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Mind Games

The impressive amount of scientific knowledge on childhood gained so far confirms that the quality of subsequent education is powerfully conditioned by that received in childhood. Any programs for the development of the linguistic, logical, expressive, social, affective, ethical, motor skills of the person have much more hope of success the more precocious and well organized on a pedagogical level. Therefore, all the conditions of opportunity and merit exist to focus everyone’s attention on the social and pedagogical importance of kindergarten and to reaffirm the central institutional role that it assumes in the whole educational system of education and training ” (Bertagna Report 2001).

Often we start from the principle according to which the objectives of effectiveness and equity, in the educational field, are opposed; some are realized at the expense of the others. But, as the 2006 Commission communication indicates, both components reinforce each other. This observation is even truer in relation to pre-primary education.

It is more effective and fairer to invest in education very early on.

In fact, correcting failures at a later time is not only unfair but also and above all ineffective. This is not only because pre-primary education facilitates subsequent learning, but also because a great deal of data indicates that education, especially that aimed at disadvantaged children, can produce important socio-economic results.

Childhood is a particularly sensitive period for the development of children and a great manifestation of the personality is play, which originates from an inner need.

The game gives the child confidence in his possibilities, the ability to become aware of the reality that surrounds him and puts him in a position to modify it as he likes, realizing impossible desires, compensating for frustrations, releasing anxieties and freeing himself from anxieties.

Play as a sublimation of aggression allows you to divert destructive impulses towards socially acceptable activities. The playful activity initiates the child to the knowledge of what happens around him and stimulates the development of cognitive functions: with the game, the child adapts situations to his purposes, analyzes their characteristics and establishes the relationships between various elements of reality. The importance of the game had already been recognized by the Greeks and Romans, but it was a subject of study (theoretical, in the sense that many rules were learned; practice, in the sense that exercises were carried out mainly gymnastic).

The game was neither spontaneous nor enjoyable.

The idea of introducing play in the educational field dates back to Rousseau. Before him, the school was designed only for serious and disciplined work, where the student had to memorize certain notions and acquire certain behaviours, in a climate of severity, obedience and detachment, even at the cost of physical punishment.

Modern pedagogists will have to wait for a psychological and educational approach to children’s games, intended as a formidable means to fully develop the psycho-physical life of the child.

The game initiates complex mental activities and promotes the development of symbolic functions, enriches the imagination, stimulates creativity and divergent thinking, develops intellectual synthesis and allows the child to integrate into the environment.

In the first two years of life, the main forms of play manifest themselves in the joy of conquering the surrounding environment, in the possibility of discovering its characteristics and using them to satisfy their own needs: the child enjoys continuously dropping an object for the joy of perceiving the noise, repeats continuously the sounds or words spoken by others.

From the age of two, he discovers and judges his own living environment through his fantasy games.

By practising the game of “pretending”, the child recalls events and situations previously experienced and tries to reproduce them by adapting them to the emotional needs of the moment.

The game of pure imitation is transformed into a symbolic game: the child does not reproduce reality as he perceives it, but assimilates it and gives it personal characteristics.

In the perceptual-motor phase, as soon as the child begins to move, kick and grab the closest objects to bring them to the mouth, his space can be enriched with many objects, from whose contact the child will derive precious experiences.

At first, the child manipulates and sucks objects to discover “what” they are made of.

Through these experiences, the perceptual and motor mental processes necessary for the development of his thought are initiated in the child. Subsequently, the game of “hide and seek” will allow him to play soon the activity, no longer just perceptive, becomes “imitative”. An “imitation” is defined as any attempt by the child to reformulate movements and expressions made by others on their own: after 18 months, there is a manifestation of a time-deferred imitation. The child becomes capable of repeating even after hours or days a movement to which he has been attracted or intrigued.

The representative activity of the child is favored by a widespread type of infantile game, the symbolic one. While in the perceptual-motor activity the child studies the object itself, its texture, shape and color, the use, in the symbolic activity the properties of the object have now been discovered, but this begins to be manipulated in a different way: it no longer represents only himself, but something more appropriate to the child’s momentary desire.

A piece of wood can represent a boat, a pen etc .; a puppet can symbolize a little brother and so on; the content of the memory from which the child starts (familiar scene) is analyzed and transposed into the present moment of play.

Playful activity helps the child to face the adult world without being prey to prejudice, to overcome fears and anguish of the unknown. the child does not allow himself to be overwhelmed by emotions, but can overcome difficulties. The game thus takes on a cathartic value (liberation from distress), contributing to the organization of emotional and affective life.

In the symbolic play, the child does not reproduce reality as he perceives it, but gives it personal characteristics.

The object loses its universal characteristics and becomes the symbol of something else (for example, an overturned chair can turn into a little train).

According to Anna Oliverio Ferraris “in the pleasure of pretending … the child takes on a role that allows him to enter the world of adults, choosing him from those he sees in real life and in the fiction of TV”. a very important function of letting the child experience the quality and use of the objects that surround him, to train him in an ever more perfect relationship with them. A child plays with the same serious concentration with which an adult does hard work: by playing he relates to the outside world.

The five or six-year-old child enjoys not only hearing fairy tales but above all inventing them himself, imagining himself in a fantastic world, built on the basis of his desires. Sometimes the child becomes so immersed in the stories that he invents others, in order to continue his game even with adults, trying to involve them in his own fantasy world. Just as play is important in the developmental age, so are fairy tales.

Fairy tales give children and others the opportunity to discover their own emotional world. Often, when you listen to a fairy tale you are totally absorbed by it. Even more so in the case of children. It is possible through fairy tales to learn new patterns of behaviour, learn to respond more effectively to difficult or uncomfortable situations.

In this way, you learn not to be won over by the emotions you experience. Recognizing themselves in the protagonists, identifying with them, will give the child a way to get in touch with emotions, they will learn to recognize them, to give them a name and then to express them.

The moment of the stories told and listened to my mum and dad, perhaps snuggled in their arms, takes on a much greater emotional meaning than the gesture itself.

The time of the story before going to sleep is very important for the relationship between parents and children.

The time a parent devotes to their child speaks of generosity, instructs the pleasure of giving and receiving. It is a time that shows affection and patience. It is a time full of presence, in which just “being” is in itself a moment that gives the child security, helps him in the growth of his emotional and cognitive abilities. This space can be filled with questions, stories about how your day went, reflections, fantasies and images. It is a fruitful space in which self-confidence can grow, the ability to overcome small fears, insecurities and conflicts, so it is much better to let the children fall asleep in this way, rather than in front of the TV or in the room alone. they are fables for all ages. Already at one year, children can pay attention to short and simple stories, for example, small books made of simple pictures. Then as they grow up, you will notice that the children are able to follow increasingly complex stories. Around the age of 3-4, their interest will be focused on those stories that refer to their daily activities, such as eating, sleeping, dressing, playing, brushing teeth. Instead, around 4-5 years he will like to listen and identify with stories about fairies, princesses, knights, wizards, animals.

It is important to develop the “muscle” of the imagination, both for childhood and, in the future, for adulthood. It is useful for understanding and overcoming the tragedies of life, such as abandonment, wickedness, fear. Fairy tales, along with different game modes, can be useful to foster self-confidence, to better understand some events, to instil in the child a sense of welcome and protection. Every form of playful activity plays a reassuring and compensation role . Play is necessary to grow, learn and socialize.

From three to six years of age, group play is characterized by inconsistency and the lack of rules: each child tries to fulfil his needs in the game, wants to emerge at the expense of others and cannot tolerate sacrifices. The acquisition of a role (what everyone must do within the group) is the first step towards interaction. After the age of six, the child begins to play in groups and interact with others. Group play is based on respect for everyone’s rights and duties.

Strict compliance with the rule is accepted from pre-adolescence and any punishment is tolerated so that everyone is judged equally. Accepting the rules requires overcoming childish egotism. They are abstract and can only be understood from about eleven years old, the age in which the boy is able to detach himself from the concrete world, to make hypotheses, managing to evaluate reality from points of view other than his own and to identify with others. .

The boy accepts the penalty in the game as a guarantee and also as a safety factor: in case of success, the rule would reward him instead of the partner.

In the psychological, pedagogical and sociological fields, the game has for years been the focus of analysis on child development, with the aim of understanding the subjective, relational, cognitive and behavioural world of the child. When the child has a normal psycho-affective development and when this possibility is offered to him, he uses a large number of games every day.

Due to its value as a mediator between external and internal reality, play is a privileged therapeutic means with children who, even with age-related differences, do not have the skills of adults in recognizing and expressing their moods. nor to give a correct meaning to events; the dimension of the game, through the fantastic use of real objects, lends itself well to representing the experiences of children, making them “visible” and therefore shared.

The English psychoanalyst M. Klein (1882-1960), introduces play in therapeutic work with children, who express themselves through the help of small toys placed within their reach. This is possible even for those who do not have language still completely available. The game thus becomes a language to be interpreted by paying attention to the single factors that constitute it (duration, material, symbols, characteristics, difficulty, participation).

M. Klein argues that children’s games have a facade behind which it is possible to discover latent content only through careful analysis; just as it happens to discover the latent content of dreams. Klein argues in this regard that there are children’s games – such as “mother’s”, in which girls represent the fulfilment of their motherhood desires and express a great desire for comfort and consolation – and children’s games, such as those with toy cars. , carts, horses and trains, or the “fight” one where the child demonstrates courage, skill and cunning to defend himself from enemies and to defend himself.

For both sexes, what appears important from this point of view is the ability to play without inhibitions: the inhibition to play or the obsessive interest in a single specific play mode can be interpreted as the consequences of inadequacies that generate emotional conflicts in the child.

Observing how, with what and with whom the child can help the adult to promote the design of more stimulating play environments, the adoption of behaviours preparatory to its development, models of interaction with the child-centred on language and the ability to express differentiated their feelings, the use of material that lends itself to multiple playful combinations and different symbolic representations. Help the child to play better and more is to allow him to externalize his fantasies of omnipotence, as well as those of inadequacy. Playing thus becomes the way to express one’s moods and, at the same time, to identify possible conflicts.

The first person to use the game in a formal way by associating it with verbal interaction was Hermine von Hug-Helmut, a student of Freud. Hug-Helmut in 1920 wrote an article in which he highlighted how children found relief and help not so much in intuition and conscious learning but in the play itself.

According to Erikson (1902-1994), through play, the child can control his own aggression by organizing it in a social function and can also control a frustrating reality as play fulfils the function of overcoming suffering. If we observe a child playing, we see that he often destroys what he does with such care: this is an attempt to control an experience that he has had negatively on himself. Play in childhood is also the main element that promotes learning; gives the possibility to gradually pass from the simplest problems (games) to the most complex and difficult ones; and also the possibility of verifying success or error. Erickson observed how play is the means for children to get to control the traumatic experience; arguing that the fiction that is generated in the game eliminates the possible occurrence of feelings of guilt that could appear if that same fiction becomes a real pain. Therefore, play is a therapeutic agent as it has therapeutic factors capable of producing positive effects in the individual.

The playing technique is still in use today in play therapy; there are various approaches that differ philosophically and technically, but are similar in their use of therapeutic and play development properties to help children achieve optimal growth and development.

Play Therapy is a large sector developed at the turn of the twentieth century that systematically uses natural.

The main aspect is fun; very important is the relevance of the process to the result and also: voluntariness, the child must never be forced to play; internal control, the player chooses what to do and how to do; active involvement, watching is not playing; intrinsic motivation, the play does not need reinforcement, (Rise VanFleet, 2010)

Schaefer (1993), defines therapeutic powers “those factors that exert a beneficial effect since they determine a decrease in symptoms or increase the desired behavior”.

With reference to the primary therapeutic powers of Play Therapy identified by Schaefer in 1999, we find:

  • Behavioral training. The game allows the therapist to model certain behaviors making them more adaptive (assertiveness vs. aggression);
  • Attachment. Parents who participate in games with their children are more likely to develop secure attachment (sensory-motor and interactive play); the therapist teaches parents how to create greater parent/child attachment through interactive and sensory-motor play;
  • Abreaction. Through play, children relive certain traumatic experiences; this allows them, gradually, to relive them and to have greater control over them. Adults “talk”, children play.
  • Vent. Emotional release is universally recognized as an essential element in any type of therapy. The child in the playroom can express these emotions by hitting an inflatable doll, balls, or working with clay, thus dissolving the accumulated and repressed physiological and psychological tensions;
  • Competence. In the game, children create, tell stories, face challenges, build entire worlds, and develop a sense of competence that supports the growth of their sense of self-esteem allowing them to meet future demands and objectives.
  • Counter-conditioning. Some internal emotional conditions are mutually exclusive, so some playful situations can be used as a counterpart for unpleasant situations.

for example, if we can make a child who is afraid of the dark play hide and seek in a dark room, this would lead him to better face his fears.

  • Self-expression. Small children express their internal states through play activities and playful material. Their vocabulary and restricted abstract thinking ability limit the expression of their conscious thoughts and emotions. The game allows them to express themselves indirectly by allowing them to interpose a distance psychological to painful feelings.
  • Facilitates learning. Play, as a pleasant activity, stimulates attention and learning, facilitating more adaptive thoughts and behaviors, greater social and emotional skills.

– Compensatory fantasies. Play allows you to develop absent compensatory aspects; the child can be stronger, braver, and richer. The play takes on a substitute value of the child’s wishes, thus becoming a compensatory element.

  • Locus of control. In real life, the child has little possibility of control over events, in the game he can make whatever he wants to happen, keep the situation under control, feel powerful; be able to develop an internal locus of control
  • Self-control. Through particular games, such as board games or constructions, the child develops and learns the skills of self-control, of their impulses, of postponement and gratification.
  • Creative problem solving. The increase in divergent thinking and creativity is often associated with play; the child is always looking for new combinations and discoveries in the game that will then lead him to have more resources to solve personal and social problems.

The use of play in clinical practice with children has developed enormously.

Although not spread uniformly throughout the world, Play Therapy is still a practice known and applied in many countries, particularly in North America, Northern Europe, South Korea and Japan. Currently, there are a variety of different approaches including Psychoanalytic, Adlerian, Client-Centered, Cognitive-Behavioral, Eco-systemic, Filial (Parent-child), Prescriptive Play Therapy, etc. who use the therapeutic principles of play in clinical practice not only with children even under the age of three but also with adolescents and adults.

The common aspect of each Play Therapy model is to use the game, rather than the word, as the main means of communication. Not all playful activities involving an adult and a child can be considered Play Therapy, even if they still generate positive effects.

We talk about play around when an adult simply plays with one or more children.

In situations where the game is used as a means to favor the realization of another intervention, we speak of play work. An example of play work is the adaptation of the play to contexts such as medical ones, in which playful activities are used to allow the child to undergo medical procedures with less tension and suffering.

Unlike the previous activities, Play Therapy takes place when the game is used as a therapeutic process, in the sense that through it first difficulties and objectives are identified and then a process is undertaken through which the client will be helped to overcome their difficulties and achieve fuller and more positive development. In interventions that are traced back to the domain of non-directive models, the therapist carefully selects toys in the playroom to help children express a variety of feelings and problems.

The child will then choose which toys to use and the way in which he intends to play with them.

The therapist empathically follows the child’s initiative by joining games of pretence and imagination when invited by the child and provides the limits at the appropriate times to protect their physical integrity and promote the exercise and development of self-control.

The whole work is aimed at creating a safe atmosphere in which the child feels free to express himself, try new things, learn rules and social restrictions, face and elaborate on his own problems.

In the broad sector of management models, on the other hand, the therapist proposes, from time to time, the play activities based on the therapeutic plan he has formulated.

Furthermore, with respect to a wide variety of problems, Play Therapy is an ideal choice as numerous researches support its effectiveness both in relation to a wide variety of problems and in the acquisition of desired behaviors and specific skills; it is based on a wide repertoire of approaches and activities that make interventions adaptable to contexts and different situations; the activities expressed through play are always appropriate and in tune with the child’s developmental level; it involves and entertains also allowing to overcome resistance and defenses.

Developmental psychology and its research, in fact, support the efficacy of play therapy in a wide variety of problems such as behavioral disorders, pervasive developmental disorders, crises and trauma, divorce, death, change of home, chronic diseases, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and natural disasters.

Another form of Play Therapy is the Family one. In this type of typology of interventions the whole family is involved in games and playful activities. A particular form of family intervention is Filial Therapy, where parents become the main agents in the treatment of their children as they are trained by the therapist to implement sessions of non-directive (child-centred) play. Through Filial Therapy, parents are taught the skills needed to be used in the home, essentially based on structuring, empathic listening, imaginary play and the definition of limits; (Rise VanFleet, 2011). The goal is to equip parents with the tools to change not only their relationships with their children but also their behaviour in the home and family.

According to the model, play is intended as a therapy tool, which allows improving not only the parent-child relationship but also to positively influence marital relationships, peer networks and family relationships in general.

Each activity is always adapted to the child’s level of development, so with the growing age and the further development of language and cognitive abilities, appropriate Play Therapy modalities are used, in which language progressively assumes a greater proportion than the game. The tools of the trade also vary depending on the approach and the type of work to be performed; usually, the therapist asks himself “Is the article safe for the child?”, “Does it encourage the expression of children’s feelings or themes? “,” Does it allow projective or imaginative use by the child? “.

Among the common items, in the game room, we find:

– Games related to family and care (family of dolls, puppets and assorted puppets, dolls’ houses, etc.).

– Games related to the aggressive appearance (guns with soft darts with a clear toy-like appearance, toy soldiers, scary animals, etc.).

– Construction games

– Expressive games (colored pencils, markers with drawing paper, clay, play-doh or other modelling substances, a tray for the sand game, miniatures and models).

– Other multipurpose games (models, board games, etc).

A Filial Therapy project starts with observing the game in the family environment, how to play, who plays with whom, where to play, what to play with. Filial Therapy is particularly suitable for children aged 3 to 12, the dedicated play sessions last on average 30-35 minutes, one parent and one child at a time. In the initial phase, play demonstrations are carried out by the specialist, then we move on to parenting training and then to Filial Therapy sessions supervised by the specialist.

This type of interventions are very effective both for the optimal development of the child and for a general improvement of his psychic and social functioning; this is testified by research in play therapy, which has shown the beneficial effects with less than fourteen game sessions, and some positive effects are measurable already after two sessions.

Specifically, in the school setting, Fall, Balvanz, Johnson and Nelson found a significant increase in self-efficacy in children who attended six-play therapy sessions, compared with a control group that received no intervention.

One of the key objectives is to obtain the support of parents and teachers in the school project based on play therapy. It would be useful and advisable for the school psychologist to train teachers in order to understand that facilitating play therapy at school requires their collaboration in planning the play session.

School psychologists can have a greater impact than children in involving parents and teachers in treatment. Children’s relationships with their parents and teachers are of primary importance for their well-being, so teaching these key figures on how to interact more effectively with children has significant potential in both preventive and therapeutic terms. It seems that teachers may resist the idea that a child is leaving the classroom to play, if he is not doing well academically or if a child has had behavioral problems in the classroom. One of the transversal objectives of this approach is also to re-educate the school mentality. Starting the academic year with short play therapy, staff training, explaining and listing the emotional and behavioral benefits, and sharing how the program is implemented, helps initiate the teacher to support the school program. To grow support, the school psychologist is advised to conduct constant consultation on a monthly basis with teachers of children in play therapy.

The consultation consists of listening to the teacher’s concern, recording any behavioral changes and sharing the general progress of the children.

In initial training, the psychologist hands down the basic assumption emphasized by Landreth of “being with” and the ability of the therapist (or even the teacher) to know how to enter the world of the child. Only when the child begins to feel secure, accepted and understood, will he begin to express these feelings, which are the most emotionally significant. Therefore all abilities, verbal and non-verbal, are used to communicate four messages to the child: “I am here”, “I listen to you”, “I understand”, and “I am interested”. Kindergartens are increasingly welcoming this way of interacting with the child; to enter his world and make it knowable and communicable.

In fact, play therapy has also statistically demonstrated significant effects in reducing stress in school relationships (Ray, 2007) and reducing aggressive behaviours (Schumann, 2005) . These examples of well-designed research studies conducted on Play Therapy, they support the validity of the intervention in aid of the reduction of behavioural problems, the improvement of self-efficacy, and the improvement of relationships between pupils and teachers – all useful factors to enhance future school performance.

Play therapy training can provide preschools with a specific protocol for interventions that can be easily implemented in the school environment. Within this framework, the key to effective therapy is building a relationship between the therapist and the child, recognizing the child’s ability to become a responsible, reliable, and capable person.

Play plays a key role in the development of the child from a cognitive, emotional and social point of view. In the game, the child often imitates what happens in reality by “pretending to”: objects, actions, present situations are used as symbols to represent something that is not present but that can be imagined. This phase, which appears in the second year of life, is called symbolic play and highlights the children’s representation skills (Bornstein, O’Reilly, 1993).

During the second year of life, in which children begin to conceptualize abstract relationships between symbols and real-life referents, play becomes a fundamental mode of mental representation.

Piaget (1962) has closely linked play and children’s cognitive development. The child in the first year of life manipulates one object at a time and carries out behaviours concerning the sensorimotor sphere. This type of game is called exploratory or non-symbolic because it allows you to collect information about objects and their perceptual qualities. Gradually the child carries out more advanced behaviours by manipulating parts of objects or juxtaposing two or more objects to observe the relationship.

During the second year of life, the game actions become even more complex involving objects which in turn can become other objects, such as a cube that becomes a tower. The game thus becomes symbolic or of representation, because it constitutes a means to enact symbolic scenes. According to Piaget’s theory, the game follows an ordinal sequential development, action and exploration are the basis of knowledge and the symbolic game passes from a mode that involves only itself, like pretending to sleep, to a game that involves objects, such as pretending the doll is eating.

The development of the symbolic game takes place according to five-level stages:

Passing game: that is an approximation of symbolization, like holding the phone to the ear without speaking;

Self-directed symbolic game: how to pretend to sleep;

Symbolic game directed to others: how to hug the doll;

A sequence of symbolic games: how to dial and call;

Substitute symbolization: when one or more substitute objects are involved, for example using the cube as a handset and talking on the phone.

During the third year of life, the ability to implement more complex game actions are consolidated and implemented more frequently.

Furthermore, Vigotsky (1978) conceived symbolic play no longer as a solitary activity that highlights the patterns of the child he already has, but as a formative activity that occurs through the interaction between the child and the parents (Smolucha, Smolucha, 1998). Therefore, the development of play in the child also takes place thanks to the interaction with the adult through interaction and responding to their requests. He emphasized the role of interaction for cognitive development through the concept of the proximal development zone, which indicates the space that allows the child to raise the level of problem-solving under the guidance of a more experienced partner such as the mother, compared to a spontaneous and free performance if he were alone. Therefore the adult plays a supporting role (scaffolding) for the development of the child until the latter has learned specific skills that will allow him to be autonomous. For this reason, play allows the child to pass through the proximal development zone, through which anticipation of development is achieved. Learning is possible through meaningful relationships that constitute a kind of scaffolding, which supports the child, who actively builds the development of new skills that are internalized. Vygotsky therefore attaches importance to interaction in the learning process, which becomes a structuring element towards the development and growth of the child.

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