Sample Education Essays on Theories and Models of Play

Play is an important aspect of child life that contributes sufficiently to child growth and development in various ways. A play model can be created to help describe the perspectives of children during play as well as the pedagogical roles carried out by teachers during play. Understanding the play model and the theoretical frameworks underlying play is an important aspect for any teacher working with children in the lower classes where play is inevitable not only as a way of addressing the observed needs, but also of identifying the individual creativity during reproduction of life scenarios in play.

Play Model

The proposed model of play presents pedagogical play as the intersection of the environment, pedagogy, and the child’s perspective (play). The child’s perspective is the most important consideration in supervised play. According to Loizou (2017), play is one of the ways through which children learn and develop their cognitive and social skills. Children make sense of their environments and reproduce them during play. Therefore, the play context must be enjoyable and pleasurable for children to consistently participate in it. The child’s perspective in the proposed model is characterized by agentic imagination, creativity, and practice. The environment comprises of the institutional practices and the culture, both of which influence children’s observations, which they are likely to reproduce during play. The cultural values influence the children’s personal values and attitudes towards various aspects of life, and the institutional practices include laws and regulations to which they are subject in the study environment. The pedagogical role of the teacher is to facilitate play. Essentially, the model describes the pedagogical role in terms of three constructs: observation, digital documentation and sustained shared thinking. Observation entails watching the children play, digital documentation relates to making records of the play sessions in pictures and notes, while sustained shared thinking pertains to pushing creativity and extended imagination by asking questions and contributing to the play discussions.


Figure 1: Model of Play

Theoretical Discussion

Different theories have been proposed to describe the role and effects of play among children. Sutton-Smith (2008) describes the theories of play into three categories, including the classical, modern and contemporary. The classical theories consider play from the perspective that children have excess energy that needs to be burned, and play helps them to achieve this; the modern approaches emphasize the role of play in child development; and the contemporary concept’s center on the link between social justice in the context of daily living environments and children’s play. In this exercise, the selected theories of play are the practice (pre-exercise) theory and cognitive theory.

The pre-exercise theory emphasizes the importance of play in the practice of behaviors that would be useful in later life. Karl Groos proposed the pre-exercise theory, which states that play has an important role in the training of children in the preparation for adulthood. Play is part of the learning process in both animals and humans, and enables the participants to practice behavior patterns that would be essential to them in adulthood as long as exhibiting those behaviors have no negative consequences. Giddens (n.d.) suggests that through playfully imitating the activities they observe adults do, children learn activities that would be influential in their later lives.  This theory will be considered the core foundation in the core activity presented in the later sections of this paper. It is also aligned to the model of play presented previously. In the model, the child’s perspective comprises of agentic imagination, practice, and creativity. In implementing this model of play, the practice element is best reflected through imitative activities. Additionally, pedagogical role of play following the pre-exercise theory is best exhibited through reference to sustained shared thinking. The educator playing the pedagogical role will be responsible for creating clearer perspectives among the children, by identifying teachable moments in the course of play and making use of those moments to support the interpersonal relationship between the teacher and each student. The pre-exercise theory provides a good basis for the educator to select specific scenarios that support collaboration, communication and creativity among the children towards effective development of skills for application in adulthood.

The cognitive theory of play describes the role of play in cognitive development. Piaget’s cognitive development theory of play describes play based on the concept of assimilation, which refers to the efforts by children during play to align their own concepts (Fox, 2008). Nevertheless, play does not independently result in the development of cognitive structures and has to be combined with other aspects, such as the instruction of the teachers. During play, children reflect what they had previously learnt without necessarily learning new concepts (Fox, 2008). on the other hand, Vygotsky’s cognitive theory of play describes the activity as capable of facilitating cognitive development since during play, children not only practice what they already know but they also gain knowledge (Fox, 2008). The two concepts will be applied side by side in the modeling of play in this study. Considering the model of play proposed above, the theory of cognitive development will be relevant in the dimension of exhibiting what the children already know. The construct of practice, which is part of child perspective in the model, reflects the implementation of what they have already learnt in the real world, and to which they would attempt to align play (assimilation). On the other hand, the constructs of agentic imagination and creativity indicate the exploration of new knowledge. The new knowledge does not necessarily have to be external to the children playing. The knowledge can be internal and the children find a new application for it during play. Additionally, in the role of documentation and sustained shared thinking, the teacher may add infuse new knowledge into the minds of the learners, thereby completing the full cycle of the cognitive development theory.

Play Example

The setting of the play is within the playroom of a family with three children who are playing pretend. One of the children is acting as a doctor, the other as a mother while the other one pretends to be a little child who has been brought for treatment. The ‘mother’ is sitting in the doctor’s waiting lounge waiting for her child to be called in to see the doctor. The ‘doctor’ has a pretend stethoscope on her ‘desk’ and is waiting for the next patient. The conversation that goes on is as follows:

D: Next patient please!

M: I am here with my child doctor; she seems to have a fever. She also has not eaten since this morning.

D: Does she cry a lot?

M: No, she has not cried much, but she is too gloomy, it is unlike her.

D: Okay, have you given her any medication?

M: Not yet, I brought her straight here because I did not know what to give her.

D: Let me take her vital signs.

The mother moves closer to the doctor, who pretends to use different instruments to take the vital signs. She first uses the stethoscope, and then later uses the thermometer. An improvised play meter is also used to measure the blood pressure of the patient. The doctor then sits down and pretends to write down some prescriptions.

D: Your daughter is very sick; I think I’ll have to give her an injection.

Mother brings daughter forward for the injection, holds her while the doctor gives the injection, and then attempts to soothe her when she cries after the injection.

O: Will you give her any drugs to take at home?

D: Oh yes, (cuts tiny pieces of paper and gives the mother) take these drugs, give her in this tablet in the morning, then give her this other one in the afternoon.

The mother takes the ‘drugs’, thanks the doctor, and then leaves with her child.

The play example is aligned to the theories of play described earlier. Based on the pre-exercise theory of play, it was observed that the children reproduced scenarios they have seen previously being played by adults. The role of the doctor and the mother are common in such settings, and the ability of the children to imitate them reflect the pre-exercise theory, which emphasizes the role of play in the rehearsal of behaviors that are poised to be useful in later life. Similarly, the ability of the children to portray the imitations of what they have experienced before can be likened to the application of knowledge already possessed (from Piaget’s cognitive development). Lastly, the use of creativity and imagination that is exemplified in the improvising of drugs and the blood pressure meter as well as in taking in the observer’s advice reflects the creation of thought as described in Vygotsky’s perspective of the cognitive development theory.

Pedagogical Role

As the teacher, my pedagogical role in accounting for the child’s perspective is founded in the understanding of the actions of the children during play.  My role as the teacher was to promote the experiences of the children during play by creating an environment that supports their experiences and their ability to align the experiences during play. Loizou (2017) recommends considering the socio-dramatic and imaginative characteristics of play as essential components of the child’s perspective to effectively support the child’s perspective in play. In the example play, the imaginative or agentic imagination aspect is considered alongside the aspect of creativity. As the teacher, support for imagination and creativity is exhibited through the combination of non-distractive observation and sustained shared thinking. When the children exhibited socio-dramatic characteristics of play, such as when playing different roles, the teacher does not interrupt in any way. However, the teacher interrupted when the need to do so is felt.

A second pedagogical role was the documentation of the play process. Many activities occur during play, and to understand the child’s perspective effectively, there has to be a continuous process of observation and documentation (Pyle & Danniels, 2016). In the described play, the teacher only had a single point of input towards the end of the play. Within the play process, I played a passive role in documenting the goings-on among the children, including all forms of communication among them. The effectiveness of the children’s application of various aspects of the child’s perspective, namely creativity, practice, and imagination can enhance without interference, and this was achieved during the play. Moreover, there was also the role of facilitating collaborative communication and idea sharing. When it comes to children, play seems to provide a completely new world, in which the key players can assume the characters of their fantasy (Pyle & Danniels, 2016). In such instances, my role is to not only document what they individually pick to reflect and how they handle the roles.

The pedagogical role is quite important in play and thus an inescapable element in cognitive and social development. According to Mellou (1994), creativity is the strongest link in the play process in terms of reference to personal expression and social adaptation. The pedagogical role is to create harmony between the personal expression among the players and the social environment within which play is occurring. The best exhibit of this harmony is in the efforts of children to fit contexts of play within their personal scope of perspective.


Play is an important function not only for the growth and development of a child, but also for ensuring that learning is attained. The proposed model of play considers the child’s perspective of play to comprise of imagination, creativity and practice, concepts that have been observed both through the described play scenario and through the theories of play provided. The teacher plays an important role not only in guiding and documenting play, but also in creating an environment that supports creativity in play.




Fox, J. E. (2008). Back-to-basics: Play in early childhood. Excelligence Learning Corporation.

Giddens, A. (n.d.). Notes on the concepts of play and leisure.

Loizou, E. (2017). Towards play pedagogy: supporting teacher play practices with a teacher guide about socio-dramatic and imaginative play. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 25(5), 784-795.

Sutton-Smith, B. (2008). Play theory: A personal journey and new thoughts. University of Illinois.

Melleu, E. (1994). Play theories: a contemporary review. Early Childhood Development and Care, 102(1), 91-100.

Pyle, A., & Danniels, E. (2016). A continuum of play-based learning: the role of the teacher in play-based pedagogy and the fear of hijacking play. Early Education and Development.