Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Impact of Preschoolers' Gender and Sensory Preferences on Physical Activity Levels during Play

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Impact of Preschoolers' Gender and Sensory Preferences on Physical Activity Levels during Play

Article excerpt


Play is considered one area of occupation and it is defined as any spontaneous or organised activity that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement or diversion (Roley et al 2008). Historically, play has been regarded by occupational therapists as both an indicator of development and a means for intervention (Missiuna and Pollock 1991). It is the primary occupation for children and it promotes their development (Goncu et al 1999).

Occupational therapists should consider play as a method that facilitates development and socialisation in early childhood. Recognising the differences between boys' and girls' play and toy preferences provides insight into their choices in playing and participating in activities that are meaningful and purposeful to them. To understand play better, occupational therapists should consider factors that influence how and why children play. Examples include gender differences, activity levels and sensory processing preferences. The present study examined the differences between preschool boys' and girls' activity levels during play and their sensory processing preferences for activity level, body position and movement.

Literature review

Play is an essential occupation for children and has long been known to contribute to their physical, cognitive and social development (Fisher 1992). During play, children receive information through their senses, gain knowledge about the nature and properties of objects, and develop roles about their own location in time and space (Robinson 1977). Children have the opportunity to develop and test social and occupational roles, as well as to discover what effect they can have on objects and people in their environment (Missiuna and Pollock 1991). Free play is characterised by spontaneity, intrinsic motivation and self-regulation, and requires the expressive personal involvement of the child (Yawkey et al 1986). It is important for occupational therapists to understand the factors that influence play in order to facilitate meaningful play experiences. The review for this study was limited to gender, physical activity and sensory processing factors.


Gender is one variable that affects play choices and preferences. Therefore, researchers studied the relationship between gender and play toys/activities. Children ask for gender-stereotyped toys: boys prefer cars and cement mixers whereas girls prefer dolls, doll cribs and feeding sets (Weinraub et al 1984). Children, especially boys, who engage in cross-gender play are more likely to be criticised by parents, teachers and peers (Freeman 2007). Fathers are less flexible in their expectations of gender-appropriate activities, and they are more likely to impose gender role expectations on their sons than on their daughters (Burge 1981). Boys and girls predict that their parents are more likely to approve if they play with same sex toys than with cross-gendered or neutral toys (Freeman 2007). Gender differentiation in play might be due to biological differences between boys and girls, and their cognitive conceptualisation of gender (Lam and Leman 2003). Also, psychologists emphasised the role of parents and peers in modelling and reinforcing gender-appropriate play (Fagot and Leinbach 1987). Children attend to and internalise environmental information about gender appropriateness of toys, which guides their own toy play behaviour (Bussey and Bandura 1999).

Same sex toys and play behaviour may benefit children. Play with feminine stereotyped toys encourages girls to learn roles, to imitate behaviour and to use adults as a source of help, whereas boys' toys provide feedback for correct answers and encourage boys to explore their environments independently (Fagot and Leinbach 1983). However, it may limit children's experience and inhibit their ability to develop certain skills or characteristics that could be enhanced by engagement in cross-gender-typed toys and behaviours. …

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