February 24, 2011
For this project I observed a 6 year old boy named Michael. Michael is a good
friend of my son Dylan and our families are somewhat close, it had been
sometime since our last visit together when we arranged a play date for the purpose of
We chose to go up to the mountains to play in the snow. Our two families drove
in separate cars and upon arriving at our destination we greeted each other. The two boys
went right into playing. I remained near the cars and observed as their fathers joined
them in their play.
Michael initiated play by throwing a snowball at Dylan. A snowball fight ensued
and Michael laughed and yelled and ran as he attempted to launch and dodge the balls of
snow. Michael’s father used a trick to get closer to Michael. He casually held a snow ball
and looked off into the distance behind Michael and said, “whoa, is that a bear over
there?” Which then caused Michael to turn his head, giving his dad the perfect
opportunity to strike him with a snowball. Michael then modeled this behavior and used
deception to manipulate Dylan during the fight. He said: “look behind you, a squirrel!”
When Dylan turned his head, he threw the snowball at him.
Then the two dads began to throw snow balls at the boys more intensely. At one
point Michael retreated behind a stump on the perimeter of the field and I observed him
saying to himself, “How did he do that? He got me!” There were a few more times like
this when I observed Michael engaging in a dialogue with himself as well as moments
within the group play where he would entertain himself.
After the parents petered out a bit Michael suggested that he and Dylan play
batman and joker. There were many displays of rough-and-tumble play throughout the
observation period as well. This was observed between the two children, as well as
between the children and the adults.
The themes that I want to focus on regarding Michael’s behavior are his
collaborative pretend play, his modeling behavior, his non-social play and his language
During the play when Michael wanted to play batman and joker he wanted Dylan
to stop what he was doing and listen to the plan which he explained in great detail. Dylan
agreed but they both wanted to be batman. A struggle for power ensued which is a typical
behavior exhibited by boys at play in middle childhood. Eventually they came to a
compromise that Michael would be batman first and then they would switch. Both boys
wanted to be batman, the good guy, the leader. Though they displayed patterns of a
power struggle during the negotiations, once they began the game they collaborated
wonderfully in this pretend play. Collaboration in play demonstrates a theory of mind in
both boys. They understood that the other had a different point of view about the game
and they both accommodated each other regarding each ones desires within the
boundaries of the game. They were able to maintain this pretend scenario for quiet
sometime. The snowballs were the weapons which were used in the fight between hero
and villain. As Vygotsky’s insights suggest this play allowed the boys to practice adult
roles. Boys play these roles to “train” for life as adult males who are aggressive and in
control. These are of course examples of cultural gender stereotyping but nonetheless
they are modeled behaviors.
Modeling also occurred during the snowball fight when Michael exemplified his
father’s behavior almost immediately after witnessing it such as when he copied his
sneaky snowball trick. This was a display of another of Vygotsky’s main ideas that
learning occurs through social interaction; that we learn from our experiences and then
recreate new experiences based on the information...