Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Parent-Child Play across Cultures : Advancing Play Research

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Parent-Child Play across Cultures : Advancing Play Research

Article excerpt

In this article, the authors argue for a greater understanding of children's play across cultures through better integration of scientific thinking about the developed and developing societies, through consideration of socialization beliefs and goals, and, finally, through the use of more complex models in research investigations. They draw on theoretical propositions in anthropology and psychology to describe and interpret the meaning of parent-child play activities in the context of everyday socialization practices in societies in various stages of economic development. Key words: cross-cultural studies; parent-child play; play's effect on child development

Theoretical Considerations and Cultural Perspectives

Two theoretical perspectives on psychocultural processes in childhood socialization that have been useful in studying and interpreting play phenomena in diverse cultural settings have their roots in both psychology and anthropology. The early twentieth-century Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the American anthropologists John and Beatrice Whiting were forerunners in stressing the primary importance of the social context and cultural processes (e.g., parentchild practices, belief systems) in interpreting the meaning of children's social activities and play behaviors (Vygotsky 1978; Whiting and Edwards 1988; Whiting and Whiting 1975).

Vygotsky's cultural-historical approach emphasizes the use of mental tools or tools of the mind (e.g., using lists to remember everyday tasks) in the development of higher-level mental functions (e.g., focused attention and use of memory strategies that are learned; Vygotsky 1997). These cultural tools assist children in the mastery of skills at the interpsychological or social level between people and then at the intrapsychological or individual level. For Vygotsky, play was central to the development of mental functions during the preschool years (Vygotsky 1967).

Like Vygotsky, the Whitings highlighted the underlying role of social context in the processes of learning and development. By coding the social interactions of young children through detailed field observations in Khalapur, India; Okinawa, Japan; Nyansongo, Kenya; Tarong, Philippines; New England, United States; and Juxtlahuaca, Mexico, the Whitings were able to demonstrate the wide variations in interaction patterns of children and their parents as well as contextual factors that influence them within and across these cultural settings.

Their model emphasized the environment and history, maintenance systems (e.g., subsistence patterns, modes of production, etc.), learning environment of the child (e.g., settings, care givers), behavioral tendencies and beliefs of the adult, and projective-expressive systems (e.g., religion and ideology) in shaping parental involvement with children and childhood behaviors (Whiting and Whiting 1975).

Super and Harkness (1997, 2002) expanded on the original theoretical propositions of the Whitings, specifically those of the physical setting and learning environment of the child. Super and Harkness focused on parental psychology or ethno-theories, customs and practices, and setting as key features of the developmental niche within which children are socialized. Their propositions have been used to discern cultural-developmental patterns in children's play behaviors in developed and developing economies (see Bock 2002; Rogoffet al. 1993; Roopnarine and Jin 2012).

A Need for Indigenous Views and Universal Integration of Knowledge on Play

The field of play research needs to further tease out what culture brings to the parent-child equation. As cross-cultural psychologists continue to espouse the need for indigenous perspectives in studying and interpreting behavioral phenomena (Jahoda 1993), there are increasing attempts to construct conceptual frameworks for analyzing behavioral processes that originate from within the culture (see Kakar 1992 on developmental processes in East Indians) and to examine the applicability of popular frameworks developed by researchers in North America and Europe (e. …

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