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Play - Gender Differences In Play, Cultural Differences In Play - Conclusion

theory family development children development social pretend


Play serves different purposes at different ages. Jean Piaget (1962) delineated play into three major periods: (1) imitation and practice play; (2) symbolic play, which is pure assimilation or distortion of reality and implies representation of an absent object; and (3) games with rules, such as board games or marbles.

Imitation and practice, the earliest form of play, occurs in the sensory-motor period from birth to approximately twenty-four months. The infant copies the sounds and actions of the persons or animals in the environment. Practice games leading to mastery are evidenced by the infant or toddler swatting a mobile in the crib to make it move, stacking cubes or blocks, or putting plastic sticks into a jar. Fine motor skills develop as the toddler explores the many objects in the crib or playroom. As the baby gets older, large motor skills are practiced through walking, climbing, and through play with push and pull toys.

Symbolic or pretend play emerges around age two, although researchers such as Greta Fein (1981) have found evidence of pretend play among eighteen-month-old toddlers.

Play is at peak during the preoperational stage, especially from ages three to six. Children move from solitary pretend play to social play, where they interact with other children. In simple solitary pretend play, a child may move a truck along the floor, imitate a cat or dog by crawling along the floor, put a teddy bear to sleep, or rock a doll in a cradle. Two toddlers may even play side by side (parallel play) without playing with each other. They may occasionally exchange a toy or a word, but their major focus is on their own play game.

At about age three, cooperative social pretend play begins and reaches its peak by ages four and five. Carolee Howes (1985) makes a distinction between social play and social pretend play. Social play involves turn-taking and sharing, but may not involve the make-believe elements found in symbolic play episodes.

The use of symbolic play continues even past the preschool years. When first, third, and fifth grade children played with representational objects such as cars and figures compared to children playing with tranformational objects (a vehicle changes into a robot), those children who played with the representational objects displayed more social play and symbolic play (Bagley and Chaille 1996). Low structured toys such as dress-up materials, toy doctor kits, blocks, stuffed animals, and puppets lead to more imaginative play than structured objects such as crayon, chalk, and puzzles that are more conducive to nonpretend play (Singer and Singer 1990, 2001).

Not only the kind of toy, but parental support and encouragement help to promote children's engagement in fantasy, imagination, and pretend play (Taylor and Carlson 2000). It is interesting to note that mood also affects the involvement in symbolic play. For example, researchers found differences between the play of depressed and nondepressed children (Lous et al. 2000). The depressed children played significantly less in general than the nondepressed children, and much less symbolic play was evident.

Games with rules is the last stage in Piaget's theory of play. Around age seven, the stage of concrete operations, children begin to move away from pretend play and involve themselves with board games. As children move from the preoperational stage to the stage of concrete operations, they begin to think more logically and can understand that rules are constant and cannot be modified. Observation of children in this stage, however, reveals that rules are sometimes changed by the leaders in the game to suit themselves. Only later, as children become older and move into Piaget's last developmental stage of formal operations, do children truly abide by rules and see them as inviolate.

Children play jump rope on South Caicos Island. These children are forming and developing social skills for later life as they interact with their peers. PHIL SCHERMEISTER/CORBIS

Play, especially symbolic or pretend play, may be the training ground for the inventive mind and the attitude toward the possible. Parents or caregivers can foster play through their willingness to give a child space to play in, a few unstructured toys or props to play with, encouragement to use imagination and pretense, and most of all the sanction to enjoy the fantasies and fun of childhood without the threat of shame or embarrassment.

Bibliography

Bagley, D. M., and Chaille, C. (1996). "Transforming Play: An Analysis of First-, Third-, and Fifth-Graders' Play." Journal of Research in Childhood Education 10:134–142.

Caldera, Y.; Huston, A.; and O'Brien, M. (1989). "Social Interactions and Play Patterns of Parents and Toddlers with Feminine, Masculine, and Neutral Toys." Child Development 60:70–76.

Edwards, C. P. (2000). "Children's Play in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A New Look at the Six Cultures Study." Cross-Cultural Research 34:318–338.

Eisenberg, N.; Tryon, K.; and Cameron, E. (1984). "The Relation of Preschoolers' Peer Interaction to Their Sex-Typed Toy Choices." Child Development 55:1044–1050.

Farver, J. M.; Kim, Y. K.; Lee-Shin, Y. (2000). "Within Cultural Differences: Examining Individual Differences in Korean American and European American Preschoolers' Social Pretend Play." Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 31:583–602.

Farver, J. M., and Lee-Shin, Y. (2000). "Acculturation and Korean-American Children's Social and Play Behavior." Social Development 9:316–336.

Fein, G. G. (1981). "Pretend Play in Childhood: An Integrative Review." Child Development 52:1095–1118.

Goencue, A.; Mistry, J.; and Mosier, C. (2000). "Cultural Variations in the Play of Toddlers." International Journal of Behavioral Development 24:321–329.

Golomb, C., and Kuersten, R. (1996). "On the Transition from Pretense Play to Reality: What Are the Rules of the Game?" British Journal of Developmental Psychology 14:203–217.

Haight, W. L.; Wang, X.; Fung, H. H.; Williams, K.; and Mintz, J. (1999). "Universal, Developmental, and Variable Aspects of Young Children's Play: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Pretending at Home." Child Development 70:1477–1488.

Howes, C. (1985). "Sharing Fantasy: Social Pretend Play in Toddlers." Child Development 56:1255–1258.

Kazura, K. (2000). "Father's Qualitative and Quantitative Involvement: An Investigation of Attachment, Play, and Social Interactions." Journal of Men's Studies 9:41–57.

Lewis, A. (1991). "Developing Social Feelings in the Young Child through His Play Life." Individual Psychology: Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research, and Practice 47:72–75.

Lous, A. M.; de Wit, C. A. M.; de Bruyn, E. E. J.; Riksen- Walraven, J. M.; and Rost, H. (2000). "Depression and Play in Early Childhood: Play Behavior of Depressed and Nondepressed 3- to 6-Year-Olds in Various Play Situations." Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 8:249–260.

Piaget, J. (1962). Play, Dreams, and Imitation in Childhood. New York: Norton.

Redleaf, R.; and Robertson, A. (1999). Learn and Play the Recycled Way: Homemade Toys that Teach. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Repetti, R. (1984). "Determinants of Children's Sex Stereotyping: Parental Sex-Role Traits and Television Viewing." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 10:457–468.

Roopnarine, J. L.; Ahmeduzzaman, M.; Hossain, Z.; and Riegraf, N. B. (1992). "Parent-Infant Rough Play: Its Cultural Specificity." Early Education and Development 3:298–311.

Roskos, K. A., and Christie, J. F., eds. (2000). Play and Literacy in Early Childhood: Research from Multiple Perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Russ, S. W.; Robins, A. L.; and Christiano, B. A. (1999). "Pretend Play: Longitudinal Prediction of Creativity and Affect in Fantasy in Children." Creativity Research Journal 12:129–139.

Singer, D. G. (1993). Playing for Their Lives: Helping Troubled Children through Play Therapy. New York: Free Press.

Singer, D. G., and Singer, J. L. (1990). The House of Make Believe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Singer, D. G., and Singer, J. L. (2001). Make Believe: Games and Activities for Imaginative Play. Washington, DC: Magination Press.

Singer, J. L., and Singer, D. G. (1981). Television, Imagination, and Aggression: A Study of Preschoolers. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sperry, L. L., and Sperry, D. E. (2000). "Verbal and Nonverbal Contributions to Early Representation: Evidence from African American Toddlers." In Communication: An Arena of Development. Advances in Applied Developmental Psychology, ed. N. Budwig and I. C. Uzgiris. Stamford, CT: Ablex.

Sutton-Smith, B. (1968). "Novel Responses to Toys." Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 14:151–158.

Taylor, M., and Carlson, S. M. (2000). "The Influence of Religious Beliefs on Parental Attitudes About Children's Fantasy Behavior." In Imagining the Impossible: Magical, Scientific, and Religious Thinking in Children, ed. K. S. Rosengren and C. N. Johnson. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tudge, J.; Lee, S.; and Putnam, S. (1995). "Young Children's Play in Socio-Cultural Context: South Korea and the United States." Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN.

van Oers, B. (1999). "Teaching Opportunities in Play." In Learning Activity and Development, ed. M. Hedegaard and J. Lompscher. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.

von Klitzing, K.; Kelsay, K.; Emde, R. N.; Robinson, J.; and Schmitz, S. (2000). "Gender-Specific Characteristics of 5-Year Olds' Play Narratives and Associations with Behavior Ratings." Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 39:1017–1023.

Wang, J.; Elicker, J.; McMullen, M.; and Mao, S. (2001). "American and Chinese Teachers' Beliefs about Early Childhood Curriculum." Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Minneapolis, MN.

Whiting, B. B. (1963). Six Cultures: Studies of Child Rearing. New York: Wiley.

Wyver, S. R., and Spence, S. H. (1999). "Play and Divergent Problem Solving: Evidence Supporting a Reciprocal Relationship." Early Education and Development 10:419–444.

DOROTHY G. SINGER

Sexuality in Childhood - Formation Of Sexuality In Childhood, Childhood Sexuality And Later Sexual Behavior, Gender Issues, Exploring Sexuality In Childhood [next] [back] Health and Families - The Impact Of Marriage And Children On Adults' Health Behaviors , The Impact Of Family On Children's Health Behaviors - Conclusion

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