In his classic guidebook, Constructive Play, George Forman opens with these observations about play:
"The child learns through play. In fact, Jean Piaget insists that meaningful learning requires a period of open-ended 'playing around' with the alternative ways of doing something. Constructive play is a preliminary stage in the development of skill, and skill is preliminary to creativity. Play that does not increase skill may be pleasurable in a narrow sense, but is not what we would call constructive. Constructive play, by definition, builds on itself to increase the competence of the child. This competence, in turn, increases the child’s pleasure by making even more creative acts possible. The cycle repeats itself, with the new creative acts becoming yet another form of play at a higher level of understanding until they are mastered. Development, as Piaget ph rases it, is a spiral of knowledge moving upward through alternating play and skill.
"Another characteristic of constructive play, central to Piaget’s theory of development, is that the player herself must do the constructing. Meaningful learning is more likely when the child herself invents the alternative ways of doing something. In fact, if the child is only imitating alternatives modeled by a teacher or a parent, we do not call it play; it becomes drill. But if the child herself invents some new way to do something, the chances are that she will also better understand how that new way relates to the other ways that she has performed the act in the past."