From the Theory of Play into the Practice in Kindergarten: Verification of the Original Didactic Toys for Preschool Children

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Abstract

Introduction: This study deals with the phenomenon of play in the preschool environment. Based on establishing the links between theories and practice applicable in preschool conditions, the students from study programme of Preschool Teacher Training at Faculty of Humanities at Tomas Bata University in Zlín created a set of original didactic toys for preschool children. The main objective of the study was to verify this set in kindergartens and to find out how teachers perceive play and how they work with toys in preschools. The study also focused on preschool children´s view of play and toys. Methods: We have chosen a qualitative research design to explore the research problem and to answer the research questions. The data collection in this research was based on participant observation and interviews with the participants who were preschool children and their teachers from four selected kindergartens in Zlín Region in the Czech Republic. These were 12 teachers with secondary or university education (Bc. degree), aged 23 to 48, with a length of practice from 1 year to 25 years at the position of kindergarten teacher. The research study then included interviews and video recordings of 77 preschool children (age 2 to 6 years). Results: Data gathered by a qualitative research with preschool children in the kindergarten environment represent a partial picture on the importance of toys and playing with them. The results emerging from the observation and interviewing the preschool children and their teachers shows the way of toy selection with the importance of variability of possible modifications of the toys offered to children in the preschool environment. The progress of play with the verified didactic toys was influenced by the need for a partner in the play, the role of the teacher, the chances to freely discover the elements of toys. We found a restrictive perspective expressed by the participating preschool teachers about the dominant influence on selected toys in kindergarten environment. Discussion: The findings suggest that it is not prospective to focus solely on the toy itself. In agreement with Pyle and Bigelow (2015), it is possible to monitor the impact of playing on the development of children's social, emotional and educational skills. Based on the observation and interviews with both children and teachers, we have come to the view that it is increasingly important to support the didactic thinking of preschool teachers. We also considered the issue in the sense of feedback for authors of the toys and for future preschool teachers. Child-based research opens up the opportunity to interpret and analyse their own childhood perspective reflected in their own social worlds, emphasizing the complexity of understanding their experiences through the eyes of adults. Limitations: We consider important to point out certain limits of the presented research, given the circumstances that a sample of 15 classrooms observed in the total number of 4 kindergartens cannot bring results to be presented for wider generalizability. The intentional choice of toys for preschool children could also belong to the possible limits of this research. Conclusions: Children do not choose a toy for the purpose of conscious development of fine motor skills or with the aim to strengthen their social relationships with other children. Children just play. And they can play with toys similar to the original products made by students and verified in this research. Choosing toys and activities suitable for preschool children can also be a challenge for experienced teachers.

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