Glimpses of summer these past few weeks spawned a conversation with my husband (and Daily Gumboot Editor-in-Chief John Horn) recently about our childhoods – what did we do in the summers? How did we play? Which one of us was more likely to run away into the surrounding woods and get lost? (I’m sure you can guess the answer to that one!). We discovered that although there were some similarities to our play, the different environments that we grew up in very much influenced the type of play we engaged in. For instance, John grew up in a rural environment, and I grew up in a semi-urban (okay, fine, suburban) neighbourhood. Not surprisingly, John spent more time freely exploring the wooded areas around his house, while I spent more time in backyards and a (now that I think back to it) fairly sketchy vacant lot up the street. Another difference we discussed was who we played with – because there weren’t a lot of other kids around, John spend a lot of time playing with his sister, or with his imaginary friend named Sparky*, while I played with a larger group of kids from the neighbourhood and school.
An article recently published in the BC Council for Families magazine, Family Connections, explored this concept of play across environments and cultures, and found that environments and cultures do indeed have a very large influence on play. These findings touched on some of the key differences John and I had explored – for example, one large factor that can lead to differences in play include whether there are other play partners around (neighbours, cousins, siblings, friends), and how safe it is to run freely around the neighbourhood.
Some interesting cultural differences were also explored within the article. For example, in Western society, it is emphasized that parents should devote time to play with their children, while in other cultures, the extended family plays a much larger role in playing with children than the parents. The idea of having structured play (e.g. sitting down to finish an art activity, like making a bracelet or using toys with numbers/letters) vs. free play (e.g. children engaging in pretend play, like playing kitchen) is also something that varies across – and within – cultures.
With the even-diversifying cultural landscape we find ourselves living within, these different approaches to play can lead to some interesting learnings, creativity and flexibility – but hey, isn’t that what play should be all about anyway?
*John may or may not have had an imaginary friend named Sparky.