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1.1     Background to the Study

All aspects of development and learning are related in play, particularly the affective and cognitive domains. When children have time to play, their play grows in complexity and becomes more cognitively and socially demanding (Chi, 2009). Through free play children: explore materials and discover their properties, use their knowledge of materials to play imaginatively, express their emotions and reveal their inner feelings, come to terms with traumatic experiences, maintain emotional balance, physical and mental health, develop a sense of who they are, their value and that of others learn social skills of sharing, learn turn-taking and negotiation, deal with conflict, learn to negotiate and solve problems,  gradually move from support to independence, develop communication and language skills, repeat patterns that reflect their prevailing interests and use symbols as forms of representation.  In play children seek out risks, because through these they develop their self-esteem and confidence. Play is directed by the child and the rewards come from within the child. Play is enjoyable and spontaneous. Play helps the child learn social and motor skills and cognitive thinking (Cook, Goodman & Schulz, 2011).


Young children are born with an innate urge to grow and learn (Chi, 2009). They continually develop new skills and capacities, and if they are allowed to set the pace with a bit of help from the adult world they will work at all this in a playful and tireless way. Rather than respecting this innate drive to learn however, we treat children as if they can learn only what we adults can teach them (Chi, 2009). As a result of this approach, Henninger concluded that these children are stripped of their innate confidence in directing their own learning.


Play is needed for the healthy development of a child. Herron & Sutton-Smith (2011) showed that 75 percent of brain development occurs after birth. Play helps with that development by stimulating the brain through the formation of connections between nerve cells (Gokhale, 1995). According to the researchers, this process helps with the development of fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are actions such as being able to hold a crayon or pencil. Gross motor skills are actions such as jumping or running (Gokhale, 1995).

Through the tool of play, children gain knowledge. They learn to think, remember, and solve problems. Play gives children the opportunity to test their beliefs about the world. Play also helps the child to develop language and socialization skills. It allows children to learn to communicate emotions, to think, be creative and solve problems( Erikson, 2006). Broadhead (2011) also submitted that children gain an understanding of size, shape, and texture through play. That it helps them learn relationships “as they try to put a square object in a round opening or a large object in a small space”. Books, games, and toys that show pictures and matching words add to a child’s vocabulary. It also helps a child’s understanding of the world.

Time has come to advocate strongly in support of play equipment for all children. Play is to the child as work is to adult. It is crucial activity during childhood years. Play is pleasurable, spontaneous; activity that has an end in itself and has no extrinsic goal (Christine, 2001) play has a role in children’s development of social and emotional development. Children pass through different stages as they develop and that this is reflected in their play. Every child has a subconscious force shaping his or her personality. Children are only interested in things that provide pleasure to them in order to satisfy their id. Playing games with rules enables them to acquire knowledge of right and wrong. (Sigmund Freud, 1856, 1939).

Play allows children to explore their environment on their own terms and to take in any meaningful experiences at their own rates and on their own levels. Children play can be seen as practice for tasks that will be useful to them as adult, (Uzgiris and Raeff, 1995). It is during the early years that children construct their own knowledge and interpret their own experiences through manipulation and observation. Early childhood centres should therefore aim at producing children who are physically, socially, emotionally and orally ready for the formal school education through provision of numerous physical play facilities and experiences. (Maria Montessori, 1869, 1952)

Today children are not given the time to play because of various reasons which include parental commitment to their professional work. Many parents leave their children with house helps who do not allow the children to play. Again due to high population growth especially in urban areas, many pre-nursery do not have play grounds and children are left to play in their classroom. Play equipment in some schools are not available at all. They are also expensive to buy and to improvise (Mwaura, 1989). In addition, some schools have facilities which are old and are poorly maintained thus making them a health hazard to the children some of the facilities like swings are not properly fixed thus exposing children to danger of falling during outdoor play. The work load in school is too much since the syllabus requires the children to cover so much. With that, the teachers do not see the need of providing children with facilities to play. Instead they spend the playtime in teaching number work and reading which they consider to be more important in equipping children to join class one (Lillian, 2010).

Play is a spontaneous, voluntary, pleasurable and flexible activity involving a combination of body, object, symbol use and relationships. In contrast to games, play behaviour is more disorganized, and is typically done for its own sake (i.e., the process is more important than any goals or end points (Broadhead, Howard and Wood, 2010). Recognized as a universal phenomenon, play is a legitimate right of childhood and should be part of all children’s life. Between 3% to 20% of young children’s time and energy is spent in play (Isaacs, Katherine, Heather, Karina and Eugene, 2012). Over the last decade, it has been observed that there is an on-going reduction of playtime in favour of educational instructions, especially in modern and urban societies. Yet, play is essential to young children’s education and should not be abruptly minimized and segregated from learning. Not only play helps children develop pre-literacy skills, problem solving skills and concentration, but it also generates social learning experiences, and helps children to express possible stresses and problems (Laine & Neitola, 2004; Lawrence, 2012; Erikson, 2006).


Deeply entrenched within the historical roots of early childhood education, play has long been a dominant feature of early childhood teaching pedagogy (Bono, Del, Francesconi, Kelly & Sacker, 2014). Over many centuries, philosophers, theorists, educationalists and more recently, policy makers have worked hard to define the nature of childhood, play and the purposes of education. In particular, researchers have become increasingly interested in how traditional and contemporary theories on play and childhood have informed conceptualisations of childhood  and the development of early childhood curriculum (Bonawitz, Shafto, Gweon, Goodman, Spelke & Schulz, 2011). Bos, Fox, Zeanah & Nelson (2009) claim that until the nineteenth century, ‘‘childhood was seen as an immature form of adulthood and children from all social classes had little status in society’’. Wood and Attfield suggest that it was the studies of classical play theorists, such as Rousseau, Froebel and Dewey, that dramatically changed societal views and attitudes towards children, to the extent that ‘‘freedom to learn could be combined with appropriate nurturing and guidance’’, through the strongly held belief that play was critical to children’s learning and development.

In the submission of Campbell et. al (2008). creative play is a central activity in the lives of healthy children. Almon opined that play helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it and that It allows them to digest life and make it their own. Salmon (2008b) sees play as an outlet for the fullness of children’s creativity, viewing it is an absolutely critical part of their childhood. With creative play, children blossom and flourish; without it, they suffer a serious decline.

Play with other children helps a child learn how to be part of a group. Play allows a child to learn the skills of negotiation, problem solving, sharing, and working within groups. Unstructured play may lead to more physical movement and healthier children. It enhances children’s learning readiness and their cognitive development by allowing them to move from subject and area without of the fear of failure. Playtime in school such as recess time, allows learning and practicing of basic social skills. Children develop a sense of self, learn to interact with other children, how to make friends, and the importance of role-playing. Exploratory play in school allows children time to discover and manipulate their surroundings.

Increasingly however, preschool and kindergarten children find themselves in school settings which feature scripted teaching, computerized learning, and standardized assessment. Physical education and recess are being eliminated; new schools are built without playgrounds. While allegedly, these approaches are providing what Deci & Ryan (2000) called  “quality education,” they trivialize and undermine children’s natural capacities for meaningful and focused life lessons through creative play and this leaves many children profoundly alienated from their school experiences (Daniels & Shumow, 2003).


1.2     Statement of the Problem

There is laxity of head teachers and teachers to ensure maintenance of play equipment as they view play as a waste of time and a lot of emphasis is put on academic rather than learning through play. (Millicent, 2000) This has resulted into less effort by the teachers to ensure safety of the play equipment in most pre-nursery.

These functions have however been known to be greatly influenced by the nature of the educational environment to which the child is exposed during the first six to eight years of life (Bowman, Donovan & Burns, 2001). Researchers such as Daniels, & Shumow (2003) also link effective Early Childhood Education to increases in school readiness for primary school – which is an important predictor of early school achievements. Thus, this study examines impact of play and play equipment on the physical development of pre-nursery pupils


1.3     Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to assess the impact of play and play equipment on the physical development of pre-nursery pupils. This study aims to evaluate the importance of play as a learning tool in the adequate preparation of children for later childhood and future education. Specifically, this study aims to

  1. To find out whether the availability of play equipment influence children’s participation in play activities.
  2. To establish the extent to which different types of play equipment affects children’s participation in play activities.
  3. To examine the impact of safety of play equipment on children’s participation in play activities.
  4. To establish whether the role of teachers in provision of play equipment affect children’s participation in outdoor play activities.

1.4     Research Questions

  1. How does availability of play equipment influence children’s participation in  play activities?
  2. How does the use of different types of play equipment affect children’s participation in play activities?
  3. How does the safety of play equipment impact children’s participation in play activities?
  4. In what ways does the role of teachers in provision of play equipment affect children’s participation in play activities?

1.5     Significance of the study

This study will be a source of knowledge to educational planners in early childhood education. It will reveal literature on the use of play as principal learning tool for the children, thereby giving these planners greater empirical platform on which to establish their teaching paradigms.

This study will also be useful to curriculum planners as it serves as a further body of knowledge in knowing what to incorporate, what to remove, what works and what does not work.

Last but not least, this study is a source of information to both parents and teachers about how play can facilitate the physical, emotional and psychosocial growth of children and prepare them for the future.

1.6     Scope of the study / Delimitation

The scope of this study is delimited to assessing the impact of play and play equipment on the physical development of pre-nursery pupils and using the descriptive survey research method. The area covered by this study is Lagos Mainland Local Government.

1.8     Operational Definition of Terms

  • Play: A learning method which involves spontaneous, voluntary, pleasurable and flexible activities involving a combination of body, object, symbol use and relationships.
  • Learning tool: The teaching design adopted for learning
  • Early Childhood: The period from birth to three years old, marked by remarkable brain growth.
  • Learning Environment: This refers to the physical conditions, context and ideological atmosphere under which students learn.
  1. Play Activity: Interacting with play equipment and materials.
  2. Effect: Impact experienced in a child’s participation after interacting with play equipment and materials.

vii. Participation: Refers to being involved in an activity or with interaction or manipulation of play equipment

viii. Physical:  That which is visible and tangible

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