Why is play with siblings and peers important for children’s development?
To provide my answer I will consider the nature and features of sibling and peer interactions and discuss the developmental significance of these relationships. I will draw upon research to support my rationale and explore the limitations of these accounts. I intend to conclude that children’s play is more than ‘A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective’ (Play therapy,U.K, 2011).
Throughout history there is evidence of children playing, although the content of play differs across time and space. Puritans disproved of play regarding it as frivolous. In contrast Locke (1632-1704) highlighted its importance believing that if learning was recreational children would develop a desire to be taught. Rousseau (1712-1778) believed teaching through play and learning from peers was more valuable than classroom learning. From an early age many children spend a significant amount of time playing and interacting with siblings and peers. These interactions offer important contexts for development of social understanding. Researchers, such as Harris (1998) and Pinker (2002), argue that parental influence has been exaggerated, as it is primarily the peer group that influences socialization.
There are distinct differences in children’s relationships with adults than those with siblings/peers; they differ considerably in terms of behaviour patterns demonstrated and the balance of knowledge and power. Adults play a powerful role in defining children’s experiences these interactions are distinguished by the complementarity of roles and ‘…provide children with security and protection and enable them to gain knowledge and acquire skills’ (Schaffer, 2003, p.113). Peer interactions are reciprocal rather than complementary characterised as being between individuals with similar knowledge and social power involving co-operation and competition.
Sibling relationships differ from others and can be particularly intense. The knowledge and power difference is not extreme and siblings sometimes play and communicate on the same level. Dunn and Kendrick (1982) researched pretend play with siblings exploring the idea that elder siblings act as teacher. They identified that younger siblings followed the role-play instructions set by their elder sibling enabling their contribution to the play and enhancing their social skills. Schaffer (1996) supports this view believing sibling relationships can be powerful for influencing development of key social skills ‘on the one hand the older child can act as teacher, guide, and model to the younger; on the other hand, however, both children share interest and competence to a sufficient degree to tackle jointly the task of social understanding’ (Schaffer, 1996, p. 113). Therefore the nature and features of peer and sibling relationships provide different dimensions to interactions that are potentially powerful for influencing development.
To identify the social skills required for peer interaction it is useful to consider Blatchford et al (1990) who undertook a longitudinal study of children’s interactions and play perspectives on the playground. They used self-report data, individually interviewing children at the age of 7, 11 and 16. Blatchford concluded that children have a defined playground culture, which excludes adults and contains features of fighting, racist and sexist teasing. Whitney and Smith (1993), claim that the incidence of bullying and aggression within playground culture is sufficiently widespread to cause serious concern (The Open University, 2005, p.106). Blatchford argued that these features require children to develop sophisticated social understandings and skills in order to regulate their time without adults (The Open University, 2005, p.105).
Another issue relevant to this debate is that of Smith et al (1999). Who...
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