Littleton, K. (eds) (2005) Children’s Personal and Social Developments, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University. Schaffer, H. R. (2003) cited in Ding, S. and Littleton, K. eds) (2005) Children’s Personal and Social Developments, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University pg. 96. The Open University (2006) Media Kit, ED209: Child Development DVD-ROM (Media Kit Part 1, Video Band 2), Milton Keynes, The Open University. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) cited in Oates, J. Wood, C. and Grayson, A. (eds) (2005) Psychological Development and Early Childhood, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University. Woodhead, M. (2005) ‘Children and Development’, in Oates, J. Wood, C. and Grayson, A. (eds) (2005) Psychological Development and Early Childhood, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University.

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