The problem of self-organized play in the context of A.V. Zaporozhets' concepts

General Information

Keywords: A.V. Zaporozhets, self-organized play, director's play, play task, cognitive development, preschool children

Journal rubric: Memorable Dates

For citation: Trifonova E.V. The problem of self-organized play in the context of A.V. Zaporozhets' concepts. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2006. Vol. 2, no. 5 (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

A Part of Article

Among the works by Alexander Zaporozhets those devoted to play as a leading activity in preschoolers are not many. At the same time they are so profound and precise in depicting the main issues of development and pedagogical support children’s play that they are still of current importance today.

A. Zaporozhets especially emphasized the great developmental potential of preschoolers’ play which could be put into effect only in the course of play’s transformation into “the form of a child’s initiative” (p. 239). Special training provided by an educator who introduces the new topics and ways of playing in the necessary sequence is not sufficient for the enhancement of play activity; it is necessary to change the methods of its guidance which will make it possible to activate the developmental potential of spontaneous play in children. The idea of a leading role of spontaneous play was expressed in S. Novosyolova’s classification in which the leading role belongs not just to any form of socio-dramatic play but namely to its spontaneous form. Here the child doesn’t only choose the plot of his/her play but also sets the play tasks, looks for ways of solving them and independently uses the play objects and actions. In such activity the development of spontaneous play is provided by generalization of a variety of child’s experiences and its use in play but never by an increased complication of the plots.

A. Zaporozhets emphasized that the leading role in child development belonged to independent play. On one side this idea is generally recognized but on the other side when it comes to mental development of a child the role of independent play “on default” is regarded as limited. A. Zaporozhets demonstrated the leading role of play relating to the mental development of preschoolers. Being guided by investigations of P.Gal’perin he suggested that in the course of play a step by step formation of psychic processes turning from external, material action to mental, imaginary ones took place. The significance of play is connected not only with the process of transformation of material actions into mental, ideal ones (it can be more successfully realized in the course of training), but with the formation of this mental, ideal plan. It has a great meaning for further development of a person. As A. Zaporozhets figuratively stated: “visual notions of reality and capacity to manipulate them, which are under the formation at this age, constitute the ground floor of an entire building of human thinking. Without the basis like that the construction and functioning of higher intellectual levels that are characterized by complex systems of abstract, logic, sign-mediated operations seem next to impossible” (p. 242—243).

The link between this aspect of preschoolers’ play activity and their mental development was investigated by S. Novosyolova. According to her definition preschoolers’ play is a specific form of child contemplation about the surroundings. This statement is not given for effect. She showed that the cognitive nucleus of activity (presented by a goal, conditions, means and methods of its achievement) display itself in play in the course of a child’s solving the play tasks which s/he sets him/herself or accepts from others ( adults and peers as play partners). Play task is defined as a system of conditions that provide an imaginary goal which is intelligible to a child due to his/her life experience and which is aimed at reproduction of reality by play means and methods. Child capacity to solve a play task and its peculiarities can serve one of the most significant characteristics of preschooler’s cognitive development and his/her spontaneous play can be used as a method of estimation of development.

To create conditions for a play situation the traditional make-believe play with toys or objects-substitutes was often used in diagnostics. Children also often turn to play in the process of drawing and plot the actions with the characters drawn. This type of make-believe play was called by the author a “a make-believe play with a picture”. Why do we treat this activity as a play? First, it displays a play motive (criteria of a play activity according to A.Leont’ev): the child draws a picture not to depict something special but in order to produce some play action which is embodied not only in graphic symbols but also in expressive speech, storytelling, dramatization. Second, in activity like that there always presents an imaginary situation (criteria of a play by L. Vygotsky).

Thus the make-believe play with a picture is the one in which the play object is created by a child graphically on a sheet of paper in accordance with his/her own wishes, imagination and needs. This type of game was chosen by the author as a foundation for elaboration of a new method of child cognitive development evaluation. The instruction looked as follows. The child was involved in a play situation, but instead of toys s/he was given a sheet of paper with an incomplete picture and a set of pencils. The child could finish and signify the picture in any way it was necessary for the development of the play subject.

The analysis of protocols demonstrated qualitative age differences of children in their approaches to a play task. The problem was to single out the parameters of estimation able to reflect the specificity of child cognitive development. Such parameters were singled out in a course of investigation.

The first parameter was connected with a treatment of a play task as a task in general, i.e. as “a goal in its connection to certain conditions) (A. Leont’ev, emphasized by E.T.). A child’s capacity to take them into consideration when composing play events was taken as a criterion of his/her mental specificity. The study demonstrated that in solving a play task a child might take into account the meaning of the conditions of the task (taken separately from the conditions of play and reflecting in the matter of the play something which was missing in play instruction but is in line with the sense of the situation created); might approach the play task in a formal manner (just repeating the text of play instruction but not conveying the specificity of the situation by means of actions); or might not take into consideration the conditions of the task at all. We observed the cases when children fulfilled the task not taking into account even the goal of the play task itself.

The second parameter estimated the structure of play actions as well as their relations to real objects. We could judge not only about the level of a child’s activeness and initiative but also about his/her experience of real and imaginary transformations and their backgrounds just by estimating the quality of child’s play actions (i.e., whether they are uncoordinated or structured, reproductive or creative).

In solving the play tasks some children pointed to some features of blank pictures and instructions suggested to them and tried to give their comments. This sensitivity to contradictions (or its absence) as one of the significant characteristics of cognitive development was stressed by many researchers. That is why the third parameter was connected with interpretation of the object (sign) environment within which the task is solved, explained and added to a consistent integral viewpoint of a child.

The analysis of data obtained in examination with more than two thousand children aged 4—10 years involved made it possible to conclude that this method of cognitive development estimation is valid enough and reliable for examination of preschoolers. The use of make-believe play with a picture as a diagnostic technique allowed researchers to obtain very indicative data regarding the contemporary situation of child development acceleration. The data that we collected demonstrated the difference between the true knowledge adequately used by children in their every day practice and the formal knowledge, memorized but unapprehended by children. The latter couldn’t be a basis for the further generalizations of a higher level and a foundation for new attainments. It is just what A. Zaporozhets warned about when mentioned spontaneous play as “a ground floor of an entire building of human thinking” (p. 243). The data obtained supports the idea that children’s education should rely upon their real practices and that before their knowledge is generalized in words as symbols it should by all means be generalized in actions (L. Vygotsky). At the same time children are to be given enough time for this knowledge to become firmly established in their spontaneous play, experiments and other kinds of independent activity.

The main function of spontaneous play is in its ability to promote knowledge acquisition in the process of an independently organized play, try this knowledge out and apprehend it truly. This is why the level of child mental development will be determined not by the bulk of his/her knowledge and the capacity to reproduce it in relatively similar situations but through his/her ability to form up his/her activity as based on this knowledge. The high level here is connected not with a direct transfer of the method of activity but with its generalization and its use in different contexts.

The elimination of spontaneous play from kindergarten’s curriculum, its substitution with training and exercises which are sometimes called “didactic games”, do not provide an opportunity for full development of the child during preschool years.

Information About the Authors

Ekaterina V. Trifonova, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor of the Psychological Anthropology Department at the Institute of Сhildhood, Moscow State Pedagogical University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:



Total: 552
Previous month: 1
Current month: 0