Childhood Play in Different Generations & Cultures

Table of Contents


Interviewee Description.

Literature Review..

Presentation of themes and findings.

Importance of time and space in the Play.

Impact of the Gender in Play.

Time for Play.

Effect of Proximity with the adult activities on play.

Choice of Play Partners. 

Socio-Economic Factors impacting Play.




Past research on childhood play has been conducted in every society. Play can be called a fundamental characteristic of human nature, which may vary greatly based on the cultural background of a person (Gooso & Carvalho, 2013). This has ignited a curiosity in the context in which culture passes during various activities of play. Human beings are considered social creatures. It is primarily because of their socio-cultural essence that children of diverse communities participate differently in playing because of variations in vocabulary, background, and social values. The parents also perceive the play differently in different cultures.

Therefore, every human activity is seeped and impacted by cultural context, and mutually affects the complexities and historical transformations of culture. Play is not exempted. Culture permeates and influences children's play in two primary ways: artistic unification, or conceptual replication of micro and macro cultural elements of the social world (rituals, laws, and values); and the creation of common concepts and rituals that form peer group's micro-culture. Different cultures & age of the people may react differently to playing (Aras, 2016). In particular, children born today are typically assumed to be raised with material possessions and technological advancements (Slutsky & DeShetler, 2017).

Considering playing as a central human desire and a signifier for personal growth and acculturation, and creation of society contributes to a specific understanding of early childhood year’s education. Play must not be refuted with educational processes or significant work, but should instead be seen as an important arena of the lives of the children, a condition for the welfare of children, and childhood's legitimate right (Ebbeck & Waniganayake, 2017). Most experiments on the play are driven by a theoretical viewpoint, finding connections in the immediate or far future between play behaviours and behavioural results, and sometimes ignoring the importance of play during childhood. Besides, and as a result of this viewpoint, the research is therefore focused on the importance of childhood play in the sense of various cultures and genders.

Interviewee Description

The interviewee was a woman, who was born and raised in a city called Masjid Suleiman which was located South of Iran. She was born in the mid-1960s and later moved to Australia in her mid-20s. The interviewee described her childhood to be “drastically different” to the childhood of today’s generation. She described her childhood to be full of outdoor activity, cycles, mountains, and lots of outdoor games. Back when she was a child, she lived in a joint family, and she was privileged as she had a lot of things many kids her age did not have. She also states that the childhood experience of today’s kids is much different than the childhood experience she had experienced.

This is mostly seen due to the technological advancements that have increasingly emerged. Moreover, the technological devices that are at the disposal of the children these days. The interviewee was specifically chosen as the circumstances in Iran would’ve been much more different compared to what we see today specifically in Australia. This is because their culture was different and the locality, she was in mainly consisted of Armenians or Persians. Thus, she was brought up in an environment where boys and girls were treated fairly equally. And were provided with equal opportunity to learn and grow. Additionally, earlier, the gender differences were not prevalent in Iran, the interviewee has stated to have been treated fairly unlike today, where the males are perceived as superiors than the females. Australia too has a patriarchal society but both the genders are viewed equally.

Literature Review

A study conducted by the National Trust has found that children play outside for an estimate of just about four hours per week. This unfavourably compares with 8.2 hours which was the average outside playing time of their parents, when their parents were young. Furthermore, a survey by the UK government report showed that 10 per cent of respondents had not been to a natural area such as a beach, forest, or even a park, for a year (Child in the city, 2018). It revealed that the overall engagement with outdoor play spaces is low in the modern age and highly dependent, as expected, on both their socio-economic status and the attitude of the parent towards involvement in the outdoor sport.

This is a phenomenon that is prevalent throughout the world. A new analysis reported in the records of Paediatric & Adolescent Medicine by the Seattle Children's Research Institute revealed that nearly 50 per cent of pre-schoolers did not have a single outdoor play session a day supervised by even one parent (Franktel et al., 2019). Children aged 10 to 16, on an average, currently invest just 12.6 minutes a day on active physical exercise as compared to a comparatively motionless 10.4 waking hours. An entire generation of lethargic children are being raised, who would rather be sitting on the couch with a game controller and playing Mario than being armed with just a stick and let their imagination go wild. This would lead to an entire generation suffer from obesity because of inactivity in their life (Lobley, 2016).

Due to the advancements in the technology, children are bombarded by digital technologies for content, from more developed technology such as television and cinema and cutting edge video games and devices such as play-stations, access social networking sites and smartphones and other portable devices such as laptops, tablets, and so on (Spears et al., 2000). There are many more amusements to populate children's minds and time than ever before. But to assume, this is the entire responsibility of the advancements in the new media, and technology would be far too simple.

With the increase in the prices of the land, constructing new homes or office buildings appears far more necessary than keeping open spaces for children in cities to play in. While many metropolitan communities are reacting to the value of open spaces for the enjoyment and prosperity of their citizens, there are also tremendous financial demands to render any open space more efficient (Chiesura, 2004). However, city officials are not solely to be blamed for the decline of play areas for the children. Parental perceptions and beliefs of child educators, such as teachers and nursery workers, have often changed considerably over the years. There has been an environment of terror among those responsible for caring for the children.

A study conducted by the UK 's National Children's Bureau found that approximately 50 per cent of parents may have fear of outsiders which keeps them from encouraging outside play for their sons or daughters (Valentine, 2017). The misconception is often generated by media despite crime figures revealing that kidnappings or assaults on children are not on the rise. Institutions that care for children, such as nurseries or schools, also have a great deal to do with the possibilities of being sued should a child injure itself while under their care. Unfortunately, such a prudent mentality does more damage to the development of the children than protecting them because it leads to creating a far more sheltered upbringing, contributing to a loss of confidence later on in life.

Play is a significant part of early development for a child. Playing helps in the development of the minds of small children, and also helps in the development of communication and language skills (Yogman et al., 2018). Through play young children develop their communication, motor skills, and problem-solving abilities. Play enables children to employ their creativity by developing their imagination, proficiency, and strength in physical, cognitive, and emotional domains. Healthy development of the brain is fostered through play. It is only through play that children get involved and interact with the people around them from a very early age.

Several reports are demonstrating clear advantages of outdoor play that children may lose out on (Moore, 2017). The children not only miss out on fresh air and beautiful scenery, spending time outside has really physical and mental benefits. Besides, handling real-world items and exploring specific environments will help to improve motor skills and knowledge of the environment (Dobkin, 2017). Some data shows that exposure to the sun also helps in improving eyesight, as the limitation of pupils tends to strengthen the muscle and strengthen the abilities of the eyes for seeing farther things. As well as the physical effects, by spending time outside, children always enhance their mental health. Understanding the importance of play is a critical aspect of this study incorporating the importance of culture and gender in shaping the play activities of the children.

Presentation of Themes and Findings

In the immediate context, the structural aspects (time and space, social climate, etc.) can easily be recognized as factors that influence the frequency, duration, and nature of activities of play (Gaskins, Haight & Lancy, 2007). In any environment in which the children were examined, the play was experienced. This can be called a common psychological characteristic of human beings. This is influenced by their societal background, nevertheless, as is any human operation. Play is responded differently by different cultural views of the communities: adults may consider play as having major effects on cognitive, social and emotional growth, and adults may interact as playmates; play may be seen as children's spontaneous action, in which adults do not plan or participate; or play may be seen as a spontaneous activity, but the amount of play is reduced because of other activities like education being considered more important. While playing children may replicate and reconstruct the details of their cultural surroundings and learnings (Corsaro, 1993).

Importance of time and space in the Play

Research on play in the different cultural settings illustrates the numerous forms in which society interacts through the practices of play. According to the interviewee, in her childhood, she experienced a lot of free space for playing in their locality. The accessibility of place and time, toys and playmates; parental role models and preferences towards play are few of the social factors that influence the frequency, length, and composition of children's play activity. Boys and girls of different ages will plunge in, swim across a river, or play chase in the entire village with little to no adult intervention in the South American Indian culture (Rossetti, Smarssaro & Pessotti, 2009). Children use real items for playing such as artificial toys at home, in school or sports fields, in playgrounds or parks, usually under parental guidance, in especially while they are younger and unable to take care of themselves. Play involving chase and locomotor is generally played in closed spaces.

The interviewee had stated that as a child she did not possess a lot of toys thus, they would let go of their imagination and playthings which she and her friends found in their environment. Many common playing activities like playing with marble, flying kites, playing with dolls, playing houses, or hopscotch, etc., reappear in different cultural contexts with their deep structure but are modified in different ways to create local versions and use local resources and to be called by different names in their language devised by the cultural groups (Gosso, 2010). For example, marbles are called papão, búlica, búrica, gude, or peteca in various Brazilian regions, and are played with local rules such as using cashew nuts, mud balls, or glass balls.

Impact of the Gender in Play

According to the interviewee, she was raised in an environment that treated girls and boys fairly. There was no gender biasedness while playing, if the girls wanted to play soccer they would play along with the boys in their locality. In addition to the significant framework of several play activities, differences because of genders in partnership choices and nature of games are another very frequent cross-cultural similarity (Maccoby, 1990). Preference appears to have been developed for individuals of the same or the opposite gender from the age of 3.

It is generally due to social orientation systems, in which gender identity is one of the major facets, and continues to rise as children expand their awareness of discrepancies between the sexes (Bichara et al., 2012). Preferences for gender, as expressed in imitating the same gender activities, are resistant to incentives for inter-general imitation by adults. Such behaviours appear to arise even though there are few same-age partners available and this means engaging with different age companions. Children of the same gender and age similarity tend to be drawn together in larger groups to form subgroups in play.

Similar preferences for play activities can also explain gender differences, regardless of cultural contexts. Boys prefer to use larger areas, play in larger groups, and further away from home and participate in play practices involving gross-movements. While the girls occupy internal or more confined spaces, they play in smaller groups, close to their homes and with social and domestic themes (Humphreys & Smith, 1987). Pretend play trends are much more common among girls than between boys, which in certain cultural contexts may be attributed to lack of male models: even though mothers work out of the house, they often provide female models who are responsible for doing the domestic chores.

There is proof that gender factors may lead to gender gaps in play behavior and choices, and may also be the basis of the clear societal pressures on the appropriateness for boys and girls in some forms of play (Pallergrini & Smith, 1999). Such expectations vary in various cultural contexts: gender roles are established in certain cultures and may have a profound effect on the play activity options for children strongly mimic adult activities.

Time for Play

The time required or allocated for the play activities in various situations differs widely. Children (especially girls), often have to support adults in various tasks, which allow less freedom to play, but they also integrate playing into their tasks (Edwards, 2005). This is most prevalent in the rural societies, in the low revenue households, and remote communities like the African-Brazilian "quilombo" and South American Indian communities. Stated by the interviewee that as a child she was not obligated to help her mother, but she did help her, as she was allowed to go to play after she completed her studies and on holidays she could go to play after breakfast.

Effect of Proximity with the adult activities on play

The degree of authenticity in portraying certain things in the pretended play is affected by the presence of adult behaviours in various forms in the life of the children. Children are in constant touch with adults as they carry out their everyday tasks in the societies of nomads. Boys tend to represent male activities in the urban context, where fathers work in an office, with ambiguous, ineffectively-specified ways, like father drives to work (Kamei, 2005). The portrayal of women's jobs, particularly in domestic employment, appears to be stronger. In boys' pretence, the influence of media characters such as superheroes, space travellers, are more evident. As per the interviewee, because she was raised equally, she had not experienced patriarchy in the Play.

Effect of TV on Play

Most modern communities restrict the outside play of children because of worries regarding health and safety. Young children cannot play openly since parents worry too much or don't have time to take them personally to a park. Parents tend to safeguard their children in the house, by allowing them to play video games or watch TV (Van der Voort, 1994). If TV isn't available, time spent by children playing outside is more, for example, Japanese boys play outside the house depending on how much time they have spent on video games, if they have not spent a lot of time on TV they tend to play for a longer duration outside. South American Indians and rural communities have more independence, minimal adult interference, broad spaces, and various other possible associated items that promote the incidence of play, even though some have exposure to television. The interviewee spent a lot of time playing outside and was given the freedom to choose her path of action.

Choice of Play Partners

The availabilities and cultural views and practices of childhood play partners, particularly partners of different ages, represent the numerous social networks in which the child is engaged. Families, whether living together or in the near vicinity, have more children and/or extended families typically include a wide number of multi-age peers or cousins of both sexes. Similarly, children will play with their parents and nearby residents on the streets in local families, agricultural environments, or small villages (Veitch, Salmon & Ball, 2008).

On the other side, young children in big communities often have limited exposure to open and accessible areas and engage with their parents in daycare centres. However, by being raised in a joint family and being treated equally irrespective of being a girl, she never discriminated against the choice of partners, rather she played soccer with the boys when she wants and badminton with the girls when she wanted.

Socio-Economic Factors impacting Play

Modern urban living continues in different forms to restrict free play options for children. Owing to the presence of moms in the workforce or other causes, children have been getting enrolled in the pre-school centres gradually since the early years where the opportunity for free play is mostly limited to gaps between schooling and competitive training (Xu, 2010). Parental protection issues or other considerations such as housing environments hinder their willingness to expose their children to access areas in which active games with different aged children would be possible, thus encouraging sedentary and less balanced activities: the provision of secure activities in parks or other communities would be both a matter of child-oriented policy as the education and wellbeing safety (Weir, Etelson & Brand, 2006).

In reply to these factors, the entertainment industry and technology advances deliver a broader range of sedentary and sometimes individualized and high-structuring games and toys that have little room for the imagination of children in the creation and collaborative building of play artifacts and materials. Psychological research portrays the infant as an aggressive promoter in its creation from an earlier age; this idea frequently remains misinterpreted in cultural traditions and behaviours surrounding time, place, play-partner preference, and children's play operation. The interviewee has stated that her place was safer when she was a child, thus, the parental concerns were less and she was provided with the autonomy of playing freely outside.


Playing is a natural practice, basic encouragement, and a children's legal privilege. Studies in the different cultural contexts stress the normative characteristics of play (such as conventional game/play structure and gender differences in play preferences and performance) and cultural heterogeneity, either initiated by children or enforced by the availability of time, room, toys and play partners which represent perceptions in each setting. It is natural to feel protected for your children. But it is also important to understand that the play settings make them strong and tough. The child who escapes without some scraping or bruises during his childhood is seldom, having bruises and scars because of playing is part of a natural element of growing up.

The formation of guidelines for outdoor play is not wrong or illegal. For example, not playing in the middle of the road. Thus, eliminating the risks by eliminating outdoor play should not be the way. Learning how risk evaluation is an integral aspect of childhood and children should learn by making their own mistakes under the well-defined criteria.

While very small children will still be watched carefully, it is a significant accomplishment to allow older children to step outside on their own. It can help to foster the self-assurance and self-worth feelings in the presence of each child and the feelings of each parent as this period arrives. They will owe their kid a well-balanced, happy life, full of laughter, creativity, and happiness if as parents they will rest under those protective constraints. Play is a legal childhood privilege, a vital factor in the physical, mental, and social growth of children. The clearly states the differences in the play activities 50 years ago and the play activities today. Because of the safety concerns of the parents for their children, the children are confined to homes, and rather because of the new technologies, the children are not ready to go outside to play, whereas earlier, children were happier in playing outside games as compared to inside games.


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