Prof Chloe Marshall on preschoolers and play

In yesterday’s CEN seminar, Prof Chloë Marshall, from UCL’s Institute of Education, presented a paper from Developmental Science by Taggart, Heise & Lillard entitled, “The real thing: preschoolers prefer actual activities to pretend ones”

You can read the paper on Angeline Lillard’s website here.

Professor Marshall writes:

“Play is a contested activity in preschool education. While its importance for children’s cognitive, social and emotional development is widely accepted by developmental psychologists and educationalists, the formalisation of preschool education in many countries means that children have fewer opportunities to play. In the Montessori classroom, there is little of one particular type of play – pretend play – and instead the focus is on providing children with opportunities for learning how to carry out real activities. In the Montessori classroom, for example, children prepare real food for snacktime, and wash real clothes and peg them up to dry, rather than engaging in pretend play in the “home corner” that characterises more mainstream preschools. Aside from the question of whether such real activities are more developmentally appropriate than pretend ones, is there any evidence (other than Montessori’s own observations) that children actually prefer them?

The first piece of evidence that I’m aware of is provided by the paper that I present in this talk. Angeline Lillard – an eminent Montessorian – and her colleagues examined, for nine different activities, American middle-class preschoolers’ preferences for pretend and real versions of these activities. The 100 children that they tested overwhelmingly preferred real activities to pretend ones, and this preference increased from age 3 to age 4, then remained steady through age 6. Children were able to provide cogent justifications for their preferences.”

Following the seminar there was a vibrant discussion of the paper. Some important questions were raised about the experimental design, about whether children would in practice make the choices they made verbally, the role of the imagination in children’s play and much more.

Do join us next time! Seminars are weekly, Thursdays 4-5pm in Room 534 of Birbeck’s Psychology department and are open to all.

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