The study was designed generally to determine teachers’ perception of the influence of play on the development of pre-primary school children; the study was carried out in Otukpo Education Zone Benue State. The study was guided by four (4) research questions and four (4) hypotheses. The study adopted a descriptive survey research design. The population for the study comprised of all the public pre-primary schools teachers in Otukpo Education zone Benue state numbering 1,500 teachers. The sample for the study was 315 pre-primary school teachers drawn from a total number of fifty (50) pre-primary schools in Otukpo Education Zone Benue State. The procedure adopted in selecting the sample of the research was through multi-stage sampling technique. Purposive sampling technique was used to select three (3) local government areas from five (5) local government areas that made up of Otukpo Education Zone; these include Apa, Obi and Otukpo L.G.A. Random Sampling technique was used to select thirty (30) schools from urban and twenty (20) schools from rural area of Otukpo Education Zone giving total number of 50 pre-primary schools. The instrument for data collection was structured questionnaire titled teachers’ perception of influence of play on pre-primary school children’s development. The instrument was developed by the researcher along line with the research purposes. The instrument was divided into two (2) sections, section A contained personal data of the respondents while section B contained the main instrument of forty (40) items grouped into four (4) clusters, and the instrument was structured in a 4 point rating scate of strongly Agree SA-4 point, Agree (A) 3 points disagree (D) 2 points and Strongly Disagree (SD) 1 point. The instrument was subjected to face validation by two (2) expert in childhood Education and one (1) experts in Measurement and Evaluation all in the faculty of Education, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Twenty (20) copies of the instrument were administered on twenty (20) teachers selected outside the study area. The responses of the twenty (20) teachers were subjected to crombach alpha statistic for internal reliability. The internal consistency showed the reliability coefficient of 0.73 for cluster A, cluster B had 0.67, cluster C had 0.78 and cluster D had 0.76 respectively. The overall reliability coefficient is 0.88. Direct delivery method was adopted in the administration and collection of the instrument, 315 copies of the structured questionnaire. Mean and standard deviation (SD) was used to answer the research questions while the hypotheses was tested using t-test at 0.05 level of significance. The benchmark for the data analysis was 2.55 and above was accepted while the mean score below 2.55 was not accepted. The study had implication for teachers, caregivers, proprietors’ counselors, social workers curriculum planners, policy makers and ministry of education. Recommendations were made, suggestions for further studies were made and the study had some limitations.

Background of the Study
Play is linked to many aspects of a child’s life, learning to manipulate objects, learning to play social roles. Learning to solve problems, creating and helping to resolve emotional tensions. Play is universal and it is found in all cultures. This suggests that play has a functional significance. Play is a way of exploring the environment by children as they try to find out about the nature, characteristics, behavior of materials and what the situation offers them. According to Brain and Martin in Ahupa and Ushie (2008) play is a child’s work and indeed the business of childhood. In the same vein, Anderson and Mc Namee (2010) refer to play as children’s work. Henniger, (2005) and Fox (2008) maintained that, play is more easily described in terms of its characteristics because there is no one specific way to define play.

Play is an activity oriented exercise that the child is involved in and values so much. The exercise helps a child in his early childhood development to explore the environment. In the same vein, Grossbeg (2013) observed that play will accord the child the opportunity to explore, inquire and discover the world around him and it is a means through which children learn, understand themselves and make sense of the world around them. According to Ibiam (2013), play is a range of voluntary intrinsically motivated activities that are usually associated with enjoyment. The researcher has come to understand from the definition and explanations of play that it is an essential part of every child’s life. The children’s potentials are developed through play and it also gives children self-satisfaction and enjoyment, relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects children together in a positive way. It stimulates creative thinking, exploration, regulates emotions and boosts their ego. In this study, play means what children do when they follow their own ideas and interests in their own way and for their own reasons for amusement and enjoyment often with other children or with toys.

Realizing the importance of play to a child’s development the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004) stated in the National Policy on Education that the main method of teaching at this level should be through play. Play method of teaching, according to Onwurah, Uzodinma &  Njoku (2013), involves allowing the pupils to learn and explore at their own pace. The teacher is therefore to guide the pupils in their activities as abilities of the pupils vary. It therefore becomes apparent that selection of instructional or play materials for the children is very important. The classroom should be sufficiently equipped with learning materials (toys) such as cars, buses, aeroplane, building blocks, balls, counting materials, dressing materials, painted pictures, chats pen, pencils. As the children play with the materials, this does not only contribute to their development but also gives them satisfaction, enjoyment, as well as help in developing their potentials in full. Ibiam (2013) maintains that different play activities may require various play materials, so there is need to provide ample, pleasant and safe space for free movement and exploration of children. Asim (2000) maintained that, learning through play is meant to impact the cognitive, affective, and psycho-motor behavior of the childhood stage.

Childhood is that period in a child’s life when he/she is free from responsibilities and depends on adults for protection and care. It is also the period a child learns mostly through play and imitation (Ofoha, 2013). The childhood stage starts from birth and extend till puberty, usually between 10-12years. The childhood stage can be subdivided into two phases, early childhood (birth- 8years) and late childhood (8-12yeas). It is a time of life during which significant transformations take place. Obinaju (2004) observed that they are totally dependent on some other people for survival and the satificatison of their needs to a time when they can survive on their own. The newborn infant that is equipped with basic reflexes develops into an active, curious child, capable of walking, talking and pretending. Children’s vocabulary increases rapidly and they acquire the ability to remember experiences, sustain attention, count and recognize letters. Thomas (2009) observed that the early years of a child are important because they are the period during which children acquire the basic skills that serve as the foundation for later learning. Ofoha (2013), maintained that early childhood is a time of bridge building, that it is a time in a child’s life when bridges are built between play with few neighborhood friends, and relationship with many children, and between shelter of home and demands of the school (education).

Early childhood education, as contained in the National Policy on Education (FRN, 2004) is the education given in an educational institution to children prior to their entering the primary school, it includes the crèche, the nursery and the kindergarten. Moduewesi (2005), defines pre-primary education as semi-formal education arrangement usually outside the home whereby young children from about the age of three (3) years are exposed through play like activities in a group setting. Pre-primary school education, according to Maduewes is the rock on which basic tools of learning such as literacy, numeracy, citizenship, reflective thinking, character and moral training, manipulative skills and love for fellow man are founded. Pre-primary education is the beginning, the A.B.C. of formal education. The child in his formative years in pre-primary education is quick to learn and retain whatever he/she is taught and is very active. Research has shown that what they learn at this period is sustained and boost later learning because their brains are active, they learn faster and easily at this age. Pre-primary school children, according to Maduewesi (2005) are within the age limit of 3-5years. This is when the young child needs to spend time at home to understand how things function and pick up ideas and experiences which would be used later in life. The normal pre-primary school children ought to be toilet trained and able to communicate their needs to a familiar person. She/he has to be ready to learn to share equipment such as toys with others.

Early childhood education, being the bedrock of the entire structure of learning and life generally, should be provided with a wide variety of planned educational experiences for the promotion of the child’s development. The early childhood centre could either be in the rural or urban environment. These two environments are quite distinct in socio-economic terms. According to Brewer (2007) there is no universally accepted way to classify the urban –rural environment; However, DEFRA reported that the following criteria, population density, agriculture, economic specialization, human resources, skills, land cover and spatial dimensions of social life could be used for the classification. Agriculture is an important determinant factor for defining the rural area. The people in rural localities are predominantly subsistent farmers with low skilled and educated labour force, while the urban environment is cosmopolitan in nature, characterized by rapid socio-economic and cultural flux.

For the purpose of this study, a rural area is an environment with low population, few pre-primary schools with poor infrastructure, poor facilities and few qualified personnel or teachers. An urban area is a city or town with a large population, standard pre-primary schools and good facilities for teaching and learning and play materials that will influence the children’s development.

Development is increase in size and function. It refers to the qualitative increase in individual potentialities as a result of maturation and experience. Morrison (2004) said that a child’s development is a gradual process that progresses somewhat differently for different aspects of the individual. According to the author, the aspects or the components of a child’s development include the physical development, cognitive/intellectual development....

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