Children’s imaginations are increasing despite less time to engage in play, according to new research.
“Even though children may be engaging less in play than they used to, children can still express imagination and emotion in play,” Case Western University researcher Sandra W. Russ, PhD, told Healio.com. “So play approaches are still appropriate in intervention approaches.”
Russ, along with Jessica Dillon, a fifth-year doctoral student, analyzed data from 14 studies of children aged 6 to 10 years in school-based samples from 1985 to 2008. Each study featured Russ’ Affect in Play Scale (APS), a 5-minute, unstructured play task measuring both cognitive and affective processes.
According to the researchers, each child was met with individually and given two “neutral-looking puppets and three blocks with which to play however he or she would like.”
The APS measured pretend play ability with five scores:
- Organization — rating the quality and complexity of the plot.
- Imagination — rating the child’s play based on fantasy elements, block transformations and number of novel ideas, characters or events.
- Comfort — rating the child’s involvement in and enjoyment of, the play.
- Frequency of Affect — keeping a tally of the number of units of verbal and nonverbal emotion expressed during the play task.
- Variety of Affect — keeping a tally of the number of affect categories expressed during the play task.
Russ and Dillon performed a cross-temporal meta-analysis, examining the associations between the mean APS scores and the year of data collection.
Results show that children were found to score progressively higher on imagination (beta level=0.663; P=.026) and comfort (beta level=0.71; P=.014) in pretend play between 1985 and 2008. There was no evidence of change in organization of the play story or the amount and range of affect expression.
According to the researchers, there are several possible reasons as to why children’s cognitive and affective processes in play have remained the same or improved despite a reduction in overall playtime.
“First, children are resilient and may be finding ways to develop imagination and make-believe abilities other than through play,” such as video games, they wrote. “It is also possible that the complexities and challenges of modern culture require creative problem-solving and imagination to function from day to day. … Third, it is possible that there were other differences between the most recent samples of children and earlier samples that confounded the results.”
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.