Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Preschoolers' Play Behaviors with Peers in Classroom and Playground Settings

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Preschoolers' Play Behaviors with Peers in Classroom and Playground Settings

Article excerpt

Abstract. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between different settings for young children's play behaviors with peers. Forty-one children from 2 to 5 years of age (twenty-one 2- and 3-year-olds and twenty 4- and 5-year-olds) enrolled in three child care programs participated in this study. The children were videotaped for five minutes each on four different days, both indoors and outdoors (total of 40 minutes). The Assessment Profile for Early Childhood Programs described the quality of the child care program, and additional measures described the playground setting. Children's play behaviors were categorized using the Parten-Smilansky Scale, which combines social play categories and cognitive play categories into 16 categories of peer interaction. Results showed that the children were more likely to engage in the most complex form of peer play (i.e., interactive dramatic play) outdoors than indoors. In outdoor play, the older age group was more likely to interact with peers than was t he younger age group. The outdoor playground offered older preschoolers particular types of play experiences (i.e., functional play and dramatic play) more readily than the classroom. These findings reinforce the importance of both the indoor and the outdoor environments for promoting more complementary play behaviors and peer interactions.

During the preschool years, children spend long periods of time in play with others. Peers are important social agents in young children's development and learning. Interactions with peers offer unique contributions to the growth of social and emotional competence, to the acquisition of social skills and values, and to the development of the capacity to form relationships with others (see Berndt & Ladd, 1993). Early childhood programs are one of the primary settings where young children meet peers, learn social skills, and form peer relationships.

Recent research on children's play seeks ways to promote peer interactions in educational settings (Dempsey & Frost, 1993; Howe, Moller, & Chambers, 1994; Lamb, Sternberg, Knuth, Hwang, & Broberg, 1994; Petrakos & Howe, 1996). Influences of the environment on children's play behaviors and development have been stated theoretically (Lewin, 1931; Piaget, 1962; Vygotsky, 2967) and investigated empirically (Hart, 1993; Wachs, 1985; Wohlwill, 1983). For example, Lewin (1931) proposed a rationale for emphasizing the ecological features of the physical environment that affect social interaction. Although children move in and out of certain environments, the influence of a particular environment potentially remains with the child, since the interactions of children have been affected by that environment. How the child interacts with people--as well as with objects--is greatly affected by situational and environmental factors. Lewin claimed that behavior (B) is a function of the interaction between the person (P) and the environment (E): B = f(PE). The reasoning behind this approach is that, by understanding how children interact with the environment and persons within that environment, we can understand how the environment promotes children's play behaviors with peers. In this regard, children's play behaviors with peers can be evaluated by focusing on specific aspects of the play environment.

A number of studies have investigated the physical play environment that influences children's play behaviors with peers as both discriminative stimuli and reinforcers. Most of these studies have focused on peer interactions in the preschool classroom setting: 1) the physical arrangement of materials and learning centers (Howe et al., 1994; Petrakos & Howe, 1996), 2) the design and organization of classrooms (Field, Masi, Goldstein, Perry, & Parl, 1988; Howes & Rubenstein, 1981), and 3) the quality of program (Lamb et al., 1994; Teets, 1985). For example, Petrakos and Howe (1996) found that dramatic play centers designed for groups facilitated social interactions by allowing children to focus on each other (e. …

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