International Perspectives On Play

Play is known as a culture-free or etic, which can be seen as similar in a variety of cultures; however, like other studies, it lacks emic characteristics. This failure has occurred in children’s play as well (Peer, 2002; Albaum and Baker, 2005). The majority of scholars believe that the play is a universal phenomenon and that it emerges naturally with children’s self-motivation (Gaskins, 2008). The skills manifested are the same in all cultures even though, the way the play is affected by various factors such as culture and family (Meire, 2007; Howard, Alderson, 2011). Considering the differences of play in particular culture enables us to explore that culture’s structure, family and social life (Howard and Alderson, 2011).
First of all, according to Phillips (1994), the first issue is to define the place of the studies because most of the time “England” referral as the UK is not necessarily always accurate. For this reason, this study investigates the United Kingdom, in reference to how and why the role of play is different than other cultures, if it is different?
Secondly, it will outline potential differences in children’s play as it stems from the UK culture which involves beliefs, values, parenting style, relationship with siblings, gender role, play materials and media effect (Alderson, Howard, 2011). 
When the babies are born, early forms of play can be observed between mother and infant (Alderson and Howard, 2011). For this reason, play has a vital role to provide both the information about a child’s developmental process and to transmit cultural beliefs and values (Seagoe, 1962). To analyse the culture in the UK, the difference between individualistic culture and collectivistic culture has to be displayed.
These terms explain diversity of the belief systems between cultures and cultural values in order to understand the structure of society (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis, 1988 cited in LeMonda et al, 2007). For example, individualistic cultures expect from their members to be autonomous, in an independent, cognitive style, and orientated and self-directed whereas collectivistic cultures’ members foster dependency on community rules, group values and more relatedness of the co-operation to groups (Markus & Kitayama, 1991 taken from LeMonda et al, 2007).
At this point, the UK, some part of the USA and some western cultures are known as individualistic cultures (Kalogeraki, 2009). On the other hand, China, Turkey, some Asian and African countries are usually pronounced as collectivistic cultures (Yaman et al, 2010). Consequently, American mothers’ style of play with their children is supportive to play independent however; Japanese mothers want their children to be more dependent within the group (Haight et al, 1999 cited in Howard & Alderson, 2011).
How can play demonstrate itself in individualist UK? One thing that should be taken into account is that parents can not be considered out of their culture because parents’ emotions and the involvement of children’s play are under the influence of their own culture (Darling and Steinberg, 1993 cited in Alderson and Howard, 2011). Although children’s play behaviour can also be influenced from grandparent’s play culture, no reliable research can be found.
Furthermore, in the UK children are not only affected by their parents’ values or beliefs but also, they are under the effect of other socio-cultural factors. For example, Bronfenbrenner (1979) developed the ecological model which involves micro, exo, meso and macro system. First of all, micro system explains children’s development in social context or in social groups. Either children may have an opportunity to play with somebody or may not but this influences children’s development.
Secondly, there is a relationship between many micro-systems such as caregivers and children’s peers called meso-system. Regarding the relationship within a micro-system, children’s friends want to play outside but the parent does not want.
Thirdly, exo-system does not have direct impact on the children. For instance, the government wants to build a new playground for children. This situation does not affect directly but when they start to go there, that will have impact on them. At last, macro-system includes values, laws and social-ideologies.
According to Barnes et al (2003 cited in Meire, 2007) despite the fact that, parents are worried about children’s play because of going so far from traditional games, the cultural heritage was observed in children’s game as well. Actually, there is confusion in this idea because, when parents adopt themselves and their children according to the post-modern world, a child’s rearing style changes as well. For example, in developed countries such as the UK, parents are more permissive than before. They want their children to be free, more socialized and self-actualized. This up-bringing style draws distances between family, culture and children (Beck-Gernheim, 1992 cited in Kalliala, 2006). In that point, there is a big role of professionals and educationalists that need to contribute, because they need to understand the values for both post-modern cultures and the culture of UK culture.
Similarly, Kalliala (2006) defined clearly how children’s play is affected by many variables. She created a cognitive map and positioned children’s play culture in the middle, which is firstly encompassed by childhood and adulthood in transition, and changed in society. When the educationalists and professionals try to understand the children’s world, they need to take into account play culture which involves both adults’ play culture in comparison with children’s play culture.
Surprisingly, in the literature the richness of cross-cultural studies between the UK and other cultures were not found because, most of the cultural studies are with the culture of USA and China. One of the different examples within the two individualistic cultures originates from the USA and England. According to Deverleux et al (1969: 266), although many of the rearing behaviours are similar between the USA and England, children’s perception regarding their parents is different. For instance, while English children reported their parents as supportive, controlling and less affectionate; American children explained their parents as more controlling, demanding and loving.
Parents’ support is important for children, while they are exploring the world. There are two different perspectives related with parents’ involvement to children’s play. While one group discusses less adult participation to children’s play because parents want to leave the child to play and learn environment independently on his own or with her friends (Gaskin, 2008), the other group thinks that the adult should participate to children’s play.
This idea comes from Piaget’s constructivist model in which he gives freedom to children so that they can advance their learning through play. Along with this, adults do not direct the play process but the parent can participate whenever the child wants (Gaskin, 2008). This perspective originates from the combination of various theories and models. For example, according to Lieberman (1977), teachers and parents are “cultural surrogates” who either encourage children to play or obstruct their play (Alderson and Howard, 2011).
Similarly Vygotsky came up with the idea of Zone of Proximal Development (Scaffolding) in which he also explains the adult’s role of the child’s actual improvement in the play. When the child needs help, if he gets this help from the playmate (adult), he can engage in a more sophisticated task (Vandermaas-Peeler, 2002). His definition is also very close with Ericson’s second and third developmental stage of life because he is also focused on the behaviour of parents for their child’s development when they are exploring the world (Jennings, 1999). In that aspect, according to Gaskin (2008) children’s play can be put into three categories; child-directed, adult-directed and collaborative. European- American included UK mothers are willing to involve children’s play and learning (Gaskin, 2008). In addition, O’Reilly and Bornstein (1993) suggested that their early relationship between child and family is significant for children’s level of sophistication in play (cited in Alderson and Howard, 2011).
There are also cultural differences in parenting style between individualistic and collectivistic societies which can affect the involvement of parents in children’s play. According to Baumrind (1971;1989 cited in Zerdives and Knowles, 2007) parenting style can be categorised in three types: Authoritarian, Authoritative and Permissive.  For example, parents in the individualistic culture such as the UK are associated with authoritative parenting (Kalogerika, 2009). Mentioned before Piaget’s model for children’s play, parents leave the children to explore the world independently and to improve their self-esteem as authoritative parents do (Kagıtçıbası, 1996 cited in Westerik, 2011). As a result, authoritative parents in the UK culture focuses more on autonomy in children’s play and besides that develops warm relationship by devising comfortable environment (Zerdives and Knowles, 2007)
As what Bronfenbrenners and Kalliala suggested (2006), children’s brain is formed according to the culture. Moreover, educational system determines children’s play culture. In some culture such as collectivistic play is perceived as recreational instead of as a part of the learning process whereas other cultures think that play has significant natural influence on children’s learning, cognitive, physical development such as in UK.
As an example of this, Chinese people think that play is only for fun (recreational) and they do not think play is important for children’s learning and development (Cooney and Sha, 1999 cited in Alderson & Howard, 2011). Besides, while children in the UK have messy play space in their early years education, this perspective is not considered as an inappropriate one from Chinese professionals and educationalists because they prefer to make the children as clean as possible (David and Powell, 2005 taken from Alderson and Howard, 2011).
In the UK, it is a very large, adventure playground for children’s outdoor play however, in the UK there is concern when deciding to let children play freely on the street because of a stranger’s danger or potential risk from outside (Alderson and Howard, 2011; Gleave, 2010). The worries to play outside took the education system and general activites indoor. For this reason, professionals undertake a very important role to encourage children’s play within the nursery’s or kindergarten’s borders. The UK has many different cultures inside so how the professionals understand children through their play? Should some behaviour need to be suggested as normal, when she/he is in the UK.
Although children can restore their problems with play, there are some children who have several developmental and behaviour problems (Hyder, 2005 cited in Alderson and Howard, 2011). Moreover, some of those children may have experienced difficult life events such as being in war and/or in bereavement process. These problems reflect their play in some ways. For example, they can avoid playing; they may show withdrawal or have problem with regression to early stages of play. Atypical developed children who have physical disabilities, social interaction and sensory problems play differently when compared with other children.
In addition, in each diverse culture children may show their problems or emotions in a different way. In the UK, there are various ethnic roots and cultural backgrounds (Blatchford et al, 2003). At this point, therapeutic play specialists, play-therapists and other educational professionals need to be careful about children’s problems, family structure, cultural values and norms, preferences and adversities (Alderson and Howard, 2011).
As well as adult’s role in children’s play, where and when children play in the UK which also makes them distinguish between play and work (Howard, 2002 cited in Alderson and Howard, 2011). Children can easily adopt the environment of where they play and whom they play with. However, the value of playground for children was proved by many studies (Alderson and Howard, 2011; Gleave, 2010; Blatchford, 2003), a child’s freedom in the society is taken by assumptions and social policy such as perception of safety, cultural differences in the UK (Veitch et al, 2006 in Gleave, 2010).
For example, the amount of children sharply reduced recently, because they are seen as vulnerable and in danger to be in public space in the UK (Gleave, 2010). The place given to children should not be limited because according to Groves (1997 cited in Gleave, 2010); when the children’s play area has boundaries, they may not be creative (Gleave, 2010). The study conducted in England and Wales showed that people of different ages are going to outdoor public areas in different times of the day. For example, children are going to play in parks afternoon because their school finished around that part of the day (Worpole and Knox, 2007 cited in Gleave, 2010).
The play behaviours in the rural area and in the urban area are also found to be different. For example, according to Ariel and Sever (1980 cited in Hart, 1993) children in the rural area do not have a chance to have a variety of friend groups. Moreover, the family bonds in the rural families are not as strong as urban children’s family bond. In contrast, Smith and Connolly suggested that there is less gender differences in smaller early year’s education schools in the UK (Hart, 1993). It is strongly estimated that there are big differences in play types and behaviours between children who have high socio economic status and low socio economic conditions (Gosso et al, 2007).
Play materials impact on children’s play whether in a group or individual context. Despite the fact that the existence of play materials is very important, when they do not have enough materials, they can create play dolls or toys by themselves (Alderson and Howard, 2011). For this reason, a child’s opportunity to have play materials depends on his/her family’s socio economic status. In contrast, in modern countries such as the UK, the new developed technologies take part in children’s life. As an example, toy tell-phones and laptops are created (Alderson and Howard, 2011). These play materials is accepted by many kindergartens and nurseries in the UK.
According to the Froebel (1782-1852), in order to develop a child’s talents, he/she must be provided with play materials and this process is called the occupation of play. Not only had he emphasized the play materials in children’s play and learning, but also Montessori (1870-1952) thought that children’s play can be developed by various stimuli (Alderson and Howard, 2011). Professionals in the Montessori schools classified play as children’s work (Montessori School Association, 2008).
In addition to play materials, there are also fancy dress parties and festivals arranged in UK. To illustrate this, Halloween is celebrated every year in the UK, a custom which mainly comes from the USA. The play culture in the UK is also led by professionals in the field. For example, some traditional games are banned in many schools because of the safety concerns such as British Bulldog (%29), Conkers (%14), and Leapfrog (% 9) (ATL Annual Conference, 2011).
The last important point regarding play in the UK culture is gender. In the socialization process, children encounter many beliefs and values according to the culture in which they live in. Children choose their play type and play materials under the influence of their gender. As an illustration, girls prefer to play with pink dolls, prams, play house games whereas boys prefer to play with cars, crickets, blocks (Hines and Kaufman, 1994 cited in Alderson and Howard, 2011).
When the children are being raised in society, they gradually learn the gender role by playing roles, imitating from adults or role modelling around them. Jarvis (2006) found that boys choose to play with more physical games, rough and tumble play however girls choose to play with games which involve interaction and communication (Alderson and Howard, 2011). In order to decrease the level of action required the games in the UK, the role play game is practised (Alderson and Howard, 2011).
Parents’ attitude related to play also make the gender differences stronger in the UK. While a mother’s attitude through her children is more closely interacted, father’s behaviour is more based on activity. For this reason, the girls are prone to play with playing house game and boys are prone to play with physical activity based games (Alderson and Howard, 2011). Likewise, Timmer et al (1985 cited in Hart, 1993) claimed that a boy would be more interested in doing sports and self-care but less housework compared to girls. In addition, Swadener (1989) found a clear gender difference based on their daily activities such as playing, eating (in Hart, 1993).
As a result, play is taken part in the early year’s curriculums in the UK such as Foundation Stage in England (DCSF, 2008), Foundation Phase in Wales (DCELLS, 2008) and it is known as being very important for a child’s development and learning. However, it is not widely accepted play in adolescence and adulthood because it is still suggested as children’s work. Hopefully, in the future with scientific studies and media influence will have positive effect to promote play across the life span in the UK.


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