We want visitors to Windermere Jetty to have a great time when they’re with us; to explore, engage and play in their surroundings.
Playing is important, honestly it is! Play is our brain’s way of learning and making sense of the world in which we live. There are emotional, social, physical and intellectual benefits to play, which is why it’s so important that we are all encouraged to play more often.
There are misconceptions around play and it is often seen as ‘messy’. Play should be messy. There shouldn’t be any limits placed on how we play, and children shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, even if this means getting dirty and making a mess. It’s creative!
For children, play can bridge the gap between the different environments of school and home; it can connect children with their peers and help them to disconnect from everyday life. It is this disconnection that helps children to fully immerse themselves in the activities in which they are taking part. It allows children to focus and explore. Children’s identities develop through engagement with others and the early years of a child’s life are important in developing a strong sense of self. Nurturing friendships helps children to develop this sense of self and this can happen through play.
How children play and what they learn from their play has been the subject of research for Psychologists for decades. Jean Piaget believed that a child’s cognitive development is about a child constructing a mental model of the world. Each child goes through four stages of cognitive development in the same order, and no stage can be missed out. Some people might never reach the later stages and there are individual differences in the rate at which children progress through each stage. Piaget did not claim that a particular stage was reached at a certain age, although descriptions of the stages often include an indication of the age at which the average child would reach each stage.
Lev Vygotsky researched the role of social interaction on cognitive development and argued that development first takes place socially. Children observe parental behaviour, listen to parents’ speech, and then try to imitate them. As children practice through imitation, parents will guide children, correct them, and provide challenges. Through child-centered play, children take on different roles and experiment with language, which helps them to become internally regulated in cognition. Children become more competent in their language use and begin to regulate their own thought processes and this can all be developed through play.
Jerome Bruner’s theoretical framework is based on the theme that learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon existing knowledge. Learning is an active process. Bruner introduced the idea of the Spiral Curriculum, which refers to the idea of revisiting basic ideas over and over, building upon them and elaborating to the level of full understanding. Bruner believed that any subject could be taught at any stage of development in a way that fitted the child’s cognitive abilities. Eventually Bruner was strongly influenced by Vygotsky’s writings and began to adopt a social and political view of learning.
Current theories of play, from Psychologists such as Pat Broadhead, suggest that children should be encouraged to play and learn from their peers, with little if any interruption from adults. Recent research suggests that if left to their own play themes and interests, children will choose to do more challenging and satisfying things than an adult would probably have led them to do. This is also known as Free Flow Play, which allows children to play freely, without interruption from adults.
By understanding how important play is for a child’s development, we can ensure that Windermere Jetty is a museum that welcomes families and provides children with a range of opportunities to play and develop in a safe environment.