Differences in Play


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Essay for my masters at Swansea University

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Differences in Play

  1. 1. Differences in Play Why and how do cultural differences manifest in children’s play? Evaluate appropriate research evidence to support your answer. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The cultural settings in which children grow up have profound influences on how children develop and play. Penn (2005) described culture as a: “ ..a conglomeration of different, sometimes incompatible, views and understandings in a given society or community…..” (Penn, p92). For this paper I will use Penn’s definition of culture to investigate its influence on children’s play. Research papers on play and culture point to many causal factors for cultural differences manifesting in play. This paper will highlight these factors with research evidence. One of the factors noted by researchers that can affect play is parental beliefs and behaviours. Play behaviours are not only influenced by immediate and social context, but also by the beliefs, attitudes, and values {inner psychology of the parents and teachers concerning the importance of play in early development} Roopnarine, Shin, Jung and Hossain (2003). Adult modelling of children’s play has been investigated in an experimental setting by Nielson and Christie (2008). Nielson and Christie investigated the effect on modelling on children’s behaviour. The children aged 27-41 months were given 4 minutes free play with a dolls house and
  2. 2. associated toy props. An experimenter then acted out a series of scenes using the dolls involving object substitutions, imaginary play and attribution of properties. The children were given another 4 minutes of free play {post-modelling). The researcher’s findings were that: The children exhibited more pretend play after modelling. The children were also more likely to generate their own novel pretence, as they were to copy the actions demonstrated by the experimenter. The children increased the number of novel symbolic acts involving imaginary play from the pre-modelling phase to the post-modelling phase. Farver and Lee (1997) studied pretend play amongst Korean-American and Anglo- American pre-schoolers. The children (46 Anglo-American and 46 Korean-American) were observed during free play activities and videotaped in an experimental toy setting. Cultural differences were examined in the frequency of social pretend play, communicative strategies and pretend play. The researchers found that the Anglo-American children engaged in more pretend play during free play activities than Korean-American children. In this experimental setting there were no cultural differences in the frequency of pretend play. There were however, significant differences in children’s communicative strategies and in their play themes. Korean-American children’s play included everyday activity and family role themes. The Anglo-American children enacted danger in the environment and fantastic themes. The Anglo-American group also described their own actions and rejected their partner’s suggestions and used directives. The Korean-American‘s described their partner’s actions and used tag questions, semantic ties and statements of agreement and polite request. The study showed that play is a common activity, but the thematic content and the communication strategies used to structure and maintain pretend play are influenced by culture. In an earlier study Farver, Kim, And Lee (1995) found that Korean American children living in Los Angeles preferred academic activities over play. Here, perhaps we see children manifesting their parent’s belief in academic achievement at an early age. Even
  3. 3. in societies that are concerned about academic achievement, parents have now placed play as an important factor for socialisation and self-expression (Holmes 2001). A study in Japan (Ishigaki and Lin, 2000) found that 67.6% of teachers in Japan, 78.5% in Korea and 56.7% in China endorsed play as part of the schools curriculum. Research in experimental settings perhaps has limitations on viewing culture and its influences on play in a more natural setting. Studies of parent and child play in the home appear to have some critical value on defining play behaviours. It could be argued that the variations of play behaviours in culturally diverse children could be rooted in the child’s experience of parent-child play. Roopnarine and Johnson (2001) catalogued the incredible variation in the style and the amount of parent-child play across cultures: Roopnarine (2001) documented studies finding that parent-child play at home had strong links with the peer social system in a nursery setting. Macdonald and Parke (1986) researched parent-child interactions of boys aged 3 to 5 at a Californian nursery. The boys were rejected, neglected or considered popular by their peers. Fathers of neglected boys engaged less affectively in arousing physical play than the fathers of popular and rejected boys. There was more over stimulation or parental direction of the rejected boys. The rejected boys would in turn avoid stimulation or would be less likely to join in discussions or make suggestions in the classroom setting. Macdonald and Parke (1986) found that there was also a negative relationship between physical play and the age of the parent. There were strong gender differences in parental engagement in physical games with the children, limb movement games, bouncing and lifting games were more characteristic of the play of fathers. Conventional games like pat a cake and peek a boo were more characteristic of the play of mothers. Cross-cultural literature on parent-child rough play is small, but it is interesting. Roopnarine and Johnson (2001) stated that generally rough play begins in infancy peaks in pre-school and is uncommon after 10 years of age. Boys are more likely to be the recipients of physical play than girls.
  4. 4. Roopnarine has carried out extensive research into rough play in Asian cultural settings. In New Delhi, India, during the infancy period physical play, described here as rough, tossing, tickling, bouncing, poking was observed in relatively low frequencies: Less than one incident per one hour of observation. (Roopnarine, Taluker, Jain, Joshi and Sirvastav 1992). In Chi Chi, Dongkong, Taipei and Kalishung, Taiwan, rough play was recorded on average less than one incident per one hour of observation. (Sun and Roopnarine 1996). Among older children, however, it accounted for about a third of play activities of mothers and fathers and school children residing in Chang Mai Province in Northern Thailand. Rough play was still infrequent and researchers recorded lass than one incident across families in two hours of observations. (Tulananda and Roopnarine 2001). Parent child games appear to be universal in their common form, but there are noticeable stylistic differences. Games that involve face-to-face encounters may be more characteristic of parents and children in some cultures than in others. Research has revealed profound postural differences in parental engagement across cultures. Japanese mothers loom in and out, tap infants to create visual displays and hold and touch the infant continuously. White American mothers use their voice and are more responsive to the infant’s vocalizations during face-to-face encounters. (Fogel, Nwokah and Kerns 1993). In India early parent child games involve specific texts. Igbo and Sinhala mothers include songs, lullabies, poetry or rhymes in face to face encounters (Roopnarine, et al 1998). During these playful interactions with their parents they learn and absorb aspects of their cultures. Roopnarine (1998) summarised the themes that emerged when traditional and non-traditional cultures were compared: *Children’s play is more likely to reflect rituals and customs in traditional societies. * One-to one play is more common in non-traditional societies.
  5. 5. * Group participation, interdependence and community values are transmitted through play in traditional cultures. Self-reliance, independence and competition are encouraged by non-traditional cultures. * In traditional cultures play tends to occur in work-related settings. * Variations of games such as peek-a-boo and pat a cake played between parents and their children can occur across traditional and non-traditional cultures. Roopnarine et al. (1998). Research on the cultural differences in play has extensively focused on how boys and girls play differently. Parents have been seen to contribute to the gender role development of children. Lindsey, Mize, Pettit (1997) examined the extent of mother’s and father’s involvement in children’s play. The stylistic variations in that play were examined among pre-school children. The gender differences revealed that boys were more likely to play more physically than girls and that girls were more likely to engage in pretence play. Both girls and boys would play at pretend more in the presence of mothers than fathers. The analysis of parental involvement in this study revealed some interesting stylistic variations in the parent and child play behaviours. Parents of girls were more likely to be involved in pretence play than parents of boys. Father’s of boys were more likely to be involved in physical play than fathers of girls or mothers of boys and girls. Parents of girls were more likely to comply with their children’s play leads than were parents of boys. Mothers were more likely to comply with children’s play directives than were fathers. The data suggests that parents may contribute to children’s gender specific types of play and influence children by modelling particular play behaviours and/ or providing differential patterns of reinforcement to sons and daughters. (Lindsey, Mize and Pettit 1997) Other gender differences emerge in the way girls and boys communicate with their peers in a play a setting. Serbin et al. (1982) found that girls use polite requests and persuasion to get what they want in the play situation, whereas boys relied on commands and physical force.
  6. 6. In observations of children’s play in London inner city schools Sayeed and Guerin (2001) noted separate play patterns between boys and girls. Boys tended to re-enact fantasy situations such as fighting, cops and robbers, whereas girls tended to act out real situations from their immediate culture. Examples of girls play behaviour were feeding a doll in the role of a mother. Sayeed and Guerin (2001) suggest it was debatable whether gender preferences for particular types of play were the result of a socialisation process where expectations around what boys and girls play and how they play are learned. This is perhaps illustrated in research by Martin and Little (1990), which showed that young children only needed a rudimentary understanding of gender differences prior to the children learning about sex stereotypes and prior to showing sex-typed preferences for peers or toys. The social class or economic situation that a child is born into can be a contributory factor in cultural differences in play. Early research viewed children from a low socio- economic class as being deprived of play or were deficient in imaginative play behaviour in comparison to their middle-class peers. (Smilansky 1968) Later researchers, Johnson, Christie and Yawkkey (1987) discussed these controversies and concluded that evidence suggested that materially deprived children or children from a low social-class engage differently in imaginative play than middle-class children. Sutton-Smith and Heath (1981) described differences in imaginative play style related to culture. They analyzed two styles of imaginative behaviour in the form of story telling. They compared a sample of stories told by working class black children in Piedmont, Carolina, and a sample of stories by middle-class white children in New York. Stories told by the working class Afro-American children tended to be relatively personal and taken mostly from real-life experiences. The White middle-income group of children told stories in the third person and which were more fantasy-like in content. Of the New York stories, 95% were in the third person, but only 30% of stories by the Afro-American children were. In their study Sutton-Smith and Heath (1982) found evidence of the very different imaginations that children possessed. The Afro-American children were able to
  7. 7. show their imaginative talents in a more collective context. Sutton-Smith and Heath suggested that children who come from more orally based than literary based cultures appear more imaginative and playful when words are the main activity. Researchers have drawn attention to the cross-cultural link between play and work. The distinction between play and work become clearer as children age. In the UK the shift towards less play based activities seems to occur at the transition from pre-school early years settings to school. (Sayeed and Guerin 2001). Sayeed also suggests that ‘play-time’ during the school day can create the distinction for children of what is play and what is not play. Kalliala (2006) focused on hobbies as a direct way for parents to educate their children. In her study of Scandinavian children she found that many 6 year olds had up to 3 weekly hobbies e.g. Music, dance or sport after a full day at school or day care setting. Many of the parents in her study encouraged their children to use technology. The parents believed that technology would help advancement in their child’s adult life. Penn (2005) argues that as children age in developing countries like Africa adults are less likely to play with them. The reasons are given as economic, as parents have little time to play with children and have to earn a living. From the ages of 5 years children in settings such as Kenya are given more work according to the seasonal changes of their environment. (Whiting and Edwards 1988), an example may be tending to animals, herding, fishing and selling. Children from such communities mimic the adult roles in preparation for an adult life. (Bloch and Adler 1994). In both developed and developing countries material poverty does not prevent a child from playing. The child will develop a sense of playfulness if the environment is stimulating and will invent simple materials from nature or rejects from adults. (Bloch and Pelligrini 1989).
  8. 8. Culture and society today is continuously being reshaped as people from different communities, ethnic backgrounds, religions and countries come into contact with each other. This is probably seen most obviously within cities where populations become more diverse with the influx of migrants and refugees. Roopnarine and Johnson 2001 described children’s play as a ‘social bridge’ between people of diverse cultures, that could help foster a universal multi cultural education for early year’s settings. Kalliala (2006) considered urbanisation, changing work patterns of parents and a more middle-aged population having affected changes in society. Certainly societal influences on children’s play may now be reflected through changes in family dynamics. Kallila (2006) found that parents were more likely to adopt the role of a permissive parent, placing importance on their child’s social skills and individual competence than a more traditional approach that the child should internalize shared values without questioning authority. Kallila found that some parents in her study adopted a ‘Pal’ parenting approach. The ‘Pal’ approach being one of more guidance parents were more friends’ confidants and advisors. Hierarchical orders in the family group were rejected and the parents appealed to children through discussion. (Kallila, p13). Most researchers would agree that the status of play is ambiguous and constantly changing. At an international level the child’s right to play has been recognised in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Hodgkin and Newell (1998) proposed that play is exclusively an activity of children without the control of adults or constraints of rules. Putting these ideals into practise would mean changes in adult attitudes, resources and government cooperation. Bibliography
  9. 9. Bloch, M. and Adler, L. (1994) ‘African children’s play and the emergence of sexual division of labour’, in Roppnarine, J., Johnson, J. and Hooper, F. (eds) Children’s Play in Diverse Cultures. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Bloch, M and Pelligrini, A. (1989) The Ecological Context of Children’s Play. New York: Ablex. Farver, J. and Lee, Y. (1997) ‘Social pretend play in Korean- and Anglo-American pre- schoolers’. Journal of Child Development. Vol 68, No.3, pp544-556. Farver, J., Kim, Y.K, and Lee, Y. (1995) ‘Cultural differences in Korean and Anglo- American preschoolers’ social interaction and play behaviours. Journal of Child Development, 1995, 66, pp1088-1099. Fogel, A., Nwokah, E., and Karns, J. (1993) ‘Parent-infant games as dynamic social systems’ in: Macdonald, K. (Ed) Parent-Child Play. Descriptions and Implications. SUNY press. New York. Hodgkin, R. and Newell, P. (1998) Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. USA: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Holmes, R. M. (2001) Parental notions about children’s playfulness’, in: ‘Theory in Context and Out’ Edited by Reifel, R.S. Ishigaki, E. H, and Lin, J. (2000) New perspectives of early childhood teacher education in Japan. (Concerning new revisions of guidelines and the juvenile welfare law). Departmental Bulletin Paper. Osaka-Kyoiku University Press. Japan. Johnson, J. E, Christie, J. F and Yawkey T. D (1987) Play and Early Childhood Development. Harper Collins. New York.
  10. 10. Kalliala, M. (2006) Play Culture in a Changing World. Open University Press. Maidenhead. Lindsey, E. W, Mize, J., and Pettit, G. (1997) ‘Differential play patterns of mothers and fathers of sons and daughters: Implications for children’s gender role development.’ Journal of Sex Roles. Vol 37, No 9-10, Nov 1997. Macdonald, K, and Parke, R.D. (1986) ‘Parent-child physical play with rejected, neglected and popular boys’ Developmental Psychology, 1987, vol 23, 5, pp 705-711. MacNaughton, G. (2003) Shaping Early Childhood: Learner, Curriculum and Contexts. Open University Press. Maidenhead. Martin and Little (1990) The relation of gender understanding to children’s sex-typed preferences and gender stereotypes. Journal of Child Development, 1990, 61, pp 1427-1439. Nielson, M. and Christie, T. (2008) ‘Adult modelling facilitates young children’s generation of novel pretend acts.’ Journal of Infant and Child Development Penn, H. (2005) Understanding Early Childhood: Issues and Controversies. Open University Press. Maidenhead. Roopnarine, J.L., Shin, M., Jung, K., Hossain, Z. (2003) Contemporary Perspectives on Play in Early Childhood. Weisport. Roopnarine, J. L and Johnson, J. E. (2001) Play and Diverse Cultures: Implications of Early Childhood Education.
  11. 11. Roopnarine, J. L, Lasker, J., Sacks, M. and Stores, M. (1998) ‘The Cultural contexts and Children’s Play’, in Saracho, O. And Spodek, B. (Eds) Multiple Play Perspectives in Early Childhood Education. Albany NY: Steele University. New York Press. Roopnarine, J. L., Talukder, E., Jain, D., Joshi, P and Sirvastav, P. (1992) ‘Personal Well-Being, Kinship tie and Mother-Infant and Father- Infant interaction in Single-Wage and Dual-Wage Families in New Delhi, India.’ Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 293-301. Sayeed, Z. and Guerin, E. (2000) Early Years Play. A Happy Medium for Assessment and Intervention. David Fulton. London. Serbin, L. A., Sprafkin, C., Elman, M. and Doyle, M. B. (1982). ‘The early development of sex-differentiated patterns of social influence’, Canadian Journal of Social Science 14, 350-63. Smilansky, S. (1968). The effects of sociodramatic play on disadvantaged preschool children. New York: Wiley. Sun, L. C and Roopnarine, J. L. (1996) ‘Mother-infant, father-infant interaction and involvement in childcare and household labour among Taiwanese families.’ Journal of Infant Behaviour and Development, Vol 19, issue 1, January-March 1996, pp 121-129. Sutton-Smith, B., and Heath, S. B (1981) Paradigms of Pretence. Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 3, 41-45. Tulananda, O., and Roopnarine, J.L. (2001) ‘Mothers’ and fathers’ interactions with preschoolers in the home in northern Thailand’ Journal of Family Psychology 2001. Dec, 15 (4), pp 676-687. Whiting, B. B. and Edwards, C. P. (1988) Children of Different Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.