describes children in Erikson’s initiative versus guilt stage
4.1 Supporting the Child’s Development of Initiative
According to Erikson (1963), children progress from a sense of autonomy and independence to a stage characterized by initiative. The development of initiative typically occurs in children ages 3 to 6 years old. Children this age try to initiate all sorts of activities: new words, new combinations of words (grammar), new friendships, and new uses of art, play, and natural materials (water, sand, mud, stones, sticks, leaves, and so on) to create, to make things happen, and to see the relationship between what they do and the results of what they do. This is also called cause and effect. They also want to know why things are the way they are (“Grandpa, why don’t you wear shoes at home?” “Why is my friend Maia’s skin darker than mine?” “Why do flowers die?”). At this stage, children define themselves by what they can do (Harter, 2006a).
While the desire for initiative in a child is developmental, for a child to embrace initiative fully and be able to progress to the next stage, the environment in which the child lives and learns should actively support the child’s sincere efforts. This is accomplished largely by significant people in the child’s life engaging in important activities and behaviors and demonstrating certain behaviors. They must provide the following opportunities for the child:
Provide opportunities for discovery. Allow young children to discover the world and master basic information and knowledge about how the world works. This includes opportunities to play in water (they love to “help” with the dishes and cleaning the bathtub); help set the table; play in sand, dirt, and mud; garden; pick flowers and berries; stack stones and blocks; or blow dandelion and maple tree (helicopter) seeds.
Provide sensitive support. Provide sensitive support for the natural frustrations that occur at this age. Children often become extremely frustrated when they cannot accomplish what they set out to achieve (Wittmer & Petersen, 2010). This might be painting a picture, trying to make friends, putting a dress on a doll, dressing themselves, or setting the table. This frustration is caused by two realities: The child does not know the realistic expectations for a task or activity (exactly how high can one stack blocks; do dogs really not like their tails to be pulled?), and immature skill development—social, physical, emotional, linguistic, and cognitive. Also, children at this age often overestimate their own skills and abilities (Harter, 1999).
Encourage friendships. Provide opportunities for children to develop friends and play with peers. This can occur in many places: home, local playgrounds, early care and education centers. The best vehicle for developing friends at this age is play, which is discussed in more detail later in this chapter. It is critical, however, that children who attend early care and education programs have many opportunities—both indoors and outdoors—to engage in free play: play opportunities where children pick how they play, with whom they play, and what they play (Johnson, Christie, & Wardle, 2005). Children also need enough time to play, and they should not be denied opportunities to play due to misbehavior, schedules, or programmatic reasons.
Provide opportunities to plan and implement their plans. This includes inevitable changes and new planning. Planning gives children a great sense of power and control. While they need help in planning and implementing their plans, it is important for children to begin to learn to pursue ideas and activities from initiation to completion.
Provide opportunities to learn about their bodies and how to use their bodies in different ways. Children love to master physical challenges, which is why they learn to ride a tricycle and then a bicycle. Dance, free movement, swinging, climbing, and running all help children develop a sense of physical mastery.
Encourage all sorts of play. Because play is open-ended and low in stress, due to few externally imposed expectations, it is an ideal way for children to explore, investigate, master new language and physical skills, gain all sorts of information, and push their limits. (See the discussion on play later in this chapter.)
Provide children with a variety of ways to learn and maintain appropriate behaviors. Children at this age should be encouraged to help develop classroom rules and be reminded of the rules they have helped to make (e.g., “What do the rules say about running in the classroom?”). They also need to be reminded about consequences of their behaviors (“What do you think will happen when you pour water in the sand?” “What will happen when you mix the blue and yellow paint?”).
Limit exposure to media. Limit children’s exposure to TV and other electronic media. According to Piaget, preschool children learn by manipulating and playing with real objects, such as blocks, sticks, sand and water, crayons, toys, and other items (Piaget, 1962). Thus, to develop initiative, children need opportunities to investigate, manipulate, and experiment with real objects and with peers, rather than passively watching TV or using other electronic media. Lev Vygotsky, a theorist who lived in Russia during the beginning of the 20th century, developed a sociocultural theory of learning, which focuses on the influence of others (children and adults) and the importance of language on learning (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978). One of his ideas is that young children learn through meaningful dialogue with adults and more advanced children. While children do hear people talking on TV, they are not actively engaged in a meaningful dialogue, and research suggests TV watching does not increase children’s language skills or cognitive development (Anderson & Pempek, 2005; Krcmar, Grela, & Lin, 2007), except for education programs such as “Sesame Street.”
Children who have ample opportunities to explore, risk, master new skills, and push limits—at home, in the community, and in their early care and education programs—are more likely to develop a strong sense of initiative, what Bandura calls self-efficacy: “I can do it, I can make it, I can learn, and I can find out about it” (Kostelnik et al., 2009). However, children whose sincere efforts at initiative are thwarted by adult expectations and behaviors develop a sense of guilt. According to Erikson, “The danger of this stage is a sense of guilt over the goals contemplated and the acts initiated in one’s exuberant enjoyment of new locomotion and mental powers” (1963, p. 255).
Adults who make children feel they are clumsy and uncoordinated, tell them their play is silly and immature, accuse them of lying when they engage in fantasy and wild imagination, constantly correct their attempts to use new and complex language, and belittle their attempts to recall newly acquired facts and knowledge increase this sense of guilt (Kostelnik et al., 2009). If these kinds of interactions between the child and significant adults in the child’s life are frequent and pervasive, the child will become unsure of himself, his abilities, and his sense of self-worth and self-efficacy.
Characteristics of Children Who Have Developed Initiative
A child who is actively progressing toward achieving initiative experiences the pleasure of attacking and conquering new tasks. The child is more ready than before to learn quickly and enthusiastically, to work cooperatively with other children in constructing and planning, and to achieve specific behaviors (Erikson, 1963). At this stage, the child is open to learn from peers and teachers and to learn from the modeling of others (Bandura, 1965, 1977). Further, a child’s motivation to learn and succeed is being directed toward socially condoned roles of adult life, such as parenthood and specific professions. This is why children love to engage in dramatic play about parents, heroes in books and movies, and other adult role models (Erikson, 1963).
The typical behaviors of children at this age (3 to 6 years old) that characterize this healthy development of initiative include the following:
Love to create and invent
Want to take actions and assert themselves physically and socially
Challenge limitations and adult control
Like to pretend
Enjoy using new language and developing their own words
Take physical, social, and intellectual risks
Enjoy reaching out to interact with adults and other children
Love to play with peers
Focus on the process of a task, activity, or idea, rather than on the result or product
Exhibit tremendous pride in accomplishments and in attempts at new tasks and behaviors
Enjoy demonstrating newly learned words, concepts, and skills
Demand to make choices and do things their own way, even if they are incorrect
Find many ways for the world to notice and respond to them
Children at this age are in Piaget’s preoperational stage, as discussed in Chapter 3. This means that, while they can remember past experiences and demonstrate what they remembered through language, play, and artwork, these reflections are not necessarily accurate or logical (Ormrod, 2008). This characteristic can be seen in the child’s view of himself or herself at this age, which is called self-concept. Children who engage in initiative—who risk, attempt to play with other children, explore, try out new things, and work hard at all these efforts—view themselves as successful. They are not concerned with the end product, acquiring specific skills, or meeting the expectations set by adults; rather, their self-concept is based on making an effort and enjoying the process, without causing too much harm (through either accidents or upsetting important adults in their lives). For example, a child who is exploring all the things that can be done with felt markers on a large pad of paper will be focused on how to attach the paper to the easel, how to take the tops off the pens, and then how to draw with them. Once she has achieved these tasks, she will set her sights on determining the shapes, colors, images, and lines created with colored pens. These attempts may develop into a picture of some kind, but this is not the focus of the child’s endeavor.
Further, many preschool-age children have a very positive self-concept, believing they can be successful even when they have just failed at something (Stipek & Green, 2001; Stipek, Recchia, & McClintic, 1992). Most children at this age are extremely optimistic regarding their abilities and potential successes (Harter, 1999). However, to be fully prepared to progress through the stage of initiative versus guilt, a child needs to have secure attachment and have developed a sense of autonomy (Ainsworth, 1979; Erikson, 1963). Further, children who have been abused or neglected have very negative self-concepts and thus will struggle to achieve initiative at this age (Levine & Munsch, 2011).
4.2 Initiative and Play
The preschool years are often called the play years. This is not an accident. Children 3 to 5 years old absolutely love to play. This is a result of their rapidly developing physical skills and abilities, emerging cognitive development, and increasing experience in the world. In fact, most child development specialists and early childhood teachers believe that play is the best vehicle for children at this age to explore and manifest their drive toward initiative. For example, a child engaged in fantasy play based on her recent visit to the emergency room of a hospital will use new words that she heard the nurses and doctor use, imitate the behaviors of the doctor and nurses (probably by dressing up to represent these roles), and explore medical procedures such as taking a patient’s temperature, weighing the patient, and giving the patient a shot. Another child playing in the sandbox outside will experiment to determine how big a pile of sand he can make, explore the result of mixing water with the sand, and then determine whether he can make a miniature fort using sticks, leaves, and stones that he places in the wet sand. It is almost as if initiative and play are a perfect fit (Berlyne, 1960; Bruner, 1972; Piaget, 1962; Sutton-Smith, 1998). Play has been studied extensively by many scholars and can be viewed from several different perspectives. In this section, we will cover the characteristics of play, Piaget’s cognitive play stages, and Parten’s social play stages. Mildred Parten observed children playing, beginning with onlooker play (watching other children playing), and culminating in cooperative play (Parten, 1932, 1933). Based on her observations, Parten developed the stages of development of social play, which we will also explore. Finally, we will see how these two scales can be combined to show a child’s cognitive and social play behaviors together at the same time.
While it is important to understand the value of play and how children use play to acquire a vast array of skills, concepts, attitudes, and abilities, it must be noted that in this age of accountability and assessments, more and more preschools are reducing the amount of play children experience. This is the direct result of the federal law No Child Left Behind and a national push toward the use of preschool academic standards (Gronlund, 2006). Preschool programs are being asked to make sure children achieve certain academic standards in preparation for school entry and success (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2005). As a result, playtime in early care and education programs is often reduced (Kagan, Carrol, Comer, & Scott-Little, 2006).
Characteristics of Play
According to Johnson, Christie, and Wardle (2005), play can best be described by examining five characteristics. When young children play, they seem to exhibit all of these characteristics in some form: positive affect, nonliterality, intrinsic motivation, process orientation, and free choice.
Positive affect. Children engage in play because it is fun. Some parts of play might involve fear or anxiety, such as attempting to go down a slide for the first time, or climbing a tall tree, but the activity is engaged in and repeated because the overall experience is enjoyable. Positive affect describes the positive, affirming feeling children have when engaging in play.
Nonliterality. Probably the best characteristic of play for the preschool child is that it is not constrained by reality (use of materials, time, facts, or experiences), which is called nonliterality. A child can pretend that a small toy container is a cup of tea, a Lego is a piece of candy, and a doll is a real baby. A piece of material may be a doctor’s smock, and the child could be a father, mother, or football player. This characteristic of play enables children to explore all sorts of new ideas, experiences, languages, and emotions, without having to worry about accuracy.
Intrinsic motivation. Children play because it is satisfying. They stop playing when it no longer meets their needs. And when the play activity becomes boring, they invent ways to make it challenging and interesting again. It seems that children have an internal drive to play; they feel good inside when they play—what is termed intrinsic motivation. When children and adults do something because it is rewarded externally—adult praise, money, grades—we call this extrinsic motivation. Play is rewarding in and of itself.
Process orientation. Have you ever watched young children building a fort or similar structure? What do they do when it is finished? In a very short time, they will destroy it to build something else. This is because they enjoy the process of building the fort together; this characteristic of play is called process orientation. One of the great things about the process nature of play is that it can change along the way, based on new children joining the group, new ideas, and new discoveries.
Free choice. King (1979) conducted an experiment about work and play and discovered that when children freely choose the activity (called free choice), they view it as play, but when a teacher or other adult requires them to engage in the same activity, it is no longer considered play. Children, it seems, must select when they wish to play, with whom they wish to play, and how long they wish to play.
Central to all of these characteristics of play is the child. In fact, play is the prototype of child-centered learning. Because play is so responsive to the child’s interests, moods, experiences, and developmental levels, it is an ideal vehicle for the child during the stage of initiative versus guilt.
Piaget’s Cognitive Play Stages
In Chapter 2, we discussed the first two of Piaget’s stages of mental representation. Piaget was also interested in how children use these new mental abilities to influence what he called playing with things—object play. The cognitive play stages describe how children progress from the simplest form of play to what Piaget believes to be the most complex—games with rules (Piaget, 1962).
Functional play. The simplest use of objects in play occurs in functional play when objects are used for their own physical characteristics, such as stacking blocks, digging in the sand, and pouring water from one container to another. The 2-year-old who bangs on pots and pans in the kitchen with a spoon is engaged in functional play. When children use their own bodies in direct physical activities—swinging, sliding, climbing, and rolling—they are also engaged in functional play (Johnson, Christie, & Wardle, 2005).
Constructive play. When children use play materials to construct something, such as using blocks to build a house and sticks to build a fort in the mud, they are enjoying constructive play. Woodwork and most art activities are classic forms of constructive play. Building forts on the playground and complex structures in the block area are other examples. What is particularly intriguing about constructive play is that it combines basic knowledge of materials with very creative thinking—it is deep problem solving (Bruner, 1990). Furthermore, research suggests that, unsurprisingly, constructive play is the favorite kind of play for preschool-age children (Ihn, 1998).
Symbolic/dramatic/fantasy play. When children use materials in a symbolic manner (e.g., a block becomes a phone and a hat changes a boy into a woman), we have symbolic/dramatic/fantasy play. This form of play is the most open-ended kind of play, because children can divorce themselves from the concrete reality of materials and construct their own meaning, using objects as a way to do this. It is also the beginning of abstract thought, which is central to higher learning (Bruner, 1972).
Games with rules. Have you ever watched a group of 7- to 8-year-olds playing baseball when the hitter has just struck out? What does the hitter usually plead to the rest of the players? “Give me one more chance!” This is because most children at this age have not learned that when you give everyone more chances, the game is ruined. Thus, the ability to suppress one’s own ego needs for the rules of the game is what Piaget (1962) calls games with rules. There are very few 3- to 6-year-olds who can play complex games with rules.
While Piaget’s cognitive play theory is a stage theory—children progress from functional play to games with rules—this does not mean that once a child has reached games with rules that they cannot still choose to play at other levels. But, as with other developmental approaches, if a child is developmentally unable to play at one level, for example, symbolic play, the child needs to be encouraged to play at the level at which the child is most comfortable, before progressing to the next level.
Social Play Stages
Like Piaget’s cognitive play stages, Parten’s social play stages are also progressive. Thus, if a child is not capable of playing at one level of the scale (for example, cooperative play), the child needs to play at the level at which the child is most comfortable playing. A child cannot be taught to play at a certain level unless the child is developmentally ready to do so.
Solitary play. When children play alone, with no regard for adults or peers next to them, they are engaged in solitary play. A child might be focused on building with Legos or in setting up a tea service in the dollhouse. As the term states, the play is solitary.
Parallel play. Have you ever wondered why at certain times nobody is using the playground swings, and then all of a sudden they are all being used? Children enjoy playing side by side with other children, while still focusing on themselves and their own play activity. This is parallel play. When children dig in the sand together, without communicating to each other, they are engaged in parallel play.
Associative play. Children enjoy playing with other children, but they often do not really know how to do so. You might see children in the sandbox sharing each other’s digging toys or using each other’s pails. A child might imitate something the other child is doing. But sooner or later, these children will get into arguments, because they are still focusing on their own play and not on playing with others. This kind of social play is known as associative play.
Cooperative play. Children will engage in play activities with other children where everyone fully cooperates and negotiates the play’s roles and scripts. In the familiar doctor dramatic play activity, everyone wants to be the doctor and no one wants to be the baby, nurse, or mother. However, children in this activity know that if they all insist on being the doctor, the play episode will collapse. So they negotiate, deciding who will be the doctor first, second, and so on, and who will take on the roles of the other characters. This is called cooperative play. One reason children need a prolonged time to play is that these negotiations take time (Christie & Wardle, 1992).
Children with disabilities and other special needs may have difficulty progressing through each of these stages. However, teachers can use a variety of modifications and approaches to help these children participate in play, benefit from the value of play, and develop through the cognitive and social stages at their own pace (Sandall, 2004).