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Patterns of Home‐ and Classroom‐based Toy Play of Preschoolers With and Without Intellectual Disabilities

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Children with and without intellectual disabilities were observed playing with toys during both home‐based independent play and classroom‐based freeplay situations. Categorical and sequential play was analysed for within‐ and between‐group patterns. Within‐group patterns during classroom freeplay were similar for both groups. There were no significant differences among home‐based categorical play variables for children with intellectual disabilities; however, children without intellectual disabilities engaged in significantly more constructive play than other home‐based categorical play types. Between‐group analyses of home–classroom difference scores revealed greater variability in play for children with intellectual disabilities than children without intellectual disabilities. The analyses presented complement and extend extant work on contextually‐based variation of children’s toy play supporting a more positive ability profile for children with intellectual disabilities than that engendered by classroom‐based observations. Results have implications for (a) perceptions of and attitudes toward children with intellectual disabilities held by stakeholders, and (b) how intervention targets are determined.
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International Journal of Disability, Development and Education
Vol. 56, No. 4, November 2009, 333–347
ISSN 1034-912X print/ISSN 1465-346X online
© 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/10349120903306558
http://www.informaworld.com
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play of Preschoolers With
and Without Intellectual Disabilities
Michael Malone*
College of Education, The University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, PO Box 210105, Cincinnati, Ohio,
45221-0105, USA
Taylor and FrancisCIJD_A_430829.sgm10.1080/10349120903306558International Journal of Disability, Development and Education1034-912X (print)/1465-346X (online)Original Article2009Taylor & Francis564000000November 2009MichaelMaloned.michael.malone@uc.edu Children with and without intellectual disabilities were observed playing with toys
during both home-based independent play and classroom-based freeplay situations.
Categorical and sequential play was analysed for within- and between-group patterns.
Within-group patterns during classroom freeplay were similar for both groups. There
were no significant differences among home-based categorical play variables for
children with intellectual disabilities; however, children without intellectual disabilities
engaged in significantly more constructive play than other home-based categorical play
types. Between-group analyses of home–classroom difference scores revealed greater
variability in play for children with intellectual disabilities than children without
intellectual disabilities. The analyses presented complement and extend extant work on
contextually-based variation of children’s toy play supporting a more positive ability
profile for children with intellectual disabilities than that engendered by classroom-
based observations. Results have implications for (a) perceptions of and attitudes
toward children with intellectual disabilities held by stakeholders, and (b) how
intervention targets are determined.
Keywords: comparison groups; intellectual disability; mental retardation; play;
preschool; toys
Introduction
Prominent scholars of human development have long acknowledged the importance of
environment to individual outcomes (see Bandura, 1977; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Piaget,
1962; Vygotsky, 1934).
This belief has been echoed by researchers calling for the investigation of ecological
influences on children’s play. For example, Darvill (1982) presented an adaptation of
Lewin’s (1931) work as a model for understanding the interface between play behaviour,
child characteristics and features of the play environment [Bp=f(Pc Ep)] (p. 147). Brether-
ton, O’Connell, Shore, and Bates (1984) recommended exploration of “the range of a
child’s ability under different contextual conditions [rather] than attempt to establish
whether he or she has the ability in an absolute sense” (p. 294). Malone (1999) asserted that
“the use of observations from multiple settings (e.g., home and school) enables the teacher
to understand the child’s full potential and to establish behavioural goals accordingly”
(p. 315). While a host of contextual variables have been considered in the play literature
(for reviews of general and disability-related play research see Fein & Apfel, 1979; Fischer,
1992; Malone, 1999; Malone & Langone, 1994; Rettig, 1998), there is room for further
investigation. For instance, the focus of this article is on play observed in the two settings
*Email: d.michael.malone@uc.edu
334 M. Malone
most relevant to young children and which, in terms of comparative analysis, have received
surprisingly little attention by researchers: home-based independent play and classroom-
based freeplay. As noted by Darvill (1982) and Malone (1999) much of what we know
about children’s play is derived from classroom-based observations. Given the relative ease
of accessing and studying children in classrooms versus at home, and the emphasis on
inclusive educational programmes, this relatively skewed focus has made sense. Regardless
of the reasons, the fact remains that such a focus is limited in the light it can shine on the
landscape of children’s play.
Attention to contextual influences on children’s play, while important to our under-
standing of general developmental outcomes, is especially critical for children with
disabilities for whom an understanding of variation in play would influence both social
perceptions of and interventions developed for these children. This supposition is supported
by the fact that the play of children with disabilities has been found to vary as a function of
the setting in which it has been observed (see Lieber & Beckman, 1991; Malone &
Stoneman, 1990). Despite the belief that environmental variation can result in differential
behavioural expression (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Lewin, 1931; Piaget, 1962; Vygotsky,
1966) and the recognition of the home as an important setting in the life of children
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Gottfried, 1984; Guralnick, 1998), we have persisted in basing our
understanding of the play skills of children with disabilities predominantly on observations
made in classroom situations.
The purpose of this article is to present additional analyses of an existing data set
focused on the toy-related play of children with and without intellectual disabilities (see
Malone, 2006a, 2006b). More specifically, analyses of the within and between group
patterns of play demonstrated by preschool children with and without intellectual disabili-
ties in home-based independent play and classroom-based freeplay situations are presented.
The analyses reported in this article extend what we know about the patterns of play of
children with and without intellectual disabilities observed in the targeted contexts. Several
outcomes from the current analyses were expected based on the extant literature (Beckman
& Kohl, 1987; Guralnick & Groom, 1988; Malone, 2006a; Malone & Stoneman, 1990;
Mindes, 1982). They are identified next.
(1) Both groups of children would demonstrate little variability across either categori-
cal or sequential play variables during home-based independent play.
(2) Both groups of children would engage in more constructive play and single scheme
play sequences than other types of categorical or sequential play during the
classroom-based freeplay situation.
(3) The home–classroom difference scores would be greater for children with intellec-
tual disabilities than children without intellectual disabilities.
Method
As noted above the analyses presented in this article are based upon an extant data set. Thus,
the methods have already been presented in detail in Malone (2006a). These are
summarised below.
Participants
Participants were preschool-age children with (n = 17) and without (n = 17) intellectual
disabilities. Groups were matched, child-by-child, on cognitive developmental age (DA)
and gender. Each group included 10 boys and seven girls. All children were recruited from
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play 335
seven inclusive preschool programmes (i.e., general education programmes into which
children with developmental concerns were enrolled). The group with intellectual disability
had a mean CA of 52.35 months (SD = 14.01), a cognitive DA of 28.76 months (SD =
11.43), receptive communicative DA of 28.18 months (SD = 12.73) and an expressive
communicative DA of 23.47 months (SD = 10.01). Ten of the children had Down syndrome
(5 males), one male had a diagnosis of Fragile X and six had a general developmental delay
with no further diagnosis (4 males). The comparison group had a mean CA of 27.76 months
(SD = 11.37) with a mean communicative DA of 29.41 months (SD = 13.72). Receptive
communicative DA was 28.88 months (SD = 10.10) and expressive communicative DA
was 30.76 months (SD = 12.53). See Malone (2006a, b) for more details.
Materials
Mixed, doll and vehicle toy sets were used in the home-based independent play situation
(see Malone 2006a for toy set descriptions). Each classroom was equipped with a variety
of toys (e.g., doll play materials, housekeeping materials, assorted toy vehicles, blocks,
puzzles, books and manipulative toys) typical of preschool programmes. These toys were
representative of toys recommended in the literature (Malone & Stoneman, 1995; McCune-
Nicolich & Fenson, 1984) and considered parallel to the toys provided in the home-based
independent play situation.
Measures
Categorical and Sequential Play
Children’s behaviour was coded for categorical (non-play, exploration, functional play,
constructive play and pretend play) and sequential (single scheme, unordered multi-
scheme, ordered multi-scheme sequences) play. All variables were mutually exclusive.
Total proportion of play and global play sophistication were created from the root categor-
ical variables. Proportion of play sequence, frequency of play sequence and length of play
sequence were created from the root sequential variables. More specifically, the proportion
of play sequence was the sum of intervals contributing to each level of play sequence (i.e.,
single scheme, unordered multi-scheme and ordered multi-scheme) divided by the sum of
all intervals children were observed. This yielded a measure of the proportion of time chil-
dren spent engaged in each level of play sequence coded. The frequency of play sequence,
an event variable, was the actual number of times each level of play sequence was coded
(ignoring length). Finally, length of play sequence was the number of intervals contributing
to each level of play sequence divided by the number of specific play sequences observed.
Home–classroom difference scores were created for each variable. Abbreviated operational
definitions are available in Malone (2006a).
Battelle Developmental Inventory (BDI; Newberg, Stock, Wneck, Guidubaldi, & Svinicki,
1984)
Children’s cognitive and communicative DAs were established through administration of
the items of the respective BDI sub-domains. Materials were administered by trained
personnel during visits to the home. The BDI was developed for use with children with
disabilities, standardized on a national sample using a stratified quota sampling method,
and meets accepted standards for test-retest reliability, inter-rater reliability and validity
(Newberg et al., 1984).
336 M. Malone
Procedures
Children were observed during both a home-based independent play situation and a
classroom-based freeplay situation. The choice of home or classroom as a first visit was
alternated across children within group to control for potential order effects. The BDI was
administered during first home visits after the children finished playing.
Home-based Independent Play
A 30-minute video of children playing independently was made during each of two visits
to the home, scheduled one week apart. During each visit children were presented with
three toy sets (mixed, doll and vehicle). Toy sets were presented consecutively and were
made available for 10 minutes of independent freeplay. The order of toy set presentation
was counterbalanced across children to control for possible order effects.
Mothers were asked to remain present during videotaping and instructed not to initiate
interactions with their child or become involved with their child’s play during the session.
Children who left the toys were redirected back to the toys by their mothers. Once children
were settled, mothers removed themselves from the immediate play area. Mothers were
instructed to follow this procedure in order to control for the effects of adult intervention.
Observation time used for such transitions was not coded. Children were allowed to get
settled prior to being videotaped and to play freely with toys during the videotaped session.
Classroom-based Freeplay
All children were videotaped for 30 minutes during freeplay time on each of two visits to
the classroom which were scheduled one week apart. All children were given at least five
minutes to become involved in play before videotaping was begun. Adults present in the
classrooms were instructed to refrain from interacting with the children or otherwise facil-
itating child play during the taped freeplay in an effort to remove adult intervention as a
contributing variable. Thus, the home-based independent play and classroom-based free-
play conditions were similar on adult intervention. Children were free to interact with toys
in any manner they chose.
Coding Procedures
The proportion of time spent in five categorical and three sequential play variables were
coded using a 15-second partial interval coding procedure. Intervals were coded continu-
ously (four 15-second intervals per minute). Three independent coders (one coder served
as the calibration coder) trained to a minimum 80% level of agreement on each behaviour
category within each interval (point-by-point method) on each coding system. Inter-coder
agreement for both categorical play and sequential play variables was established using the
Index of Concordance method (Martin & Bateson, 1988). Checks on inter-observer
agreement were calculated on 20% of all observations. Inter-rater reliabilities ranged from
87% to 97%.
Data Analysis
Repeated measures ANOVA was used to make within setting and group comparisons of
the mean proportion of time spent engaged in the three active categorical play variables
(functional, constructive and pretend play) and among sequential play variables (propor-
tion, frequency, and length of single scheme, unordered multi-scheme, and ordered multi-
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play 337
scheme play sequences). Regarding the within group and setting analyses we were only
interested in comparing the proportion of time children spent in active play (i.e., func-
tional, constructive and pretend) and so did not include non-pay or exploration in the
analyses. Partial Eta Squared (
η
p2) is reported as the index of effect size for overall
repeated measures ANOVA. Paired sample t-tests were used for follow-up comparisons
of significant repeated measures ANOVAs. One-way ANOVA was used to make
between-group (children with intellectual disabilities, children without intellectual
disabilities) comparisons of home–classroom difference scores for all categorical and
sequential play variables. Cohen’s d is reported as the effect size for both paired sample
t-tests and one-way ANOVA. In cases where the Mauchley Sphericity Test was signifi-
cant, the Huynh-Feldt epsilon was used to adjust the analysis df and, as necessary, the
reported alpha. Means and standard deviations for home-based independent play behav-
iours and for classroom-based freeplay behaviours are presented in Malone (2006a).
Descriptive statistics for home-based independent play behaviours for both groups are
presented in Table 1. Descriptive statistics for classroom-based freeplay behaviours for
both groups are presented in Table 2.
Tab le 1. Descriptive statistics for home-based independent play behaviours.
Children with
intellectual disabilities
Children without
intellectual disabilities
Variables MSD M SD
Categorical Play
Proportion of play .71 .17 .61 .15
Nonplay .09 .07 .14 .10
Exploration .04 .04 .23 .12
Functional .26 .16 .14 .09
Constructive .33 .19 .35 .14
Pretend .29 .21 .13 .09
Global play 1.78 .43 1.23 .47
Sequential Play
Proportion of play sequence .79 .13 .74 .18
Single scheme .20 .10 .23 .13
Unordered multi-scheme .55 .13 .48 .22
Ordered multi-scheme .04 .06 .05 .07
Frequency of Play Sequence 6.86 1.98 4.32 1.19
Single scheme 2.92 1.54 2.16 .93
Unordered multi-scheme 3.49 1.13 1.96 .83
Ordered multi-scheme .41 .59 .22 .24
Length of Play Sequence 4.46 1.43 6.02 2.11
Single scheme 2.59 .82 3.50 .94
Unordered multi-scheme 6.22 2.40 8.22 2.59
Ordered multi-scheme 1.93 1.67 4.77 6.03
Note: All means and standard deviations expressed as proportions except global play, frequency of play sequence,
and length of play sequence, which are expressed, respectively, in created score units and in the number of
interval units observed.
338 M. Malone
Results
Results are presented for (a) within setting comparisons of both categorical play and
sequential play for each group, and (b) between-group comparisons of home–classroom
difference scores for categorical and sequential play. A summary of statistics for compari-
sons among categorical play variables and sequential play variables for children with intel-
lectual disabilities within home- and classroom-based play situations is presented in Table
3. A summary of statistics for comparisons among categorical play variables and sequential
play variables for children without intellectual disabilities within home- and classroom-
based play situations is presented in Table 4. A summary of statistics for between-group
comparisons of home–classroom difference scores for categorical and sequential play is
presented in Table 5.
Within Setting Comparisons of Categorical Play
Children with Intellectual Disabilities
The repeated measures ANOVA of home-based categorical play demonstrated by children
with intellectual disabilities was not statistically significant [F(2, 32) = .46, p < .64;
η
p2 =
Tab le 2. Descriptive statistics for classroom-based freeplay behaviours.
Children with intellectual
disabilities
Children without
intellectual disabilities
Variables MSDMSD
Categorical Play
Proportion of play .54 .20 .45 .14
Nonplay .26 .11 .23 .11
Exploration .03 .03 .09 .08
Functional .10 .08 .08 .06
Constructive .22 .17 .18 .12
Pretend .06 .05 .04 .06
Global play .71 .37 .56 .33
Sequential Play
Proportion of play sequence .39 .21 .34 .15
Single scheme .25 .14 .24 .14
Unordered multi-scheme .12 .12 .08 .10
Ordered multi-scheme .02 .06 .02 .07
Frequency of Play Sequence 5.10 1.72 3.12 1.50
Single scheme 3.91 1.71 2.50 1.64
Unordered multi-scheme .98 .78 .55 .60
Ordered multi-scheme .13 .23 .09 .24
Length of Play Sequence 2.92 1.32 3.89 1.48
Single scheme 2.48 1.17 3.25 1.66
Unordered multi-scheme 4.28 3.99 3.33 3.02
Ordered multi-scheme 1.51 2.88 1.96 3.80
Note: All means and standard deviations expressed as proportions except global play, frequency of play sequence,
and length of play sequence, which are expressed, respectively, in created score units and in the number of
interval units observed.
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play 339
.03]. In contrast, a statistically significant effect emerged for these children’s classroom-
based categorical play variables [F(1.25, 20) = 9.07, p < .01;
η
p2 = .36]. During the class-
room-based freeplay situation children with intellectual disabilities spent more time
engaged in constructive play than either functional play or pretend play. They also spent
more time engaged in functional play than pretend play.
Children without Intellectual Disabilities
The repeated measures ANOVA of home-based categorical play demonstrated by chil-
dren without intellectual disabilities was statistically significant [F(2, 32) = 23.84, p <
.000;
η
p2 = .60]. During the home-based play situation children without intellectual
disabilities spent more time engaged in constructive play than either functional play or
pretend play. There was no meaningful difference between the proportion of time spent
in functional play and pretend play. An important effect also emerged for these chil-
dren’s classroom-based categorical play variables [F(1.36, 21.82) = 12.30, p < .001;
η
p2
= .44]. During the classroom-based freeplay situation children without intellectual
disabilities spent more time engaged in constructive play than either functional play or
pretend play. While they also spent significantly more time engaged in functional play
than pretend play, this difference was not meaningful. In both cases the proportion of
time was under 10%.
Tab le 3. Summary table of comparisons among categorical play and sequential play for children
with intellectual disabilities within home- and classroom-based play situations [df = 16].
Home Classroom
Variables Compared tp<d tp<d
Categorical Play
Functional - Constructive 1.04 .32 .40 2.24 .04 .92
Functional - Pretend .35 .73 .16 2.38 .03 .60
Constructive - Pretend .56 .58 .20 4.06 .001 1.28
Sequential Play
Proportion of Time
PS1 – PS2 7.18 .000 3.02 2.76 .01 1.00
PS1 – PS3 4.71 .000 1.94 5.91 .000 2.14
PS2 – PS3 16.31 .000 5.05 4.09 .001 1.05
Frequency
PS1 – PS2 1.38 .19 .42 6.10 .000 2.21
PS1 – PS3 5.49 .000 2.15 8.85 .000 3.10
PS2 – PS3 9.51 .000 3.40 4.91 .000 1.48
Length
PS1 – PS2 7.08 .000 2.03 1.90 .08 .61
PS1 – PS3 1.44 .17 .50 1.33 .20 .44
PS2 – PS3 7.98 .000 2.07 2.54 .02 .80
Note: PS1 = single scheme play sequences; PS2 = unordered multi-scheme play sequences; PS3 = ordered multi-
scheme play sequences.
340 M. Malone
Within Setting Comparisons of Sequential Play
Children with Intellectual Disabilities
The repeated measures ANOVA of home-based sequential play demonstrated by children
with intellectual disabilities resulted in statistically significant and meaningful outcomes
for proportion of time spent in play sequences [F(2, 32) = 90.31, p < .000;
η
p2 = .85],
frequency of play sequences [F(2, 32) = 33.24, p < .000;
η
p2 = .68] and length of play
sequences [F(2, 32) = 41.75, p < .000;
η
p2 = .72]. During the home-based play situation
children with intellectual disabilities spent more time engaged in unordered multi-scheme
play sequences than either single scheme play sequences or ordered multi-scheme play
sequences. They also spent more time engaged in single scheme play sequences than
ordered multi-scheme play sequences. Relative to the frequency of play sequences, children
with intellectual disabilities engaged in a higher frequency of both single scheme play
sequences and unordered multi-scheme play sequences than ordered multi-scheme play
sequences. The difference in frequency between single scheme play sequences and
unordered multi-scheme play sequences, while not statistically significant, was moderately
meaningful. Relative to the length of play sequences, children’s unordered multi-scheme
play sequences were longer than either their single scheme play sequences or ordered multi-
scheme play sequences. The difference in length between single scheme play sequences
and ordered multi-scheme play sequences, while not statistically significant, was
moderately meaningful.
Tab le 4. Summary table of comparisons among categorical play and sequential play for children
without intellectual disabilities within home- and classroom-based play situations [df = 16].
Home Classroom
Variables Compared tp<d tp<d
Categorical Play
Functional - Constructive 4.87 .000 .43 2.70 .02 .63
Functional - Pretend .46 .65 .00 2.29 .04 .00
Constructive - Pretend 8.62 .000 .43 4.79 .000 .63
Sequential Play
Proportion of Time
PS1 – PS2 3.25 .005 .50 3.28 .005 .33
PS1 – PS3 4.89 .000 .58 5.28 .000 .64
PS2 – PS3 7.96 .000 .94 3.52 .003 .35
Frequency
PS1 – PS2 .61 .55 .11 4.03 .001 .84
PS1 – PS3 7.90 .000 1.02 5.89 .000 1.20
PS2 – PS3 8.86 .000 .97 3.69 .002 .79
Length
PS1 – PS2 8.52 .000 .85 .11 .91 .56
PS1 – PS3 .92 .37 1.18 1.27 .22 .73
PS2 – PS3 2.58 .02 .74 1.45 .17 .22
Note: PS1 = single scheme play sequences; PS2 = unordered multi-scheme play sequences; PS3 = ordered multi-
scheme play sequences.
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play 341
The analysis of classroom-based sequential play demonstrated by children with
intellectual disabilities resulted in statistically significant and meaningful outcomes for
proportion of time spent in play sequences [F(2, 32) = 18.31, p < .000;
η
p2 = .53] and
frequency of play sequences [F(2, 32) = 53.25, p < .000;
η
p2 = .77]. The overall analysis of
length of play sequences yielded a statistically significant result with a small effect size
[F(2, 32) = 4.54, p < .02;
η
p2 = .22]. During the classroom-based freeplay situation children
with intellectual disabilities spent more time engaged in single scheme play sequences than
either unordered multi-scheme play sequences or ordered multi-scheme play sequences.
They also spent more time engaged in unordered multi-scheme play sequences than ordered
multi-scheme play sequences. This pattern was replicated relative to the frequency of play
sequences observed during classroom-based freeplay. Children with intellectual disabilities
engaged in a higher frequency of single scheme play sequences than unordered multi-
scheme play sequences or ordered multi-scheme play sequences. They also engaged in a
higher frequency of unordered multi-scheme play sequences than ordered multi-scheme
play sequences. Relative to the length of play sequences, the only statistically significant
and meaningful difference was between children’s unordered multi-scheme play sequences
and ordered multi-scheme play sequences. Children’s classroom-based unordered multi-
scheme play sequences were longer than their ordered multi-scheme play sequences. The
difference in length between single scheme play sequences and ordered multi-scheme play
sequences, while not statistically significant, was moderately meaningful. Similarly, the
Tab le 5. Summary table of between group comparisons of home-classroom difference scores for
categorical and sequential play [df = 1, 32].
Home-Classroom Difference
Scores Compared Fp< d
Categorical Play
Proportion of play .01 .91 .04
Nonplay 6.56 .01 .89
Exploration 16.98 .000 1.42
Functional play 4.17 .05 .66
Constructive play 1.41 .24 .41
Pretend play 7.21 .01 .92
Global play 7.77 .009 .95
Sequential Play
Proportion of play sequence .00 .97 .01
Single scheme .43 .52 .23
Unordered multi-scheme .37 .55 .21
Ordered multi-scheme .33 .57 .21
Frequency of play sequence .72 .40 .29
Single scheme .96 .33 .34
Unordered multi-scheme 8.90 .005 1.03
Ordered multi-scheme .85 .36 .25
Length of play sequence .90 .35 .33
Single scheme .09 .76 .10
Unordered multi-scheme 6.60 .01 .88
Ordered multi-scheme 2.08 .16 .49
342 M. Malone
difference in length between single scheme play sequences and unordered multi-scheme
play sequences, while not statistically significant, was highly meaningful. Children’s class-
room-based unordered multi-scheme play sequences were longer than their single scheme
play sequences.
Children without Intellectual Disabilities
The repeated measures ANOVA of home-based sequential play of children without intel-
lectual disabilities resulted in statistically significant and meaningful outcomes for propor-
tion of time spent in play sequences [F(2, 32) = 27.13, p < .000;
η
p2 = .63], frequency of
play sequences [F(2, 32) = 33.67, p < .000;
η
p2 = .68] and length of play sequences [F(1.31,
19.94) = 8.90, p < .01;
η
p2 = .36]. During the home-based play situation children without
intellectual disabilities spent more time engaged in unordered multi-scheme play sequences
than either single scheme play sequences or ordered multi-scheme play sequences. They
also spent more time engaged in single scheme play sequences than ordered multi-scheme
play sequences. Relative to the frequency of play sequences, this group engaged in a higher
frequency of both single scheme play sequences and unordered multi-scheme play
sequences than ordered multi-scheme play sequences. There was no meaningful difference
in the frequency of single scheme play sequences and unordered multi-scheme play
sequences. Relative to the length of play sequences, children’s unordered multi-scheme
play sequences were longer than either their single scheme play sequences or ordered multi-
scheme play sequences. The difference in length between single scheme play sequences
and ordered multi-scheme play sequences, while not statistically significant, was highly
meaningful.
The analysis of classroom-based sequential play demonstrated by children without
intellectual disabilities resulted in statistically significant and meaningful outcomes for
proportion of time spent in play sequences [F(2, 32) = 17.69, p < .000;
η
p2 = .53] and
frequency of play sequences [F(2, 32) = 23.47, p < .000;
η
p2 = .60]. The overall analysis of
length of play sequences was neither statistically significant nor meaningful [F(2, 32) =
1.47, p < .25;
η
p2 = .08]. During the classroom-based freeplay situation children without
intellectual disabilities spent more time engaged in single scheme play sequences than
either unordered multi-scheme play sequences or ordered multi-scheme play sequences.
They also spent more time engaged in unordered multi-scheme play sequences than ordered
multi-scheme play sequences. This pattern was replicated relative to the frequency of play
sequences observed during classroom-based freeplay. Children without intellectual disabil-
ities engaged in a higher frequency of single scheme play sequences than unordered multi-
scheme play sequences or ordered multi-scheme play sequences. They also engaged in a
higher frequency of unordered multi-scheme play sequences than ordered multi-scheme
play sequences. While the overall analysis of the length of play sequences was neither
statistically significant nor meaningful, large effect sizes were noted for the differences
between children’s single scheme play sequences and both unordered and ordered multi-
scheme play sequences.
Between-group Comparisons of Home–classroom Difference Scores
Categorical Play
Statistically significant and meaningful between-group effects were found for a number of
categorical play difference scores including non-play, exploration, functional play, pretend
play and global play sophistication. Though not statistically significant, a moderately
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play 343
meaningful effect was also found for constructive play. Greater home–classroom differ-
ences were found for children with intellectual disabilities than children without intellectual
disabilities on non-play, functional play, pretend play and global play sophistication.
Greater home–classroom differences were found for children without intellectual disabili-
ties than children with intellectual disabilities on exploration and constructive play. The
amount of time spent in different behavioural modes was greater for home-based situation
than the classroom-based situation for all variables except non-play, which was greater in
the classroom-based situation than home-based situation.
Sequential Play
Statistically significant and meaningful between-group effects were found for only the
frequency and length of unordered multi-scheme play sequences. Though not statistically
significant, a moderately meaningful effect was also found for the length of ordered multi-
scheme play sequences. A greater home–classroom difference was found for children with
intellectual disabilities than children without intellectual disabilities on the frequency of
unordered multi-scheme play sequences. Greater home–classroom differences were found
for children without intellectual disabilities than children with intellectual disabilities on
the length of both unordered and ordered multi-scheme play sequences. In all cases the
frequency and length of play sequences was greatest in the home-based situation.
Discussion
This article focused on the similarity of categorical and sequential play patterns within and
between context (home-based independent play and classroom-based freeplay situations)
and groups (children with and without intellectual disabilities). These results complement
and extend earlier work in this area (Buchanan & Cooney, 2000; Lieber & Beckman, 1992;
Malone, 2006a, b; Malone & Stoneman, 1990). Understanding the parameters of children’s
play is important given the role attributed such activity in early development and education.
This is particularly true relative to children with disabilities for whom play-based interven-
tion can be critical (Sheridan, Foley, & Radlinski, 1995). Indeed, elucidating the patterns
of the play of children with intellectual disabilities across contexts and relative to children
without intellectual disabilities can support the development of effective interventions.
The patterns of play for children with and without intellectual disabilities within the
same play context were highly similar. The distinguishing outcome emerged relative to
home-based categorical play. There were no statistically significant differences among
home-based categorical play variables for children with intellectual disabilities, however
children without intellectual disabilities engaged in significantly more constructive play
than other home-based categorical play types. This lack of significant differences among
home-based categorical play variables for children with intellectual disabilities replicates
the findings reported in Malone and Stoneman (1990). Contrary to negative stereotypes
regarding the play of children with intellectual disabilities (Mahoney, 1992; Malone, 1999;
Vlachou & Farrell, 2000), the children who participated in this study spent nearly equal
amounts of time in functional, constructive and pretend play during the home-based inde-
pendent play situation. This is good news given the reported link between play competence
and developmental ability (Farmer-Dougan & Kaszuba, 1999; Malone, Stoneman, &
Langone, 1994).
The predominance of constructive play in the home situation for children without intel-
lectual disabilities and in the classroom situation for both children with and without
344 M. Malone
intellectual disabilities parallels that reported in the extant literature (see Guralnick &
Groom, 1988; Malone et al., 1994). Constructive play appears to emerge as a predominant
form of play during the preschool years (Christie & Johnsen, 1987). Further, the sequential
play data reported above support the notion that the development and expression of play
skills, especially complex skills such as sequential play, may be most suited to independent
play situations in which there are relatively few distractions. Finally, in nearly every
instance, the effect size for the children with intellectual disabilities was larger than that
associated with the children without intellectual disabilities, underscoring the importance
of the results for children with intellectual disabilities in particular.
The examination of home–classroom difference scores provides insight into which group
is more variable in their play across settings and in which situation children engaged in more/
less of a targeted behaviour. In this study, children with intellectual disabilities demonstrated
greater variability than children without disabilities relative to non-play, functional play,
pretend play, global play sophistication and the frequency of unordered multi-scheme play
sequences. In comparison, children without intellectual disabilities demonstrated greater
variability than children with intellectual disabilities relative to exploration, constructive
play and the length of both unordered and ordered multi-scheme play sequences. The amount
of time spent in each of these play types was greater for the home-based situation than the
classroom-based situation except non-play, which was greater in the classroom-based than
the home-based situation. These patterns make sense given: (a) previously reported setting
differences (Malone & Stoneman, 1990), (b) the horizontal and vertical variability of behav-
ioural expression characteristic of children without disabilities (see Kennedy, Sheridan,
Radlinski, Beeghly, 1991), and (c) the difficulties children with intellectual disabilities have
generalising behaviours across settings (Targett & Langone, 2005).
These results support earlier work in this area (Buchanan & Cooney, 2000; Lieber &
Beckman, 1992; Malone, 2006b; Malone & Stoneman, 1990) by continuing to support the
use of home-based independent play as a context for observing children’s play and by
shedding light on differential patterns of play both with and between groups and settings.
Support for the conclusion that the development of children with and without intellectual
disabilities follows similar paths must be considered relative to the intervention provided
children with intellectual disabilities intended to benefit their development. Indeed, the
greater life experience of, and exposure to, direct intervention may explain the pattern of
home-based play demonstrated by the children with intellectual disabilities. The children
with intellectual disabilities, with an average two-year advantage over the children without
intellectual disabilities matched on DA, had more time to be exposed to toys and interven-
tions intended to enhance their overall development. Play-based interventions would be the
norm given the age of the children. In addition, it appears that independent play situations
may prompt more competent behaviour than group-oriented play situations (Buchanan &
Cooney, 2000; Fromberg, 1992; Lieber & Beckman, 1992; Malone & Stoneman, 1990).
This advantage might be a function of the relative calm of such a context that enables
children with intellectual disabilities to develop, attend to and build upon play activities
(Malone & Stoneman, 1990). While inclusive classrooms include supports such as peer
models, there are also challenges (e.g., distractions) that might limit children’s ability to
directly benefit from such supports. Thus, it may be that the benefits of these supports are
deferred–emerging during home-based independent play (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Such a
hypothesis is supported by reports that behaviours observed during home-based indepen-
dent play are more predictive of the developmental status of children with intellectual
disabilities than behaviours observed during classroom-based freeplay (Malone, 2006a;
Malone et al., 1994).
Patterns of Home- and Classroom-based Toy Play 345
While the sample size limits the extent to which the results can be generalized to other
groups, the pattern of statistical significance and effect size underscore the power of the
study. Continued examination of differential play patterns across contexts, and the reason
for these patterns, is needed. Indeed, a host of questions can guide future efforts. What are
the specific variables that influence children’s play in different contexts? Is the observed
pattern a result of deferred imitation and, if so, what are the mechanisms underlying this
process? Would providing the same (rather than similar) toys and method of presentation
at home and school significantly alter the type of play in which children engage? To what
extent would matching groups on variables such as socioeconomic status or family demo-
graphics lead to different outcomes? While the home–classroom pattern has been replicated
across samples of children with intellectual disabilities (Malone & Stoneman, 1990), would
this same pattern emerge with different etiological groups? What additional insights might
emerge from a focus on social factors (e.g., the influence of peers on the quality of play
observed)?
The results of this study are underscored by a number of key points. First, despite
differences in the settings targeted in this study and between this and other studies, the
results are consistent with earlier reports (Buchanan & Cooney, 2000; Lieber & Beckman,
1992; Malone & Stoneman, 1990; Sigman & Ungerer, 1984). Second, the presence of peers
in the general education freeplay situation would lead one to anticipate more complex (or
at least comparable) play during classroom-based freeplay than during home-based inde-
pendent play for at least the children with intellectual disabilities (Brewer & Kieff, 1997).
This, however, was not the case. Finally, the nature of the continuous 30-minute taping
during classroom-based freeplay should have provided an advantage to the play that was
observed in that situation over that of the home-based independent play situation (Christie,
Johnson, & Peckover, 1988; Christie & Wardle, 1992). Again, this was not the case. In
short, the classroom-based freeplay situation included several features that should have
benefited children’s play, but did not. What we don’t know is the specific factors and child
characteristics that influenced the behaviours observed.
The results of this and other studies cited above support a more positive ability profile
for children with intellectual disabilities than that engendered by classroom-based observa-
tions. They should also cause us to give careful consideration to the expectations we hold
for children with intellectual disabilities (see Malone & Langone, 1999). Finally, we should
think about how such outcomes can be used as one tool for supporting optimal family
patterns within a developmental framework (see Guralnick, 1998) by supporting parents’
attitudes and perceptions about their children’s abilities.
Acknowledgement
There was no research funding for this study and no restrictions have been imposed on free
access to, or publication of, the research data.
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