Engagement and Motivation Part III: The Value of Play

This is the third part of the Engagement and Motivation section of my dissertation lit review:

The Value of Play

Traditionally, constructivists have found a great deal of value in children’s play, and have considered it an important element of education. Dewey (1926), for instance, considered play, or “native tendencies to explore, to manipulate tools and materials, to construct, to give expression to joyous emotion, etc.” (p. 194), an important part of education, allowing the whole pupil to be engaged and reducing the “artificial gap between life in school and out” (p. 195). Piaget (1950) identified symbolic play as one of the early manifestations of assimilation and accommodation (p. 138-140). Vygotsky, too, “identified play as a key factor in causing [children] to move from one level of development to the next” (Dixon-Krauss, 1996, p. 79). In fact, Vygotsky (1978) believed that “play creates a zone of proximal development [for] the child” (p. 102) and that “play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development” (p. 102). Bruner (1966) agreed that “a good deal of [children’s] play must be understood as practice in coping with the environment” (p. 119) and that “games go a long way toward getting children involved in understanding language, social organization, and the rest; they also introduce… a theory of these phenomena” (p. 95).

Modern game scholars share these perspectives. For example, Salen and Zimmerman (2004) consider play valuable for developing meaning (p. 33-34), social relations (p. 462), and identity (p. 519), among other things. For Salen and Zimmerman, as for Prensky (2006), the complexity of the game is an important factor in whether or not the play is meaningful (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004, p. 170). Koster (2005) expressed the value of complex social play succinctly: “from playing cops and robbers to playing house, play is about learning life skills” (p. 61). Slator (2006) concluded that “the value of play in learning can hardly be overemphasized” (p. vii). Others, such as Prensky, Gee, Aldrich, and Shaffer have made the value of play a cornerstone of their theories.

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