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On ‘becoming social’: the importance of collaborative free play in childhood

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Abstract

There is increasing concern about declining mental health amongst children in the UK and the USA. Evolutionary and anthropological theorists have begun to build a theory linking this situation to decreasing opportunities to engage in free play. This paper will explore typical contexts for children in these nations, concluding that a range of recently emerging environments have decreased opportunities for collaborative peer free play and ‘discovery’ activities for the current generation. We will draw the theoretical analysis from a broad area of research encompassing psychology, anthropology, education, sociology, marketing, and philosophy to offer a new blend of practical and theoretical perspectives that may shed further light upon this topic.
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International Journal of Play
ISSN: 2159-4937 (Print) 2159-4953 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rijp20
On ‘becoming social’: the importance of
collaborative free play in childhood
Pam Jarvis, Stephen Newman & Louise Swiniarski
To cite this article: Pam Jarvis, Stephen Newman & Louise Swiniarski (2014) On ‘becoming
social’: the importance of collaborative free play in childhood, International Journal of Play, 3:1,
53-68, DOI: 10.1080/21594937.2013.863440
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21594937.2013.863440
Published online: 12 Feb 2014.
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On becoming social: the importance of collaborative free play in childhood
Pam Jarvis
a
*, Stephen Newman
b
and Louise Swiniarski
c
a
Department of Children, Young People and Families, Leeds Trinity University, Leeds, UK;
b
School of
Education and Childhood, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK;
c
Faculty of Education, Salem State
University, Salem, MA, USA
(Received February 2013; accepted received October 2013)
There is increasing concern about declining mental health amongst children in the UK and the
USA. Evolutionary and anthropological theorists have begun to build a theory linking this
situation to decreasing opportunities to engage in free play. This paper will explore typical
contexts for children in these nations, concluding that a range of recently emerging
environments have decreased opportunities for collaborative peer free play and discovery
activities for the current generation. We will draw the theoretical analysis from a broad area
of research encompassing psychology, anthropology, education, sociology, marketing, and
philosophy to offer a new blend of practical and theoretical perspectives that may shed
further light upon this topic.
Keywords: collaborative free play; evolution; childrens well-being; discovery learning;
education; human primate
Introduction: collaborative free play and childhood
Human infants are born at a much earlier point in their neuronal development than their nearest
primate relatives and are equipped by nature to build a substantial number of neuronal connec-
tions in response to the physical and social environment. Human beings evolved within the
environmental niche of a hunter-gatherer, but our cognitive exibility and consequent technologi-
cal innovation have led us to a succession of new ways to structure our societies, with the initial
innovations occurring around permanent settlements that replaced a nomadic existence, approxi-
mately 10,000 years ago. In evolutionary terms, 10,000 years is insufcient time for any major
change to have occurred in the evolved physiology and psychology of a species with the lifespan
of a human being. Whilst there have been some minor environment-driven changes in the current
human species Homo Sapiensat the ethnic level over this period (for example, dietary tolerances
and disease immunities), the phenomenon of play in the developmental period is far more deeply
embedded in time within many evolutionary layers, those of the evolutionary class (mammalian),
order (primate), and species (human). Many anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists
propose that play has an important role in enabling children, in common with other, albeit less
cognitively exible mammalian young, to become more competent and condent. Lancy
(2007) argues that play is a cultural universal. Children are observed playing in every society
studied by anthropologists(p. 274), and Bjorklund and Pellegrini (2000) write:
© 2014 Taylor & Francis
*Corresponding author. Email: P.Jarvis@leedstrinity.ac.uk
International Journal of Play, 2014
Vol. 3, No. 1, 5368, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21594937.2013.863440
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The ubiquity of play in juvenileslives has led many scholars to assume that play serves a very impor-
tant developmental function. For example, some scholars have listed over 30 possible functions of
play. (p. 1693)
It can thus be posited that homo sapiens (the man who knows) can only fully develop through
homo ludens (the man who plays) (Huizinga, 1949).
However, sweeping societal changes have recently been driven by the advent of industrial/
post-industrial urban environments, greatly altering the conditions in which we raise young
human beings. In his essay The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children
and adolescents, Gray (2011) argues for a causal link between these two issues:
Over the past half century or so, in the United States and in some other developed nations, opportu-
nities for children to play, especially to play outdoors with other children, have continually declined.
Over this same period, measures of psychopathology in children and adolescents including indices
of anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have continually increased. (p. 443)
Here, in agreement with Gray (2011,2012), we argue that a variety of cultural changes in con-
temporary Anglo-American society have unfolded over the past half-century, gaining speed
and momentum over the latter half of this period, resulting in rapidly decreasing opportunities
for children to engage in free play and discoveryactivities, and that a range of correlational evi-
dence is beginning to point to a particular set of effects, the majority of which cannot be studied in
acause-and-effectmanner due to the impossibility of variable and ethical control. This paper
will explore a range of research in the arenas of psychology, anthropology, education, sociology,
marketing and philosophy that may shed some light on why these changes are important.
A range of concerns relating to childrens and adolescentsbehavioural and emotional pro-
blems, and mental illness amongst this demographic group, have been carefully traced by Col-
lishaw, Maughan, Goodman, and Pickles (2004). The extent of the issue can be considered in
different ways. One approach is to consider the numbers involved as a percentage of the relevant
population; another is to consider the trends. The picture that emerges is complex. In Great
Britain, a survey carried out in 2004 by the Ofce for National Statistics (2005) on behalf of
the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive concluded that one in ten children and
young people aged 5 to 16 had a clinically diagnosed mental disorder(p. 24), noting
that there had been no overall change in this proportion since the previous study in 1999
(Ofce for National Statistics, 2005, p. xxi). In a different study, which was commissioned to
further investigate a proposed lack of well-beingin British children initially raised by
UNICEF (2007), The Childrens Society report posited a link between mental health and chil-
drens experiences, obliquely concluding that if mental health difculties have increased, it
must be because the quality of childrens experience has deteriorated(Layard & Dunn, 2009,
p. 116). More recently, The Childrens Society (2012) and the University of York conducted
research, as a result of which they estimated that about half a million children in the UK in
the eight to 15 age range have low well-being at any point in time(p. 5), a phrase they use to
indicate deep-rooted unhappiness.
Yet the evidence of trends is not conclusive. In 2008, Maughan, Collishaw and Goodman (on
this occasion, with Meltzer) revisited their original study and found that there had been some
signs of a plateau, or possibly even a slight reversal, in the trends that they had originally ident-
ied (Maughan, Collishaw, Meltzer, & Goodman, 2008). Their evidence was mixed; parents and
teachers proposing that there had been a slight improvement in pro-social behaviours from chil-
dren, but that there had been no similar change in emotional difculties, peer problems, conduct
problems and hyperactivity. This is a dichotomous nding, indicating that the change in
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outwardly expressed behaviour no longer entirely ts the underlying issues. It is possible that
adults are engaging in more conscious coachingrelating to childrens social and emotional
expressions in response to formal school-based initiatives such as New LaboursSEAL
(Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) (Department for Education and Skills, 2005)
which has had some impact on behaviours which occur directly under the adult eye. However,
this is entirely speculative and, as the researchers conclude, further data-points are needed to
test whether, as in the US, this plateau signals the beginning of a more general decline
(Maughan et al., 2008, p. 310).
In 2013 UNICEF also renewed its exploration of childrens sense of well-being in rich Euro-
pean nations and found the UK in 16th place, still well behind the Scandinavian nations and all the
Northern European nations apart from Austria, which ranked in 18th place. The USA was ranked
in 26th place, with only Lithuania, Latvia and Romania, respectively, lling the three places
behind (UNICEF, 2013). The UK emerged with some very clear indicators of childhood stress
still rmly in place, including, high alcohol-abuse rates in young people aged between 11 and
15, and a low rate of further education take-up which, UNICEF suggested, may be due to a
narrow emphasis on academic achievement during the school years.
Elkind (2007) proposed that, in the USA, stress and despair results from contemporary US
childrens experience of being hurriedthrough childhood by busy, stressed adults, resulting,
he theorised, in a dwindling sense of mental wellnessin American society. Twenge (2000,
p. 1018) reported that, in the USA, self-reports of anxiety have risen by about a standard devi-
ation between the 1950s and the 1990sand that anxiety is so high now that normal samples from
the 1980s outscore psychiatric populations from the 1950s. She concluded that societal factors
namely low social connectedness and high environmental threat’–were the underlying culprits,
adding her hypothesis that until people feel both safe and connected to others, anxiety is likely to
remain high(Twenge, 2000, p. 1017).
On becoming social
One theoretical perspective that can be used to describe human psychological factors underlying
the need for a large amount of authentic social interaction during development is that offered from
a cultural psychological paradigm by Moghaddam (2010), who suggests that developmental
scientists have for too long concentrated on what he calls the embryonic fallacy, characterised
as the assumption that as soon as life begins, the individual becomes the source of psychological
experiences(p. 466). Such a view leads to the notion of the child as a self-contained individual
[who is] assumed to be the sole or main source of psychological experiences(Moghaddam,
2010, p. 466). In contrast to this, Moghaddam draws on some of his earlier work (2003) and
work by others (e.g. Sammut, Daanen, & Sartawi, 2010) to argue that it is the understandings
shared within and between cultures about social reality that develop the notion of interobjectivity,
and that it is from this notion that intersubjectivity develops (p. 466). Intersubjectivity is here
taken to mean how individuals understand other individuals, and how individuals perceive
others(Moghaddam, 2010, p. 466), which of course are understandings vital to everyday life
within all human societies. Such concepts are also beginning to emerge in neuropsychology,
where Hood (2012, p. ix) argues that while the daily experience of our self is so familiar
brain science shows that this sense of self is an illusion. Hoods central point is that the
ability of human beings collectively to create a complex dynamic culture has the emergent prop-
erty of each individual creating an illusionary sense of self, which is largely used as a social navi-
gation tool; in this area of theory, the collective mind precedes and actually produces the existence
of what we perceive as our own individual mind.
International Journal of Play 55
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We can nd a philosophical expression of this debate in the later philosophy of Ludwig Witt-
genstein who, in his later writings, argued against the existence of private languages. This per-
spective, we believe, supports the proposal that peer collaboration in play-based activity is
crucially important in the intricate interconnectedness of childrens social, emotional, intellectual
and linguistic development. In such activity, children develop an ability to contribute, which in
turn produces an emergent of sense of competence and, within members of a highly social
species, feelings of belonging,usefulness, and subsequent well-being.
In this context, one important point is that primitive natural expressions(Wittgenstein, Z,
§218)
1
of fear, anger, joy, pain, playfulness and so on provide the basis (Wittgenstein, PI,
§257) for the acquisition of a rst language: by training and persuasion, infants can be brought
into a community of shared meanings which provide the frame of reference through which
verbal language can be rst acquired (Gilroy, 1996, p. 113). In any mundane, everyday
context, experienced users of verbal and non-verbal language and infant novices see, hear, and
imitate gestures, actions, expressions, tone of voice, and the like (Wittgenstein, OC, §10; Wittgen-
stein, 1935/1968, p. 248); linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour are woven together into an
intricate organic whole(Pitcher, 1964, p. 240) or language-game(Gilroy, 1996, p. 109).
With this perspective, terms such as fractiousness,friendliness, and so on are seen as
having meaning by being used to describe certain behaviours in certain circumstances within a
language game (Malcolm, 1981; Wittgenstein, Z, §540), where a language game consists of
language and the actions into which it is woven(Wittgenstein, PI, §7). A key point here is
that childrens development of language (verbal and non-verbal), in which meanings are ascribed
to various verbal and non-verbal behaviours, presupposes their engagement in a range of organic,
authentic and social interactions. Thus, person-to-person and face-to-face interaction is not
merely desirable or useful, but a fundamental prerequisite for rst language acquisition.
This then sets the scene for children at a later stage of communicative development (Gilroy,
1996, p. 161) to engage in simple exchangeactivities, for example, the adultchild interaction
described by Zeedyk (2006, p. 322) as a jazz duet. Such activities enable them to develop
socially-based communicative behaviours(Gilroy, 1996, p. 161). In most human societies,
activities are spontaneously staged for children to access developmentally appropriate experi-
ences of self-determining responses to authentic, open-ended communications. In the smaller
families of the west, this is largely furnished by interaction with parents, as described by
Zeedyk (2006) above; in the pre-industrial village there is more emphasis upon a large brood
of sibling playmates(Lancy, 2007, p. 277), demonstrating a core human need within a culturally
exible situation. As Gray (2011)reects:
Humans are extraordinarily adaptive to changes in their living conditions, but not innitely so. They
evolved as a species in conditions in which children learned through play [so] . without play, young
people fail to acquire the social and emotional skills necessary for healthy psychological development.
(p. 444)
The key would seem to be to retain the aspects that are necessary for human social development
from our hunter-gatherer past, whilst embracing the advances that we have made over centuries of
technological progress.
The indications are therefore that the cultures of the USA and the UK need explicitly to recog-
nise that the human ability to develop and share meanings develops from organic social inter-
actions in which children freely respond to partners with whom they are exibly and
authentically engaged in activity and related conversation; in earlymid childhood, this is most
naturally accomplished in collaborative free play with peers, taking equal responsibility for the
development of narratives. Thus, for example,
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in social play, players must decide what and how to play if too many quit, the game ends to keep
the game going players must satisfy not just their own desires, but those of the other players [this] is
a powerful force for them to learn how to attend to otherswishes and negotiate differences. (Gray,
2012, p. 355)
Adult support for children to sustain such interactions is certainly helpful, but adult direction
which introduces concepts at too early a stage in development for children to grasp at a level
where they can explore them in supplementary peer-generated narrative is not. As Bruner
(1986, p. 45) concluded, human beings collectively create products of the mind [and] build
them into a corpus of culture; we create our understandings of the world in the spaces
between people rather than in separate storage areas residing within each individual.
The model outlined above creates a picture of a human that comes into the world in an extre-
mely unnishedcondition. In a process that Ridley (2003) refers to as nature via nurture,
infancy and childhood experiences are thus used to build neuronal connections within the
environment in which the child is placed. This process is highly exible which is why
human beings thrive in every environment on earth, from the Polar to the Equatorial regions
but, as Gray (2012) points out, there are many common features of all human societies that
emanate from our evolutionary past. One such feature is the ability of both children and adults
to share and communicate in both verbal and non-verbal language/behaviour. This is rst devel-
oped through play and discovery activity: the emergence of childhood as a step in the life cycle
was crucial to the evolution of the human cultural mind(Nielson, 2011, p. 170). However, in
order to build and then hone these complex social skills, primate species need to be provided
with developmentally appropriate experiences which are shared with others, both peers and
adults, such as those we have outlined above. If human beings do not experience these, as the
most social animal on earth, it would not be surprising to see deleterious effects.
Our investigations of the practical arena need therefore to focus upon what opportunities for
social interaction and collaboration are routinely provided, and when in development they occur
for children within a particular culture. The following sections will examine these issues with
examples drawn from the contemporary USA and UK. We will examine, rst, the situation
within schools in the USA and England (using the term schoolsto include what are now in
some places in England termed academies, and noting that education is a responsibility
devolved to the different nations of the UK). We will then turn to consider childrens typical
out-of-school activities.
No time to play in school
In England, both inside and outside the school day, and even within settings caring for the very
youngest children, state-registered adults are routinely paid to direct childrens activities, being
closely scrutinised and reported upon by the national inspection body, the Ofce for Standards
in Education, Childrens Services and Skills (OFSTED), for the perceived ability to structure chil-
drens moment-to-moment activities to inculcate school readiness, rather than to promote play-
based/discovery learning opportunities with openagendas.
With respect to the education of English children aged between 5 and 16, it was legislation
passed by Parliament in the late 1980s and 1990s that led to the introduction of the National Cur-
riculum; to the creation of the schoolsinspectorate, OFSTED; and to the introduction of a regime
of regular testing of academic skills, literacy and numeracy in particular, through a range of pencil
and paper tests. When the Blair New Labourgovernment was elected in 1997, the controls
exerted through the National Curriculum and OFSTED were scaled up: increasingly detailed
instructions were provided for teachers relating not only to curriculum content (what to teach),
International Journal of Play 57
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but also how to teach it, emphasising the concept of education as the transmission of knowledge
and various skills sets.
By 2008, care and education for children aged between birth and ve was also governed by a
statutory framework, the Early Years Foundation Stage or EYFS. Introduced by the Department
for Children, Schools and Families under the New Labourgovernment in 2007, this was sub-
sequently renewed and updated in 2012 by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition govern-
ment under the auspices of a re-named Department for Education (DfE, 2012). The EYFS
proposes that for children aged birth to ve each area of learning and development must be
implemented through planned, purposeful play(DfE, 2012, p. 6). This immediately seems
rather out of touch with the socio-cognitive freedom required for the healthy psychological devel-
opment of a young human primate in the relevant age range. Additionally, a recent report from
OFSTED (2012) proposed that childminders providing paid services in their own homes were
delivering sub-standard care for young children because they were not dealing with the delivery
of learning and development requirements(p. 12) in the more formal manner found within pro-
fessional daycare centres. British researchers Whitebread and Bingham (2011)reect:
It is not whether a child is ready to learn, but what a child is ready to learn The model of readiness
for schoolis attractive to governments as it seemingly delivers children into primary school ready to
conform to classroom procedures and even able to perform basic reading and writing skills. However,
from a pedagogical perspective this approach fuels an increasingly dominant notion of education as
transmission and reproduction, and of early childhood as preparation for school rather than for life.
(pp. 23)
In the USA, each state primarily determines its own policies and practices regarding early edu-
cation. The US Department of Educations support of education, including early childhood edu-
cation, comes from mandates and limited nancial support, with the federal government
contributing approximately 8% to education funding, while 92% of costs fall to each state and
local authority (Breitborde & Swiniarski, 2006). Much of childcare and preschool education is
provided through the fee-paying private sector. The federal government sustains Head Start, a
programme established in the 1960s by President Johnsons administrationsWar on Poverty
for children from low-income families (Breitborde & Swiniarski, 2006). In some communities,
public integrated preschool placements are offered to children with special needs along with
other community children. However, fees for materials, special events as well as for tuition are
charged to families whose children are not on Individual Educational Plans designed to
address developmental disabilities. There are also state funds for a limited number of openings
in childcare centres and preschools for children from families who qualify through means
testing. There is a movement to establish Universal Preschool Education programmes nationwide
(Fuller, 2007; Swiniarski, 2006), but so far only a few states have put the practice in place, as the
ways in which the funding stream is tied into the No Child Left Behind agenda tends to attach
many complex stringsto its release. Opportunities for all children to attend free public pre-
schools differ from state to state, which creates an inequitable patch-work approach to early edu-
cation. President Obamas 2008 campaign promoted early education policies (Education Week,
2009, p. viii). The goal of the plan was that children be ready to enter kindergarten [and
to] create Early Learning Challenge Grants [that would] help states move toward voluntary,
universal preschooleducation (Education Week, 2009, p. 4). The voluntary notionis to assuage
families and educators who are sceptical about the kind of experiences three- and four-year-olds
might have in such programmes. Their concerns may result from practices described in 2007 by
American educational researchers Henley, McBride, Milligan, and Nichols (2007) from Arkansas
State University, who wrote:
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The playground at Maple Street Elementary School is quiet these days. The only movements on the
swing sets are a result of a strong west wind edging the swings back and forth. The long lines that once
formed for trips down the sliding boards are empty. There are no softball or kickball games nor are
there any games of tag or duck-duck-goose being played. There wontbeafth grade musical this
year. Children will not be learning to play the recorder nor will they be learning to march to
rhythms or learn the traditional songs that have transcended the years of music instruction in elemen-
tary schools. There will be no art to display. Daddies[sic] old long sleeved shirts that were handed
down to children to cover up school clothes to keep from being stained with tempera paint and water
colors are no longer needed. No, Maple Street Elementary School is not closing. It is squeezing every
minute of the school day to meet the mandates of the [2001] No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
Maple Street Elementary School is a metaphor for elementary schools across the nation With all the
diversity among Maple Streets student body, the one commonality is that each student has affective
and social needs that, according to some, are being compromised. (pp. 5657)
Break times in the school day for free play and associative activity have also been reduced in both
nations since the advent of the transmit and testculture. In England, this began with a reduction
of general break (or play) time during the school day in the 1990s (e.g. Pellegrini & Blatchford,
2002), followed by truncation of the lunchtime break over the early 2000s (Blatchford & Baines,
2008, p. 3). Blatchford and Baines (2008, p. 1) additionally report a strong anti-recess [playtime]
view in US schools. A small example from the USA illustrates the point: a kindergarten teacher
was recently chided by her principal for allowing her class a snack time. When the teacher
explained the importance of such a break, the principal responded, Fine, as long as it is a
working snack(Swiniarski, 2012). An alternative perspective is offered in the report Crisis in
the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school, where the Alliance for Children questions
values of didactic teaching of discrete skillsin which there are short term gains in tests scores
but little gainsin the long run (Miller & Almon, 2009, p. 1). The Alliance calls for restoring time
in early education for young children to socialise and play; perhaps, we might suggest, to enjoy a
convivial snack together.
Examples from both nations indicate that once the goal of readinessis set in any early edu-
cation policy, the play-based teaching and learning practices traditionally offered within statutory
education for children under seven are usually replaced by an academic preschool curriculum.
The practice of transmission teaching to testwithin such regimes, where the material to be
taught is broken down into specic objectives, funnelling down into a set of highly dened out-
comes sometimes referred to by teachers as WILF (What I am Looking For), has drastically
reduced opportunities for children to contribute to the collective construction of original shared
narratives through open-ended collaborative play promoting genuine discoveryexperiences
(Bishop & Curtis, 2001; Jarvis, 2009; Layard & Dunn, 2009; Reay & Wiliam, 1999; Santer, Grif-
ths, & Goodsall, 2007). McNess, Broadfoot, and Osborn (2003) concluded that, within English
education,
a growing policy emphasis on accountability, and the need to raise school standards [resulted in]
a performance-oriented, transmission model of learning [being] given preference over a socio-
cultural model which recognised and included the emotional and social aspects. (pp. 245246)
In the USA, the testing phenomenon similarly continues to dominate teaching and learning prac-
tices and assessments. Pellegrini and Bohn-Gettler (2013, online) propose that both in the USA
and the UK, recess or playtime is being cut in order to increase time spent on academic instruction.
They claim that in the USA, by the late 1990s, this trend had spread to 40% of the school districts in
the USA, with some schools eliminating recess altogether. Bishop and Curtis (2001, p. 35) describe
socialised recessin American schools, where adults provide structured, monitored activities for
the children, concluding in exasperation oh, brave new world, that has such experts in it …’.
International Journal of Play 59
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It is clear that theorists from both nations point the nger of blame at standards-based edu-
cation as it evolved through the school reform movements of the late 1980s to the present (Breit-
borde & Swiniarski, 2006); yet standards-based education is not new to early childhood
education. The Prussian founder of the Kindergarten movement, Frederick Fröbel, designed a
pedagogy around play using prescribed materials and activities for teaching, which he called
giftsand occupations(Fröbel, 1826); teachers were trained to use his methodology as
guides for developing three- to six-year-old kindergarteners socially, spiritually and cognitively
(Breitborde & Swiniarski, 2006). Likewise, in Italy at the turn of the twentieth century, Dr
Maria Montessori, a physician, devised didactic teaching materials and a pedagogy that is now
modied in American private and public schools from preschool to grade 8. She carefully
embedded instructions on how to implement her methods into her standard approaches (Montes-
sori, 1972). Deweys(1966) view of education as life itself, rather than as a preparation for the
next stage, was framed by the scientic method in project-based activities. However, todaysx-
ation on testing and the determination to design curricula around its requirements is historically
unprecedented in any early childhood education philosophy. No longer is the child the centre of
the pedagogy; rather, the approach is reversed, with adult-imposed subject matter relentlessly
driving the goals of education to create a different landscape for childhood of this present gener-
ation. Learning assessments are quantied data for ease of reporting through technology, rather
than multiple qualitative measurements such as portfolios, behavioural observations and develop-
mental checklists. Qualitative educational practices structured on research results that document
favourable long-term effects are replaced with short-term targets of arbitrary assessment scores,
delineated in identiable categories. The US Department of Education promotes restrictive prac-
tices in awarding Race to the Top(RTTT) grants to states in its nancial support of education,
based on individual statesperformance in terms of preparing pupils for college and the work-
placeand developing smarter data systems to measure student growth and success(The
White House, 2012). It is interesting to note that President Obama recognised early childhood
education as the foundation to subsequent learning and, as such, he afrmed it should be
based on professional research (Education Week, 2009, p. 3). However, while this point of
view created some changes in the RTTTs new national Common Core Curriculum, the
renewal still resonates with No Child Left Behind(Henley, McBride, Milligan, & Nichols,
2007): mandated tests continue to drive instruction with a narrow focus on task mind-set.
As Noddings (2007, p. 60) reects, the school cannot prepare students for democratic life by
simply giving them masses of information to be used at some later time. Instead, it prepares stu-
dents for democratic life by involving them in forms of democratic living appropriate for their
age. This is certainly what Gray (2012) describes in his depiction of play in the hunter-gatherer
society:
Children learned real skills from adults rather than undertaking simulated exercises they were
given real tools, sometimes specically crafted for small hands Children grew up in a play
culture which paralleled the larger culture in which it was embedded . And so, through play,
they educated themselves [in] subsistence and artistic skills, the social skills and values, and the
personal traits required for hunter-gatherer adulthood. (pp. 362363)
But of course, the whole concept of school would have been totally alien to such societies, and
there is no suggestion here that such societies were simplistically somehow betterthan our own.
Schooling is clearly needed within a modern developmental process to prepare children for a
modern existence in which they develop literacy, numeracy and technological competence, but
not as the purveyor of all developmental needs. We will therefore move on to explore a wider
societal canvas.
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No space to play at home
In Anglo-American family environments prior to the last quarter of the twentieth century, oppor-
tunities for collaborative free play were spontaneously and routinely provided for children within
local neighbourhoods inhabited by a wide circle of familiar peers and adults. The children
engaged in a substantial amount of outdoor social free play, becoming increasingly independent
as they entered the primary school phase, but still being casually overseen by familiar neighbour-
hood adults who could administer minor on-the-spot admonishments, and take reports of serious
bad behaviour back to the relevant parents. Such a scene was described in Britain in 1969 by Opie
and Opie (1969), who reported there is no town or city known to us where street games do not
ourish(p. vi). Since then, however, out-of-school play spaces in both nations have been increas-
ingly consumed by motor vehicles, while sensational mass media heightened adult fear of pred-
atory stranger abduction, creating an adult colonisation of childrens lives(Corsaro, 1997, p. 38)
and a consequent loss of time and space for childrens independent free play in the out-of-school
environment (Spencer & Gee, 2011).
In the USA, numbers of playing children have similarly decreased in unsupervised commu-
nity playgrounds and in neighbourhood streets. Informal games like street hockey, a non-winter
version of ice hockey, kick the can and run sheep, runare becoming increasingly unfamiliar to
twenty-rst century American children. Chudacoff (2007) has documented this phenomenon,
arguing that a major trend in the location of childrens play is that much of it has moved
indoors(p. 188). He quotes (p. 188) a study by Sutton-Smith that suggested parents feel
streets are unsafe and take their children to some public organizations or places. Citing
other similar research projects, Chudacoff (2007) concluded:
The elds and woods where rural youngsters once roamed, the streets and sidewalks where urban kids
invented amusements and the parks and playgrounds where children cavorted away from adult
eyes no longer constitute the cherished playscapes that they once provided. (p. 189)
The organised adult choices of sport leagues increasingly replace the free social child structures of
play that children negotiated to create their own culture of play and share ideas with their friends
(Chudacoff, 2007, p. 189).
These changes would seem to be signicant. In studies of childhood sociability, many
researchers have found that young children who are popular amongst their peers deal skilfully
with the primary school playground, recognising teasing and rough-and-tumblesignals from
other children as invitations to play. In contrast, children (particularly boys) who are rejected
by their peers are far more likely to mistake such interactions for real aggression and respond
in kind. Pellegrini (1991) carried out a longitudinal observational study of childrens rough-
and-tumble play (RTP), in which he observed that the amount of time ve-and-a-half-year-old
boys spent in RTP directly predicted their level of success in social problem-solving one year
later. Reviewing this nding, and other research, Pellegrini and Blatchford (2000) concluded
that childrens breaktime, or recess, does have educational implications(p. 75). A later
attempt to explore some of these issues (Braza et al., 2007) concluded:
Training in hierarchical play (rough and tumble play and pretend play) particularly seems to reduce
aggressive behaviour and help children develop socio-cognitive skills not required in other types of
play (for instance, social intelligence, theory of mind). (pp. 208209)
There is a body of literature that suggests that young mammals engaged in such play are creating
important neuronal connections. The specic neural activity observed indicates that connections
are being made within areas of the brain that deal with emotion and sociability (Gordon, Burke,
International Journal of Play 61
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Akil, Watson, & Panksepp, 2003; Pellis & Pellis, 2007). Pellis and Pellis (2012) propose that con-
sequently, restricting RTP in particular may have unforeseen circumstances for childrens future
sociability:
a growing body of experimental evidence with laboratory animals suggests that banning RTP may be
counter-productive. RTP appears to provide young animals the opportunity to nely tune their behav-
iour in a contextually relevant manner with peers and so modify the brain mechanisms that underpin
social skills. (p. 1)
In the UK and the USA, the changing nature of childrens out-of-school play activities can also be
traced through cultural shifts rst noted in the 1980s, as children became targeted as consumers
through increasingly sophisticated media. From the advent of mass television ownership from the
mid-1950s onwards, the manner in which toys were marketed gradually changed. Classic games
were slowly replaced by replicas of TV showsthemes, movies and multiple-media-hyped themes
and characters. Then in 1982, the cartoon followed by tie-in toysdirection was reversed for the
rst time, when the Masters of the Universecartoon was created to cement the popularity of the
He-Manrange of toys (Rutgers, 2012). Over 30 years ago, Postman (1982) wrote about televi-
sion and other media producing a cynical adult childwithin a changing American society in
which dress, interests and pursuits were becoming increasingly less marked between childhood
and adulthood. A generation later, the concept of the kidult(Chang, 2010) emerged in marketing
theory to describe the adult who continues to engage in behaviour, interests and modes of dress
that previous generations would have expected to leave behind in childhood. Online fantasy role-
playing games such as Star Wars Galaxiesand World of War Craftwere created for such con-
sumers in the early 2000s:
Nowadays, there is a new group that exists behind the urban civilization, their behavior and mentality
is like the fairy tale character Peter Pan Scholars call them kidults’…For kidult product design,
three key elements in content were pleasure, topicality and compensation, which could be used as
directions for design thinking. (Chang, 2010)
Predictably, such marketing concepts have recently been applied to similar websites aimed at chil-
dren. These burgeoning cyber-playgroundsare designed for children to play and socialise,
drawing in English-speaking children from around the world. However, much of the content of
such websites is given over to increasingly sophisticated marketing of various products to chil-
dren through the parental credit card, what Bryman (1999) referred to as the Disneyization
effect. Marsh (2010, p. 28) referred to childrens websites as child oriented worlds shaped
by social, economic and cultural capitalwhere many children adopted a collector-consumer
role(p. 34). For example, in the Viacom-hosted game NeoPets, players pay to purchase a
vast variety of products for their cyber-pets such as food, toys and clothes. They may also sub-
sequently sell these products, many of which are offered by the website on a limited edition
basis, to other players. Marsh investigated childrens play activities on two popular social net-
working sites for English-speaking children, Club Penguin and Barbie Girls. In both online
games, children interact with each other via avatars which become their online personas a
Barbiein Barbie Girls and a penguin in Club Penguin for which they can purchase items
and sell on to other players. Marsh (2010) concludes: commodity purchasing is a key activity
in both Barbie Girls and Club Penguin(p. 27), just as embedded throughout NeoPetsis a
strong culture of consumerism and acquisition(Grimes & Regan Shade, 2005, p. 185).
Such experience may logically lead to being hurried through childhood, as predicted by
Elkind (2007), into a web of complex adult materialism, without the time to develop the skills
of criticism and reection necessary to become a fully discerning consumer. The collective
62 P. Jarvis et al.
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results of such practices may be located in the upsurge of narcissism, anxiety, depression and the
consequent feeling of poor well-being in later childhood and adolescence described by Gray
(2011), and may subsequently be posited to underlie the instant gratication/undiscerning con-
sumption mentality of the kidult. In this sense, childhood as a life stage could be said to
have fundamentally changed within mediatedEnglish-speaking society, where face-to-face
socialisation is overwhelmingly adult-controlled and much of what passes as playon a day-
to-day basis is undertaken in a technological bubble.
Conclusion: children as social beings
The evidence outlined above collectively suggests that in the last few decades, Anglo-American
society has increasingly placed children within highly articial, adult-directed environments,
initially aimed at creating a readinessfor the mainstream experience of immersion within
rushed transmit-and-test processes erroneously presented as teaching and learning.Out-of-
school collaborative free play has contemporaneously reduced, being largely replaced by adult-
directed pursuits and technologically mediated, consumption-based activities. However, the way
that children under eight most naturally learn is through a range of face-to-face discovery and
play-based activities, in which they independently interact with others on a moment-to-moment
basis, not only learning how to compete for resources and/or individual recognition for appropriate
understanding/behaviour, but also how to share, collaborate and be socialin order to sustain
shared narratives. As Gray (2012,p.354)reects, the capacity for play is the capacity that
best counteracts the capacity to dominate [both of which] we inherited from our mammalian ances-
tors.Inthisway,natural social play may be an experience-expectation process that helps certain
forms of neural maturation with benets for the development of higher executive brain functions
(Naravaez, Panksepp, Schore, & Gleason, 2012, p. 460). Drawing upon a wide range of existing
theory, social free play and independent discovery activities can be further hypothesised to underpin
the inculcation of crucial knowledge and skills which will later enable the individual to cope with
the intricate webs of co-operation, collaboration and competition that are characteristic of all adult
social arenas, from neighbourhood committees to international negotiations.
There are thus good grounds for arguing that cultural modes of interaction currently existing
between the child and society in the contemporary UK and the USA do not adequately tune into
the social and emotional needs of developing human beings. We contend that it is only the recog-
nition of the need for exible, authentic and collaborative play-based and open discoverylearning
activities that will help us create a modern developmental environment that can holistically nurture
childrens socio-cognitive capacity. A reduction in opportunities for collaborative free play can
thence be conceptually followed into Twenges(2000, p. 1017) construction of low social connect-
edness and high environmental threat. From this point, a complex set of circular psychosocial
relationships can subsequently be theorised, consisting of underlying feelings of social disconnect-
edness in socially privated members of a species that has evolved to live within highly socially con-
nected environments, which are thence subsequently exacerbated by the resulting dysfunctional
society, comprised of individuals with poorly developed social skills. As Bruner (1976, p. 56)
wrote: development which is separated from a natural social environment provides no guide,
only knowledge These are the conditions for alienation and confusion.
This situation is summarised in Figure 1.
As UNICEF (2013) propose:
It is through relationships with peers that children experiment with social roles and learn and practise
the control of aggression, the management of conict, the earning of respect and friendship, discus-
sion of feelings, appreciation of diversity, and awareness of the needs and feelings of others. (p. 11)
International Journal of Play 63
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We therefore propose that policy creation for children and young people in the UK and the USA
should urgently be reconsidered, taking account of modes of interaction that best support the devel-
opmental processes of evolved human primates. Policies and practices should not, we contend, be
narrowly predicated upon human beings as capital, in a world where children and young peoples
arenas become exploitative environments driven by commerce and consumption, and focussed
upon what appears to be most expedient within national and international economies. School
as a public service was initially conceived as an environment in which human beings in mid-late
childhood spent just a few hours each day in the classroom in order to acquire the skills underpin-
ning literacy, numeracy and, for some, formal scientic and academic enquiry. Perhaps, rather than
continuing to be developmentally constricted in such an unbalanced fashion by the traditional
model of school/school-oriented environments dominated by highly directive, target-driven
adults as the answer to all childrens development needs, we should instead be considering how
to create policies grounded on the best available evidence of what human beings are like
(Singer, 1999, p. 61). One suggestion that could be tabled for discussion is the concept of newly
conceived neighbourhood/community-oriented arenas which, from mid-childhood onwards,
work in a fully equal partnership with more formal education facilities, the latter dealing with aca-
demic education, and the former offering an organic environment designed to facilitate the free
play, discovery activities and the resulting relationships that support healthy, holistic development
and learning.
Note
1. In view of the posthumous publication of much of Wittgensteins work, and of the translations into
English, the following initials rather than dates have been used, with one exception, to refer to his work.
Abbreviation Title Date of writing
PI Philosophical Investigations 19301949
Z Zettel 19451948
OC On Certainty 19491951
In each case, references to sections in Wittgensteins work are given by the section number, for example:
Figure 1. Individual and societal dysfunction interrelationships resulting from socially privated developmen-
tal experiences in a signicant proportion of one or more generations (Jarvis, Newman, and George, 2014).
64 P. Jarvis et al.
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(Wittgenstein, PI, §347), or the page number for the English translation, for example: (Wittgenstein, PI,
p. 229e).
Notes on contributors
Dr Pam Jarvis is a graduate psychologist, social scientist and educational researcher. She is currently
working as a Senior Lecturer in the school of Children, Young People and Families at Leeds Trinity Univer-
sity and as an Open University tutor, supporting education and child development students on a wide range
of programmes at undergraduate and masters level. She was awarded a PhD by Leeds Metropolitan Univer-
sity in 2005 for her thesis The role of rough and tumble play in childrens social and gender role develop-
ment in the early years of primary school.
Dr Stephen Newman has experience of teaching in secondary and higher education, and has qualied
teacher status. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Education & Continuing Professional Development in
the School of Education and Childhood at Leeds Metropolitan University, and Course Leader for the MA
in Leadership and Management in Education. He was awarded a PhD by The University of Shefeld in
1997 for his thesis on Schön, teacher education and professional development, which was subsequently
published.
Dr Louise Swiniarski, Professor Emerita of Education at Salem State University in Massachusetts, has been
a Visiting Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University and a Visiting Practitioner at Harvard Universitys
PrincipalsCenter. She presents at conferences worldwide on global education, early childhood and on an
American educator, Elizabeth Peabody. She is a recipient of many awards including the International
Research Scholarship for International Scholars from the government of Finland. As an author of pro-
fessional books, book chapters, editorials, and articles, she serves on the editorial board of the Early Child-
hood Education Journal and is editing a publication on world-class early education.
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... Play has a multitude of important developmental functions, over 30 possible ones currently identified, enabling children to become competent and confident within the embrace of play's universal cultural right (Lancy, 2007). Jarvis et al. (2014) stress that the relatively recent erosion of play has severely decreased opportunities for children to engage in free play at ece centres, schools, home and in the community and suggest a direct link with the declining mental health amongst many children. Such deprivation of an evolutionarily significant developmental function, if that link exists, results in a loss of socially developmental experiences that are raising levels of anxiety and mental illness, feelings of social disconnectedness, poor social skills and are on a greater scale accountable for a dysfunctional society. ...
... The collective effects of commercialisation of play on children are increase in narcissism, anxiety, depression and the resulting sensation of poor wellbeing in later childhood and adolescence. With children spending a lot of time consuming the media, time and space for them to play have consequently diminished; however media is not the only cause of this kind of erosion (Jarvis et al., 2014). NOVAK 216 beijing international review of education 2 (2020) 211-225 ...
... Children's play is influenced by the presence of adults, as they are aware of the social and cultural constraints and expectations enforced by adults. With an absence of peer-to-peer play children fail to acquire the social and emotional skills needed to develop healthily, physically and psychologically (Jarvis et al., 2014). Karsten (2005) suggests that the overall decrease of social interactions between children has also been affected by many families becoming working families and by altered communal perceptions where neighbourhoods are not deemed safe anymore for children to inhabit unsupervised. ...
Article
This paper will elaborate on the different ways play is being framed in the contemporary western world and how framing play is making it susceptible to manipulation that employs it to work in contradiction with its core purposes. The author suggests a contemporary paradox that arises in the core of early childhood education concerning child’s play. As play is a basic developmental function of mind and body common to all mammals, some important functions of play are going to be investigated. Due to the established fact that freedom to exercise play is of the outmost importance for a normal developing mammal from infancy to adulthood, this paper will focus on the reasons as to why people defy nature, by restricting its young in this basic form of activity and engagement, hindering their normal development, and ignoring that play carries vital epistemological and ontological human significance. Commercialisation of play alongside the disappearing time and space for free play in communities, at home, school and ece centres will be accounted for as reasons for an erosion of play, alongside some influential ideologies of play. Following form this the author investigates how framing play accounts for difficulties in empirical research of play, contributing to a lack of clear pedagogical, phenomenological and methodological answers about play and hence raises questions concerning a need for further phenomenological investigations of play alongside alternative methodological frameworks to ‘see’ beyond the elusiveness of play.
... A large number of researches -in the areas including psychology, anthropology, education, sociology, and physiotherapy -offer a new blend of practical and theoretical perspectives that may shed further light on this topic, while one single thing seems to emerge from all of the studies, continuously. That is that free play in children accelerates the growth of mental abilities [1][2][3][4] and that social play in adults decelerates the degeneration of the mental abilities [5] besides also improving their general attitude in relationships, mood, and physical strength. There is a large set of researches that demonstrate how play in adults and elderly citizens relieves stress, improve brain functions, stimulate the mind and boost creativity, improve relationships and your connection to others. ...
... We focus on such social playware because we believe, as almost all the scientific community seems to be aware now, that social play is fundamental for both mental and physical growth and maintenance. Indeed, there are many studies [1][2][3][4][5] carried on children and elderly population that show the multiple benefits of such an activity, improvements that go from the not concretely defined "wellness" to the more specific results obtained in the muscular, skeletal, cardio-circulatory, respiratory, metabolic systems, as well as the nervous one in terms of cognitive and emotive apparats. Therefore, ...
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Full-text available
In this paper, we describe a set of designs of social playware by using the Moto Tiles. We tried to demonstrate the importance of the development of social playware by designing a number of social games that people can play together on one single tool. The design envisions play that mediates coordination among participants. We make use of play that is physically stimulating, that is cognitively exciting, that can be changed by arranging diverse layouts of the tiles, and that is enriched by different sensor modalities, etc. In all cases, the games and interaction designs are guided by the Playware ABC concept that is focused on creating social play opportunities for Anybody, Anywhere, Anytime, by Building Bodies and Brains, and thereby by facilitating the work of therapists and care workers can easily Construct, Combine, and Create new social play interactions to fit their particular users need.
... However, this lack of early play experiences with peers may have unfortunate consequences for shy children's social adjustment, particularly given the empirical evidence emphasizing the importance of peer play for the social development of all children (Ginsburg, 2007;Jarvis et al., 2014). More specifically, through play experiences, children are provided with opportunities to learn and acquire competencies that are necessary for healthy social functioning, such as how to solve problems, regulate themselves, share, and negotiate with others (Green & Rechis, 2006). ...
... In line with the results from these studies, we found that the negative association between childhood shyness and social outcomes, in our case social play behaviors at age 5 years, increased at lower levels of teacher-child closeness but decreased at higher levels of teacher-child closeness. This finding is important considering research emphasizing the essential role of peer play for children's social development in general (Ginsburg, 2007;Jarvis et al., 2014). It is also important because it adds empirical knowledge to the growing body of literature demonstrating the potentially buffering role of positive teacher-child relations for children considered "at risk" for maladjustment (Arbeau et al., 2010;Baardstu et al., 2021;Baker et al., 2008). ...
Article
Full-text available
The goal of this study was to explore longitudinally the protective role of relationships with early childhood and education care (ECEC) teachers for shy children’s social functioning at age 5 and 8 years. Participants were N = 7343 children from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child (MoBa) study, a prospective longitudinal cohort study in Norway. Measures included maternal rating of child shyness at age 18 months, 3 and 5 years, ECEC teacher ratings of teacher–child relationships and maternal ratings of child peer play behaviors at age 5 years, and teacher ratings of child social competence at age 8 years. We conducted latent moderated-mediation analyses within a SEM framework. Among the results, childhood shyness was negatively associated with social functioning. However, significant indirect and moderation effects were also found, with a pattern suggesting that early positive teacher–child relationships have a buffering influence on shy children’s risk for social difficulties.
... Self-directed play offers children opportunities for their social development (Jarvis et al., 2014), physical activity (Pawlowski et al., 2014) and executive functioning (Barker et al., 2014). However, conflict has been perceived as one of the main barriers to children's play activities during school recess (Kalpogianni, 2019;Malone & Tranter, 2003;Pawlowski et al., 2014). ...
Article
Full-text available
Conflict between children's activities has been recognized as one of the main barriers to school recess play; however, the role of school design in shaping the conflict is not sufficiently known, particularly from children's perspectives. This study's primary objective is to investigate the topic in the context of primary school grounds with 8–10 year-old children to understand the nature of play activities that are not compatible and the role of school layout in shaping the conflict between them. By using behavior mapping, walking tours and focus groups in three Australian primary school playgrounds, this paper showed that to avoid conflict, children preferred play settings organized around distinct zones. Children identified the character of each zone by the affordances it contained, the governing school rules, and the activities it supported. They asked for multiple separate zones for gross motor activities, and for each social group to play with their own year and gender. They also required physical barriers and sufficient buffer space around play settings to prevent disruption. The discussion suggests interventions in school layouts that help avoid conflict between children's activities and ultimately enhance their engagement in self-directed play.
... "Any behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children themselves" (UN, 1989, p. 10) Terms such as 'free play' (Jarvis et al., 2014), 'child-initiated play' (Bayley & Featherstone, 2013) or 'spontaneous play' (Hewes, 2014) are often used to distinguish children's playful self-chosen activities, as distinct from adult-led play, leisure and recreation. But it is nonetheless the case that these adult-led or other kinds of play go largely undefined, whereas definitions of play emphasise the qualities of free play in particular. ...
... The stress that these high and rising investments place on both parents and children is well documented in the child development literature (e.g. Luthar and Becker, 2002;Luthar, 2003;Villaire, 2003;Ginsburg et al., 2007;Gray, 2011;Jarvis et al., 2014;Veiga et al., 2016), has been the subject of many books (e.g. Rosenfeld and Wise, 2000;Anderegg, 2003;Lareau, 2003;Warner, 2005;Gray, 2013;Abeles, 2015;Lukianoff and Haidt, 2018), and has been widely covered in the popular press (see Gray, 2010;Rosin, 2015;Rosen, 2015;Khazan, 2016;Avent, 2017 for recent examples). ...
... Free collaborative play, for example, has been linked to children's learning about how to become social. This includes learning about socially appropriate behaviours, ways to negotiate access to resources, individual recognition, as well as sharing and collaborating to build and sustain shared narratives [24]. When play is not directed by adults, children have been found to develop the skills required to learn how to work in groups, share, resolve conflicts and even self-advocate [13]. ...
Conference Paper
We describe a Research-through-Design (RtD) project that explores the Internet of Things (IoT) as a resource for children's free play outdoors. Based on initial insights from a design ethnography, we developed four RtD prototypes for social play in different scenarios of use outdoors, including congregating on a street or in a park to play physical games with IoT. We observed these prototypes in use by children in their free play in two community settings, and report on the qualitative analysis of our fieldwork. Our findings highlight the designs' material qualities that encouraged social and physical play under certain conditions, suggesting social affordances that are central to the success of IoT designs for free play outdoors. We provide directions for future research that addresses the challenges faced when deploying IoT with children, contributing new considerations for interaction design with children in outdoor settings and free play contexts.
Chapter
This chapter will consider what is present in the literature about the play of children aged between 11 and 15 and disseminate some results from recent research with 11–14-year olds relating to what children say about how they ‘have fun’ both on and offline. School was seen by these children as principally an ‘occupational hazard’ when they looked at their daily lives from the perspective of where their opportunities to ‘have fun’ arose. The results indicated that children were seeking a significant number of their association and ‘fun’ activities online, but that they were not wholly satisfied with this. For example, one 11-year old commented, “A lot of people go on their phones rather than going outside, people aren’t really social anymore”, while others commented that children would be better served by more places to play outdoors and spending less time on screen-based interaction. One of the problems with researching play in this age group is raised by Smith and Lilliard (Journal of Cognition and Development, 13(4), 524–529, 2012) in their comment that there is a general cultural belief emerging from Piaget’s (1962) comment that free play effectively ceases at the end of his preoperational stage (7 years of age), being replaced by games with rules. Additionally, “education is viewed narrowly in terms of driving an individual child through curriculum content … at the expense of activities that would involve a broadening out of their experiences” (Olusoga & Keen, Play, Children and Primary Schools. In A. Brock, P. Jarvis, & Y. Olusoga (Eds.), Perspectives on Play. Routledge, 2019, p. 197). When all this is added to “children’s changing relationship with public space” (Hartman et al., New Media and Society, 17, 1777–1794, 2015), which describes the declining number of children allowed to ‘play out’ in their local neighbourhoods, researchers have to carefully pick their way around the literature to find relevant material representing the current state of play for 11–14-year olds in the United Kingdom. This chapter represents an attempt to extend this area of understanding by gathering information from the children and young people themselves.
Chapter
Evidence is considered about how teachers, coaches and tutors have developed their own and learners’ neuroplasticity and are now in a position to research and evidence their own success in those terms. Professional problem-solving in education settings is considered and the feasibility and benefits of different teaching approaches and perspectives, teacher autonomy and collaborative research. This includes insights gained by teachers doing their own psychological research into their work and problems faced in managing and improving teaching. Links to these evidence the text throughout. Teachers, learners and parents own opinions and perspectives are considered in order to open up a debate about advancing understanding in education. There is a consideration of how student well-being has been affected by ‘every child matters’ legislation, parental perspectives and involvement and the teaching assessment of all kinds of children to achieve their personal best. Relevant and current backup data references are included in the reference list for topics discussed in this chapter.
Article
Full-text available
Children in band hunter-gatherer cultures, wherever they have been studied, were free to play on their own, essentially from dawn to dusk, every day. This chapter describes the cultural context for such play-which included free age mixing among children and adolescents and direct exposure to essentially all adult activities-and explains how, through free play, children acquired the cultural skills, social values, and personal character traits essential to adult success. In particular, the article explains how play, by its very nature, promotes cooperation, egalitarianism, democratic decision making, personal autonomy, and self-control-all of which were key hunter-gatherer values.
Article
A substantial body of research suggests that both teachers and students frequently find teaching and learning within the confines of the English National Curriculum a frustrating and alienating experience (Wood, 2004). Interviews were undertaken in five English secondary schools to explore aspects of both teacher and student constructions of the teaching and learning process. The resulting thematically analysed data supported Wood’s (2004, p.371) proposals of ‘impoverished’ learning. It is subsequently proposed that if we view human beings as ‘storying animals’ (Lyle, 2000, p.55) making sense of their world through cohesive narratives within Wittgensteinian ‘language games’ (Wittgenstein, 1953) via collaborative play and discovery activities, we can more readily define problems emerging from heavy reliance upon ‘transmission’ teaching practices resulting from the demands of the English National Curriculum. It is proposed that such a pedagogy does not adequately recognise human primate styles of learning, in particular the need for to-be-learned material to be embedded within cohesive narratives.
Book
The field of cognitive psychology is in a state of empirical abundance, and experts now know more about mammalian brain function than ever before. In contrast, psychological problems such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, and depression are on the rise, as are medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. Why, in this era of unprecedented scientific self-knowledge, does there seem to be so much uncertainty about what humans need for optimal development? Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development asserts that human development is being misshaped by government policies, social practices, and public beliefs that fail to consider basic human needs. In this pioneering volume, scientists from a range of disciplines theorize that the rise of problems like depression and obesity is partially attributable to a disparity between the environments and conditions under which our mammalian brains currently develop and those in which the brains of our distant ancestors developed-and evolved to suit. These early environments and conditions have been named the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, or EEA. For example, healthy brain and emotional development depends to a significant extent on caregiver availability and quality of care, which is argued to be in decline by some experts; in addition, practices such as breastfeeding, cosleeping, and parental social support, which have waned in modern society, may be integral to healthy infant development. As the authors argue, without a more informed appreciation of the ideal conditions under which human brains develop and function, human beings will continue to struggle with maintaining mental and physical health, and psychological treatments will not be effective. Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development puts forth a logical, empirically based argument regarding human mammalian needs for optimal development, based on research from anthropology, neurobiology, animal science, and human development. The result is a unique exploration of evolutionary approaches to human behavior that will support the development of new policies, new attitudes toward health, and alterations in childcare practices that will better promote optimal human development.
Article
If you believe the experts, "child's play"; is serious business. From sociologists to psychologists and from anthropologists to social critics, writers have produced mountains of books about the meaning and importance of play. But what do we know about how children actually play, especially American children of the last two centuries? In this fascinating and enlightening book, Howard Chudacoff presents a history of children's play in the United States and ponders what it tells us about ourselves. Through expert investigation in primary sources-including dozens of children's diaries, hundreds of autobiographical recollections of adults, and a wealth of child-rearing manuals-along with wide-ranging reading of the work of educators, journalists, market researchers, and scholars-Chudacoff digs into the "underground" of play. He contrasts the activities that genuinely occupied children's time with what adults thought children should be doing. Filled with intriguing stories and revelatory insights, Children at Play provides a chronological history of play in the U.S. from the point of view of children themselves. Focusing on youngsters between the ages of about six and twelve, this is history "from the bottom up." It highlights the transformations of play that have occurred over the last 200 years, paying attention not only to the activities of the cultural elite but to those of working-class men and women, to slaves, and to Native Americans. In addition, the author considers the findings, observations, and theories of numerous social scientists along with those of fellow historians. Chudacoff concludes that children's ability to play independently has attenuated over time and that in our modern era this diminution has frequently had unfortunate consequences. By examining the activities of young people whom marketers today call "tweens," he provides fresh historical depth to current discussions about topics like childhood obesity, delinquency, learning disability, and the many ways that children spend their time when adults aren't looking.
Article
Notes for lectures on "private experience" and "sense data" Wittgenstein's notes for lectures which he delivered in Cambridge in the middle of the 1930's capture one of the first versions of the central themes of his later philosophy the relations between perceptions, mental contents, feelings, and sensations on the one hand, and their linguistic expression on the other hand. A critique is presented of the view that philosophy can treat these allegedly "inner" phenomena as independent or primary with respect to their linguistic criteria. An analysis of the phenomena of lies and pretending is also advanced from the public perspective.