3 minute read


Cultural Differences In Play

When studying the various aspects of play it is essential to take cultural variations into account. Carolyn Edwards (2000) performed a qualitative and quantitative re-analysis of data derived from the Six Cultures Study of Beatrice Whiting (1963) on children's play that was collected in the 1950s when the sample communities were more isolated from mass markets and the media than they are today. Examination of the play of 140 children aged three to ten years was carried out looking at creative-constructive play, fantasy play, role play, and games with rules. Results indicated that children from Kenya and India were the lowest scoring in overall play. The children from the Philippines and Mexico scored on the intermediate level, whereas those from Japan and the United States scored highest. The cultural norms concerning work versus play, and the notion of freedom for exploration and motivation to practice adult roles through play are factors influencing the scores. In addition, if there are role models and access to materials there will be more creative and constructive play.

In another study comparing four communities in Guatemala, Turkey, India, and the United States, using fourteen children between the ages of twelve to twenty-four months, Artin Goencue, Jayanthi Mistry, and Christine Mosier (2000) found that social play occurred in all four communities, although the frequency and variation was influenced by the culture. In addition there were cultural variations in the numbers of children who engaged in the different kinds of play examined.

Interactions of 341 mothers and fathers in India were examined as they played with their one-yearold infants in their homes. Mothers were more likely to engage in object-mediated play than were fathers. The data do not support the contention that Indian fathers engage in rough play with their infants. The authors also state that parent-infant rough play in nonindustrialized countries may be culture-specific and not related to biological underpinnings (Roopnarine et al. 1992).

When we examine a sample of studies carried out with Asian children it is interesting to look at specific Asian groups. Two studies, for example, comparing thirty Korean-American children and thirty U.S. children (Farver, Kim, and Lee-Shinn 2000; Farver and Lee-Shin 2000 ) suggest that individual factors related to pretend play transcended the culture. However, there were similar patterns for pretend play between the two groups of mothers. In Jo Ann Farver and Yoolim Lee-Shin's study, the acculturation of immigrant Korean mothers played a part in the encouragement and acceptance of creativity and play. As mothers became more assimilated into U.S. culture, their children's play changed and became more creative. Jonathan Tudge, Soeun Lee, and Sarah Putnam (1995) also studied play of two- to four-year-olds using two samples in South Korea and two samples in North Carolina with middle-class and working-class parents represented in the samples. Children of working-class parents in Korea were less likely to initiate play than children in the other three groups. In the United States, middle-class and lower-class children did not differ in their initiation of play, but boys in the United States were more likely to initiate play themselves or in conjunction with another person. In all communities the mother was the single most likely partner in their children's play, particularly in middle-class Korea and in the middle-class U.S. community where the mother was not employed outside of the home. Mothers in Korea engaged more with their children than mothers in the United States, but the engagement was more of a passive nature than as a very active participant in play.

When we turn to play in China, we find that the beliefs of Chinese and U.S. early-childhood teachers relative to curriculum are similar in overall structure and organization (Wang et al. 2001). Teachers in both cultures emphasize child-initiated learning as well as teacher-directed learning. U.S. teachers are more supportive of child-initiated approaches and this may be reflected in their tolerance for play.

Using longitudinal data from five Irish-American families in the United States and nine Chinese families in Taiwan, Wendy Haight and her colleagues (1999) proposed that in studying groups from different cultures, it is important to consider such variables such as partner initiations, objects used in play, the extent of child initiations of pretend play, and the themes used in play.

Linda Sperry and Douglas Sperry (2000) found that among the African-American two-year-olds they studied, both nonverbal and verbal domains are functional during the third year of life. Pretend play objects are not always necessary for mental representations. Rhoda Redleaf and Audrey Robertson (1999) also suggest that children's play is often nonverbal and of a bodily character. These authors state that 70 percent of communicative interactions are nonverbal and that kind of communication is worthy of further sociological and linguistic concern.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodPlay - Gender Differences In Play, Cultural Differences In Play - Conclusion