Percieved Psychological Effect Of Play Therapy On Physical And Social Well Being Of Preschool Children

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Background of the study


Every child passes through four stages of patterned development with outstanding characteristic traits. Each of these stages is age-related and consists of distinct ways of thinking. These four stages of cognitive development include the sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), preoperational stage (2-7years), concrete operational stage (7-11years), formal operational stages (11 years through adulthood) (Sandtrock, 2004; Morgan, King, Weisz & Scholper 2002; Feldman, 2000). Preschool children belong to the pre-operational stage of cognitive development whereby children begin to understand and master symbols and draw from past experiences to make assumptions about things and people in their world. Hence, preschool children learn through meaningful activities in developmental stages where they gain and grasp information swiftly and express curiosity and amazement at each new discovery (Roode, 2010).


Preschool children (3-5 years) like playing with others of the same age group where they socialize and increase their vocabulary. According to Erickson (1964) this is the play age; when children are maximally ready for active learning. At this stage, preschool children develop lots of skills that could sometimes be manipulative and at other times problem solving in nature using variety of materials that encourage sorting, counting, ordering, numbering and pattern making which are the major activities in preschools. Young children are often heard talking to themselves. These “chats” are an opportunity for the youngsters to learn how to organize their thoughts. As they talk about their experiences, preschool children learn how to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. As children get older, this “talking out loud” will become an internal monologue. Children enjoy both listening to music and making their own. Whether it is a group sing-along, marching in a procession band, playing a triangle, or making up new lyrics to old favourite tunes, music is the universal language. Language is enhanced as children talk about how to build, what they built, what is its function or ask questions about concepts or directions. This newly developing ability to problem-solve is the basis for motivation at this stage. Having the self confidence to know that one can solve a problem motivates the learner to accept other new and challenging situations, which in turn lead to greater learning. At this age they take pleasure in sharing activities during play periods. Preschoolers enjoy socio-dramatic play in which they enact mini-dramas with other children. Through pretending they learn how to understand another person’s point of view, develop skills in solving social problems and become more creative in number of ways.

According to Papalia (2009), characteristics of preschool children include: appreciation of a beautiful environment and enjoyment of an orderly classroom, need for a variety of social experiences with large-group, small-group, and individual activities. Preschool children are ready to make activity selections. Children enjoy working at tables. Opportunities to play with blocks and to work with a variety of construction toys; develop language and communication skills and learn new concepts are great attributes of preschool children. Manipulative play and problem solving situations where a variety of materials that encourage sorting, ordering, number skill development, and pattern making, such as number puzzles, pegboards, table blocks, picture puzzles, counting games, stacking toys colour and shape games, sequencing boards, beads, and sewing cards are displayed bring out the best in preschool children. Preschool children interact with peers and adults other than family members and need guidance to develop the ability to share, take turns, lead, follow, and becoming a friend. As children begin to practice independence especially in preschools, it is important to allow them enough time to work on tasks until they are pleased with the outcome.

Consequently preschools become necessary for the provision of education for Children between the ages of three and five, depending on the jurisdiction before the commencement of statutory and obligatory education (Allen, 2007). The need for a good foundation at the preschool age cannot be over-emphasized because when the right connections are nurtured early in life the result is a balanced personality (Erikson, 1968). The years before a child reaches kindergarten are among the most critical in his or her life to influence learning and this becomes a challenge and commitment to the parents, teachers, caregivers, community and government, to ensure that these young children receive appropriate training in their early stages of life especially in preschools. Preschools exist in both rural and urban areas. Some of these preschools are owned by religious bodies (churches), individuals and others run by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Some are now being included in some conventional government owned schools. Preschool, irrespective of the location or the ownership, focuses on early childhood education.

Early childhood/pre-primary education, according to the National Policy on Education (NPE) (2004) document, is the education provided in an educational institution to children prior to their entering the primary school. It includes the crèche, the nursery, and the kindergarten (NPE, 2004). Ibiam and Ugwu (2009) defined it as the education designed to develop the habits, attitudes and skills needed for primary education. Maduewesi (2005) believes it encompasses the care, development and education of children below the age of six years. Olds (2009) stated that throughout the preschool years children will gain confidence and self-esteem; develop listening skills; take turns and follow directions; develop social skills and learn academics through play. These are examples of learning experiences of preschool children that enhance cognitive development.

Children’s development involves not only physical and emotional development, but also social and cognitive development. Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem-solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Cognitive development refers to functions of the brain such as thinking, learning, awareness, judgement and processing information (Ken, 2007).These are things healthy children do quite naturally as they learn and grow. The Swiss philosopher Jean-Piaget (1896-1980) was the first to suggest that from birth, babies begin to actively learn. They gather, sort, and process information from around them, using the data to develop perception and thinking skills. According to Roode (2010),Cognitive development refers to how a person perceives, thinks, and gains understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory. Children’s cognitive development, which includes creativity, discovery, language skills, verbal judgment and reasoning, symbolic thought and the ability to focus and control behaviour, are all heavily influenced by their play experiences. Considering the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of children permits adults to address the well-being of the whole child as they design, manufacture, package, sell, or purchase play items such as toys.

Nancy (2010) is of the view that areas of cognitive development in preschool children include among others, skills development, language skills, problem-solving skills, social skills and creative skills. This includes the skills and strategies children use to explore and learn about the world around them. According to Pearl (2003), these are things healthy children do quite naturally as they learn and grow. There are four components to cognitive development and general knowledge in preschoolers: mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies and arts. These components, Nancy (2008) suggests, are influences of appropriate use of instructional methods and materials among preschoolers. Cognitive development occurs throughout daily activities, routines and play.

Play is important to the healthy growth and development of children. Allen (2007) stated that as children play, they learn to solve problems, to get along with others, and to develop the fine and gross motor skills needed to enhance and master life skills. Children also learn to identify colours, numbers, size, and shapes. These have the ability to enhance their memory skills as well as their attention span. Language develops as a child plays and interacts with others. Children move on to higher levels of thought as they play with toys. Preschool Children’s play materials are predominantly toys.

Toys are among a child’s first possessions. A toy is any object that can be used for play. Toys are usually associated with children and pets; hence, early experiences with toys can have lasting effects on a child. According to Product Standard (2004), a toy is any product or material designed or clearly intended for use in play by children of less than 14 years of age. Goodson (2005) stated that, if play is the child’s work, then, toys are the child’s tools, and appropriate toys can help children do their work well. Toy is an object or thing that can be used or manipulated to amuse and encourage playfulness. Reiber, Luke, and Smith (1988) noted that toys as instruments of play make learning fun and more effective especially if the toy is voluntarily chosen, involves active engagement, and is pleasurable.

Toys appeal to children of all ages across the globe. Abrams and Kaufmann (1990) opined that toys are intrinsically motivating. The right toys available at the right time can spontaneously guide children to greater heights of accomplishments. Toys enhance cognitive behaviour and stimulate creativity. They aid in the development of physical and mental skills which are necessary in later life. Toys that have the right degree of novelty can ignite creativity, stimulate imagination, awaken wonder, and bring enjoyment to children. They should have both familiar and unexplored features to make them attractive and challenging. Insightful teachers can utilize the natural appeal of toys to understand and capture a child’s perception of the world and of himself. In the same vein, parents and caregivers should therefore make deliberate effort to provide their children with quality play-time and appropriate toys (Anyakoha and Eluwa, 1995).

Wise selection of toys for every developmental stage of a child will go a long way in enhancing learning. Books, games, puzzles and toys with various shapes, colours and sizes can be especially helpful in encouraging mental activity (Ken, 2007). Playing with toys can set the foundation for reading, writing, mathematical reasoning, social interaction, and creativity while at the same time fostering a feeling of competence, teaches cooperation and respect for the work of others, encourages autonomy and initiative. There has been much debate about which toys are the best for children. Some argue that high-tech toys provide the best educational opportunities, while others say that simpler toys that require imagination and creativity teach a child to think for herself.

Nevertheless, to properly address four components of skills development among preschool children namely; language, social, problem solving and creative skills, construction and manipulative toy categories would be used. As opined by Ken (2007), construction toys are sets of standardized pieces that allow for the construction of a variety of different models or buildings. The pieces avoid the lead time of manufacturing custom pieces, and of requiring special training or design time to construct complex systems. This makes them suitable for temporary structures or for use as children’s toys. Construction toys include among others; lego bricks, patterned blocks, game of scrabble, magnetic boards and stakes. Toys which require some kind of manipulation with fingers and hands are categorized as manipulative toys. This category of toys include among others; pegboards, clay-dough, small blocks, puzzles, board games, table toys, writing accessories, drawing/ painting books and musical toys (Marotz, 2006). Goodson (2005) opines that male and female preschoolers play with different toy categories at varied levels. Goodson further observed that in preschool toy-corner, boys are more preoccupied with construction toys than manipulative toys.

To select appropriate toys for preschoolers; teachers, parents, and caregivers should consider if the toy: could be used in several different ways, powered by a child’s own ideas and imagination, is fun, safe, durable and attractive, have varying levels of activity that offer on-going challenges to a variety of ages and ability, have appropriate values, ethics, problem-solving features, and over time, will still be cherished by the child (Roode, 2010).

Since not all toys have positive influences, it is therefore important that, parents, teachers and caregivers in Anambra state of Nigeria as in other states be informed of the influence of toys on the cognitive development of preschool children.

Statement of the problem

Early childhood is the most important period in the cognitive development of the child. Children through interactions with their parents, siblings, and adults acquire cognitive skills especially by way of imitation through folklore, tongue twisters, riddles and jokes, proverbs among others. These experiences with their immediate environment no doubt help them to socialize, learn their language, become creative and acquire problem solving skills.

Therefore, the need for adequate/appropriate instructional strategies for preschool child environment, facilities and instructional materials cannot be over-emphasized. In preschools, toys dominate the instructional materials used in teaching and learning. Preschool children use toys and play to discover their identity, help their bodies grow strong, learn cause and effect, explore relationships and practice skills they will need in future. They provide entertainment while fulfilling an educational role. Toys help in developing the psychomotor, affective and cognitive domains. Some toys appear good-enough and very colourful to stimulate a child’s curiosity, but may be unsafe and hazardous.

Today’s toy, game and software markets are flooded with war and crime themes whose exposure to violence will hurt children and society in the long run .Parents in many homes today are too busy with other businesses except that of giving the desired attention to the child which has often been x-rayed in some Nollywood film productions in the recent past. The result of this is obvious: total neglect and abandonment of the child and their need to play with appropriate toys. This carefree attitude plays down on the developmental literature of the child whence play stimulates physical, social, emotional and cognitive development in the early years. Children now talk more of the movies they watch, the video games they play or the music they listen to, most times unsupervised by parents and professional caregivers. Long uninterrupted time for children to engage in plays either with themselves, parents or their peer groups using construction and manipulative toys has no doubt put the children’s cognitive skills development in jeopardy.

However, observations have shown that most preschoolers in Anambra state are indiscriminately provided with toys which has no positive value to preschoolers. Most parents and caregivers often give-in to the demands of their children especially when they ask for any sort of toy they have seen on the television, among their peers even when the request is for the latest fad or a child’s whim of the moment. This has no doubt resulted to either wrong effects or unintended consequences. This lack of attention and indiscriminate provision of toys often for the fun of it without achieving the much desired skills and proportionate results while at the same time overburdening children with too many toys is often the case in preschools in Anambra state of Nigeria.

Hence, it is in this regard that parents and caregivers should become acquainted with the specific developmental outcomes associated with the use of various types of toys for children of different age groups. Introducing educational tools that send positive messages and that are purposeful and fun, is one step to take in providing children with the best opportunities for development-even from birth. A good toy, game, book or software has multiple benefits and, as stated, can be a valuable tool in learning and development from birth through the school years.

The problem of the study therefore is: could the influence of toys on the cognitive development of preschool children be determined?

Purpose of the Study:

The main purpose of the study is to determine the influence of selected toys on the cognitive development of preschool children in Anambra State. Specifically the study will determine the:

  1. Influence of play therapy on the language skills development of preschool children
  2. Influence of play therapy on the social skills development of preschool children.
  3. Influence of play therapy on the problem solving skills development of preschool children
  4. Influence of play therapy on the creative skills development of preschool children

Significance of the study

Play  therapy plays an important roles in the education of a child. As a matter of fact, preschool children need a variety of toys that challenge them to use their minds, bodies and feelings. Through its findings, therefore, it is expected that this study will be of immense benefit to preschoolers, parents, teachers of early childhood education, caregivers, motherless babies’ homes, day-care centres, early childhood curriculum planners, home economists, and entrepreneurs and policy makers as this will also provide them with information on toys suitable for children at various stages of development to enhance balanced cognitive development.

Preschool children are not able to provide their appropriate toys; rather parents and caregivers who do, will be sensitized on the need for proper choice of toys. This will consequently help children in their development since it will enable them explore their environment and develop. It will also help prospective crèche/nursery school managers to overcome the problems of inadequacies in the provision and use of toys.

Parents would also find this study relevant in the area of making appropriate choice of toys for their children without overburdening them. The information guaranteed from this study will be of benefit to toy production firms as it would equip them with vital information on the nature of toys to produce. Job-seekers can go into entrepreneurship by using the information provided in the study to go into toy production. This will reduce unemployment and make them self-reliant. The findings of this study will help in presenting a comprehensive and illustrative review of the cognitive development of preschool children through the manipulation of toys.

This stud will present readers with enough information, details, procedural and historical contexts to increase their knowledge, understanding, application, analysis and evaluation of toys as a means of play therapy. Suggestions from this study are bound to be useful to policy makers. It will help Home Economics curriculum planners to create more time for child development practicum. The data generated from this study can be used by Nigerian Educational Research Development Council (NERDC) by helping in curriculum plan.

Finally, the findings of this study will serve as database for future studies in the area.

Research Questions

The following research questions guided the study:

  1. What is the influence of play therapy on language skills development of preschool Children in Anambra State?
  2. What influence do play therapy have on social skills development of preschool Children in Anambra State?
  3. What influence do play therapy have on the problem-solving skills development of preschool children in Anambra State?
  4. What is the influence of play therapy on the creative skills development of preschool children in Anambra State?


The following null hypotheses will be tested at .05 level of significance.

  1. The use of toys has no significant differences on the social skills development of preschool Children in private and public owned preschools of Anambra State.
  2. The use of toys has no significant differences on the problem-solving skills development of male and female preschool children of Anambra state.
  3. The use of toys has no significant differences on the creative skills development of 3-year old and 5year old preschool children of Anambra state.

Scope of the study:

This study is restricted to the influence of selected toys on the cognitive development of preschool children in Awka Educational Zone of Anambra State. Components of cognitive development focused on language, social, creative and problem-solving skills development of preschool children. The work is restricted to an experimental study hence the few number of children sampled.


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