Research on Children’s Play: Analysis of Developmentaland Early Education Journals from 2005 to 2007Mei-Fang Cheng • James E. JohnsonPublished online: 2 October 2009 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009Abstract Our review examined four early childhoodjournals (Early Child Development and Care, Early Childhood Education Journal, Journal of Research in ChildhoodEducation, and Early Childhood Research Quarterly) andfour developmental science journals (Child Development,Developmental Psychology, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, and Merrill Palmer Quarterly) from2005 to 2007. Only 57 articles out of over 1,000 (conservative estimate) included the term ‘play’ in the title, abstractor as a key word. Of these 57 articles, only 19 were primarilyfocused on play, 16 from ECE journals and only three fromdevelopmental science journals (Z = 2.43, p.05). Whilethe ECE journals drew implications for practice, thedevelopmental science journals did not. Seven ECE journalarticles dealt with the concept of play in education and fourother ECE journal articles covered play and literacy. Thefindings suggest the need for more careful use of the termplay in early education and child development studies and areevaluation of rationales and methods for its study.Keywords Play research Early education Child developmentIntroductionMany studies concerning children’s play have been published in early education and developmental journals, andthere have been many research reviews in secondary sources, e.g., Young Children (Nourot and Hoorn 1991) andtertiary sources, e.g., Encyclopedia on Early ChildhoodDevelopment (Smith and Pellegrini 2008). In the educational field, play remains a topic of interest, and manyresearchers have surveyed the study of play. For example,Sutton-Smith (1983) reviewed play research articles andbooks cited in Children’s Play (Herron and Sutton-Smith1971) and in the chapter on play in Handbook of ChildPsychology (Rubin et al. 1983) from before 1900 to the1970s. He found that there was a jump in play studiesbeginning in the 1930s, and that the 1970s had the greatestquantity of research on play, about 200 articles. This playresearch can be categorized according to five aspects—psychodynamic, correlational, pragmatic, Piagetian, andexperimental studies. Sutton-Smith also emphasized thatthere were many play studies in other areas, e.g. anthropological-folkloric, animal, socio-psychological, gestalt,historical, theoretical, and communicational fields, were notincluded in his study.Roskos and Christie (2001) more recently conducted aplay-literacy review by examining their interface based onfour criteria: (1) implicit or explicit assumption of play-literacy connections; (2) publications in the PsychINFO andERIC online databases and edited books (e.g., Roskos andChristie 2000; Spodek and Saracho 1998) between 1992 and2000; (3) presentation as a research report; and (4) emphasison early childhood. They used critical analysis to evaluatethese studies, challenging both what was said (i.e., theclaims) and also what was not said or addressed. Their resultsshowed that the major claims in 12 out of the 20 articles weresound and complete. These 12 studies had strong evidencesupporting the claim that play can serve literacy, becauseplay (1) provides settings that promote literacy activity,skills, and strategies; (2) serves as a language experience thatcan build connections between oral and written modes ofexpressions; and (3) provides opportunities to teach andM.-F. Cheng (&) J. E. JohnsonThe Pennsylvania State University, 145 Chambers,University Park, NE 16802, USAe-mail: [email protected]123Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259DOI 10.1007/s10643-009-0347-7learn literacy. However, they also found that there werelimitations and unsolved issues in these studies, e.g., concerns about definitions, theories, and methodology; a lack ofprogress in establishing causal connections with development; and the dominance of ‘‘play as progress’’ rhetoric.Ahn and Johnson (2005) reviewed 37 play articles fromthree child developmental journals and three early childhood education journals from 2000 to 2004. The purposesof the study were to examine how well these studies situated play and described specified play materials. By analyzing participants, research questions, play situations, playmaterials, and research methods, they found that: (1) morethan half of these studies observed children’s play duringclassroom free play period in early childhood educationsettings, which was good because it meant that childrencould initiate their own play; (2) most studies were crosssectional rather than longitudinal designs; and (3) playmaterials were not specified adequately—many studies didnot even provide information about toys. In conclusion,Ahn and Johnson advocated better descriptions of materialsand longitudinal studies in the future.In another recent study, Oliver and Klugman (2007)performed an electronic search using Google Scholar onchildren’s play research from the 1990s to 2005. Theyfound that more than 1,500 play studies were published inthe 1990s, and this number increased by almost the samepace in 2000 to 2005, with approximately 200 articlespublished per year. However, cognitive and school-relatedearly childhood topics (e.g., No Child Left Behind, schoolreadiness, and early literacy) were topics that increasedrapidly, much more so than play research. They concludedthat, in order to respond to federal legislation requirementsand to build a play research agenda, play studies have toask new questions in two directions: (1) What works andwhat does not work, before taking the chance of experimenting in the classroom? (2) How can we best incorporatewhat we know about play into teacher training so earlychildhood educators can make better use of play in theclassroom and show results?Kuschner (2007) analyzed play articles in the journal ofYoung Children from 1973 to 2002 to see how play wasexplicitly or implicitly portrayed and why it was valued.He identified 101 articles as play articles because theyspecifically focused on the topic of play itself or on amaterial typically provided for children’s play, and heexcluded articles mentioned or discussed within the contextof other topics. In other words, he selected only thosearticles that by title or primary content were specificallyabout some aspect of children’s play. He was interested inunderlying themes or images of play being communicatedin these articles, and his results showed that three themesemerged: (1) Why should play be included in the curriculum? The majority of articles emphasized the value of playfor the purpose of enhancing intellectual and academicdevelopment. (2) There was an emphasis on the universalchild; very few articles related to cultural differences,multicultural education, or diversity. (3) Play that conformsto the behavioral and academic expectations of school isvalued over the sometimes unruly, messy, and aggressiveplay that often emerges naturally from children’s interestsand experiences. And finally, he raised the question aboutwhether we can support the developmental values of playand use it in education without destroying its very nature.Recently, two Canadian early childhood organizations,The Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Centre (ECLKC;website: http://www.ccl-cca.ca/CCL/AboutCCL/KnowledgeCentres/EarlyChildhoodLearning) and the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development (CEECD; website:www.excellence-earlychildhood.ca) worked on identifyingkey research on learning through play. They built a data baseof 84 play-related articles from 2000 to 2007 and asked us toserve as consultants to check the accuracy and thoroughnessof their work. We found that there were 34 articles that werenot related to children’s play, even though some of themincluded play as a key word (Cheng and Johnson 2008).All of these studies of play studies attest to the fact thatplay has been a topic of immense importance in earlyeducation and child development research and practicethroughout the twentieth century and into the presentdecade. Moreover, the Office of Applied Research, a newpart of the National Association for the Education ofYoung Children (NAEYC) working with the Society forresearch in Child Development (SRCD) to narrow the gulfbetween what we know from research and what we areusing in practice, has focused on play in its first publicationurging this mission. A Mandate for Playful Learning inPreschool: Presenting the Evidence by Hirsh-Pasek et al.(2009) cites many recent studies, some published in peerreviewed journals, but many others in books or edited bookchapters. On the other hand, since the turn of the century anumber of significant trends have conspired to demote playin early childhood education. Roskos and Christie (2007),for example, have noted that the rise in standards-basededucation and an emphasis on learning and skill development have affected the status of play in a negativedirection.To build on what we have learned from previous looks atthe play archives, this study extends and complementsprevious reviews. We are interested in data based articles inpeer reviewed journals only. This is different from therecent review of Young Children play articles by Kuschnerand the reviews recently conducted by ECLKC and CEECDin Canada. The present review follows Ahn and Johnsoncontinuing a review of play studies in juried journals up to apoint closer to the present. In order to clarify the currentstatus of play in studies, the purpose of this article is to250 Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259123explore the focus of play study conducted by educationaland developmental researchers over the recent 3 year period, 2005–2007. Research questions include: (1) How isplay treated in studies? Is it a means or an end in theresearch? (2) Is there a difference in the focus of investigation between educational and developmental researchers?(3) What topics and themes are coming up in recent articlesabout play in peer reviewed journals?MethodsData CollectionThis study analyzed research articles on children’s playpublished from 2005 to 2007 in eight journals, includingfour developmental journals—Child Development (CD),Developmental Psychology (DP), Journal of AppliedDevelopmental Psychology (JADP), and Merrill PalmerQuarterly (MPQ); and four educational journals—EarlyChild Development and Care (ECDC), Early ChildhoodEducation Journal (ECEJ), Journal of Research in Childhood Education (JRCE), and Early Childhood ResearchQuarterly (ECRQ).The rationales to choose these eight journals are (a) theyare widely read and, if not the leading ones, (b) they arerepresentative of first tier peer-reviewed journals in thefields of early childhood education and child development.Further, we were not interested in finding chapters on playfrom edited books and non-peer reviewed periodicals sopicking up references using data bases of this type wouldnot fit our purpose. We know that play is a popular topic towrite about but wondered how often play articles appearthat are data-based from disciplined inquiry and have madeit through a rigorous blind peer review.The primary focus of the four selected child development category journals is communicating research resultsthat advance our understanding of the development ofchildren. An exclusive focus on infancy through adolescence is not necessary, only that the journal is known topublish many articles that focus on child development (forexample, JADP is a life course/span journal but themajority of articles are on child development). The title andthe editorial policy statement of these journals are consistent with their reputation as child development journals.The other four journals classified as early education werealso data based but dealt primarily on child development asit occurs or is affected by early childhood education as asetting, institution or process.The data collection process consisted of first searchingfor the key word ‘‘play’’ in the title, descriptors, andabstracts from these eight journals from 2005 to 2007 inthe ERIC database; results showed that there were 57play-related articles. We printed out hard copies of thesearticles and each of us independently read them and laterdiscussed how to code and analyze them. In doing this wewere guided by a concern with answering our researchquestions concerning how play is defined and studied andto what end.Data AnalysisThere were three steps involved in analyzing these 57articles. First, we categorized the types of play studiesaccording to the way that play was featured in thesestudies. The criteria to categorize the type of play-relatedresearch included: (1) researchers of these articles indicated the term ‘play’ in the title, descriptors, and abstract,and discussed it in the literature review, methods, resultsand discussion; (2) the way that play was featured acrossthe sections of the article. The articles with the term ‘play’associated with it were read carefully with special notetaken of (a) the literature cited in the introduction (e.g.,were there other play or studies included?), of the way playwas treated in the (b) methods section (e.g., were theredefinitions of play given, descriptions of play materials?),and of the way play was discussed in the (c) results and (d)discussion sections (e.g., did these sections include a focuson play results and an interpretation of them?). Inter-raterreliability was 100% since we jointly discussed the articlesuntil consensus was reached in coding.Second, we calculated the percentage of each type ofstudy in educational or developmental journals in order tofind the difference between the two fields. Third, we conducted a content analysis based on the articles that treatedplay as their main research purpose and focused on children to find the trends in recent play study. Content analysis done by the first author was checked with the secondauthor. A consensus was reached whenever there was initial disagreement. Few disagreements occurred and theywere easily resolved.ResultsFour Types of Play-Related ResearchAfter reviewing these articles carefully, we found that theycould be categorized into four types (see Table 1). TypeOne studies treated play as one of the main purposes of thestudy and focused on normal developing children. TypeTwo studies treated play as a relevant variable in the studiesbut not a major focus. In Type Three studies, play wastreated as the research context serving to study othervariables. In the last category, Type Four studies, play wasrelated to special children and intervention strategies.Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259 251123About 39% of these articles treated play as a researchcontext (Type Three), followed by 33% that treated play asa major focus (Type One), 14% that gave play a minor role(Type Two), and 14% that addressed play related to intervention and special children (Type Four).Type One studies treated play as the main purpose of thestudy and focused on normally developing children. Theresearchers of these articles put play in the title, descriptors, and abstract, and discussed it in the literature review,methods, results and discussion. There were 19 articlesidentified in this category. For example, Pramling-Samuelsson and Johansson (2006) argued that play and learningwere inseparable dimensions in preschool practice, basedon their theoretical discussion and empirical study. In thebeginning, they discussed literature regarding play andlearning in detail. Then, they illustrated the prior theoretical discussion with two observations that revealed theplayful processes of interaction between children andteachers. The purpose, method, results, and discussion ofthese two observations showed that both play and learningwere inseparable dimensions in preschool practice. Clearly,a better understanding of children’s play is the primarypurpose of this study. The articles of Type One studies arelisted in the ‘‘Appendix’’: List of Type One Articles inEight Journals.Type Two studies viewed play as a related variable butnot the main purpose of the investigation, though play wasa key word. For example, Jones and Lagace-Seguin (2006)examined the relationships among parental pessimism,child affect, and children’s well-being. Although they listed play as a descriptor, mentioned it in the abstract, anddiscussed it briefly in the body of the paper, play merelyserved as an indicator of children’s well-being. In otherwords, play had only a minor role in this study. We learnmuch less about play itself reading Type Two relative toType One studies; Type Two articles were focused onanother construct, not play.In Type Three studies, play was treated as a researchcontext in order to study other variables, although play wasincluded in the title, descriptors, abstract, or content. Forexample, Schulz and Bonawitz (2007) investigated howpreschoolers learned cause-effect relations throughexploratory play but still included play as a key word;actually the cause-effect relationship was the main focus ofthis study. Free-play was a research context, but studyingplay per se was not the research purpose.Our content analysis revealed a fourth category of playresearch. Type Four studies were all related to specialchildren or used play as an intervention strategy withspecial or at risk child. Studies of this type had a clearfocus: either their participants were special children, or thepurpose was to compare normative children with special orat risk children, or the study used play as an interventionstrategy. Type Four studies viewed play as a tool to assessor to intervene with special or at risk children but did nottry to cast light on the phenomena of play itself. To illustrate, Valentino et al. (2006) compared the mother–childplay of infants from maltreating and non-maltreatingfamilies and suggested that the analysis of mother–childplay was useful as a preverbal window into the cognitivedevelopment and representational capacity of both typicaland atypical children.Focus on Educational and Developmental JournalsThe second step of analysis was to compare the focus ofeducational and developmental journals (see Table 2). 39%of the play-related articles appeared in the four developmental journals, and 61% of the articles appeared in theeducational journals. Play-related articles appeared more inTable 1 Number of articles in four types of play-related studies from 2005 to 2007Study typejournal name Type one:play asa major roleType two:play asa minor roleType three:play asa research contextType four: play relatedto intervention andspecial childrenTotalChild Development (CD) 1 2 3 1 7Developmental Psychology (DP) 0 2 4 1 7Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (JADP) 0 2 3 1 6Merrill Palmer Quarterly (MPQ) 2 0 0 0 2Early Child Development and Care (ECDC) 6 1 7 2 16Early Childhood Education Journal (ECEJ) 5 0 1 1 7Journal of Research in Childhood Education (JRCE) 3 0 3 1 7Early Childhood Research Quarterly (ECRQ) 2 1 1 1 5Total 19 8 22 8 57Percentage 33 14 39 14 100252 Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259123educational journals than in developmental ones over the3 years, although this is not statistically significant. Thepercentage varied across different types of studies. TypeOne studies appeared significantly more (Z = 2.43,p.05) in educational journals (84%) than in developmental journals (16%). The results of comparing the percentage of journal articles from the two fields for TypeTwo, Type Three, and Type Four studies were not statistically significant due to the small sample size.Content Analysis of Type One StudiesType One research viewed children’s play as a majorresearch purpose and focused on normally developingchildren; analysis of the content of these studies sought toidentify their characteristics on several categories over the3 years (see Table 3).Research PurposesAnalyzing the research purposes of these articles, we foundthree main topics, which included the concept of play, play andother variables, and the individual differences in play. First,seven studies tried to clarify the concept of children’s play (#4,#5, #6, #8, #12, #17, & #18) and were about such topics as thefollowing: the relationship between play and learning, thesignificance of play and the play environment, children’scategorizations of play and learning, criteria to categorizesubtypes of play, the definition and reasons for nonsocial play,the relationship between superhero toys and play, and playfulimprovisation as a tool to examine teacher–child interactions.Second, another seven articles (#1, #7, #9, #11, #13, #15 ) addressed the relationship between play and other variables, especially literacy (the focus of four articles). The topicsincluded how children construct shared meanings during sibling pretend play, children’s literacy-related play, and thenarratives used in play. The other three studies addressed playand related factors—parenting styles, negative effects, socialinteractions, or the delay of gratification. Third, five studiestried to understand the individual differences in play (#2, #3,10, #14, & #19). Four studies examined gender differences infantasy play, parents’ or teachers’ attitudes toward play, orgendered toys and behaviors. One study aimed at developing ascale to measure the play beliefs of African American mothers.Definition of PlayTen out of 19 articles, mostly in educational journals,defined play by its content of the specific purpose of eachstudy and particular types of play, e.g., pretend play, literacy-related play, or non-social play. Three researchersstudied ‘‘What is play?’’ as a general research question.The other six implicitly assumed that readers knew whatplay was and did not provide an explicit definition orillustrate its meaning.TimeNine studies included information about time use. Twostudies reported the interviewing time, although sevenstudies reported observation time which ranged from 3 minto 4 months. Four studies observed play for months, threewere based on 3- to 15-min observations, and 10 studiesdid not report time in studying children’s play.Educational ImplicationsEleven educational articles discussed their findings notonly in relation to research practices and ideas but also inrelation to the educational implications. The major educational implications were: (a) promoting play-based learningor interactions (#4, #6, #9, & #18), (b) revealing the narrative in play helps children construct meaning (#13 ), (c) understanding the types of nonsocial play to helpthe teacher decide whether to intervene or not (#12), (d)reflecting gender stereotypes in toy choices and playbehaviors (#14), (e) relating play to the delay of gratification (#15), (f) addressing the relationship of superheroTable 2 Number and percentage of four types of articles in developmental and educational journalsStudy typejournaltype (journal name)Type one: playas a major roleType two: playas a minor roleType three: playas a researchcontextType four: playrelated to interventionand special childrenTotalNumber Percentage Number Percentage Number Percentage Number Percentage Number PercentageDevelopmental journals—CD,DP, JADP, & MPQ3 16% 6 75% 10 45% 3 38% 22 39%Educational journals—ECDE,ECEJ, JRCE, ECRQ16 84% 2 25% 12 55% 5 62% 35 61%Z score 2.43* 1.27 .46 .66 1.62Total 19 100% 8 100% 22 100% 8 100% 57 100%* p 8.05Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259 253123toys and play behaviors (#17), and (g) using a play measurefor early assessment and intervention (#19). Not a singledevelopmental article discussed educational or otherapplied implications. Most educational and developmentalarticles concluded by addressing research issues andmaking suggestions for future research (e.g., need to studydiverse populations to improve generalizations, or thevalue of conducting longitudinal designs, etc.).DiscussionWe found 57 play-related articles in eight leading journalspublished in the 3 year period from 2005 to 2007. Itshowed that an average of 2.3 articles published perjournal per year, not as many (101 play articles/30 years = 3.3) as found by Kuschner (2007). Weexamined research studies in peer-review journals,Table 3 Content analysis of type one studiesNumber Categoryjournaltype (name)Research purposes Definition of play Time Educationalimplication1 DJ (CD) Constructing shared meanings during siblingpretend playDefine ‘‘pretend play enactment’’ 15 min No2 DJ (MPQ) Sex differences in fantasy play No definition about ‘‘fantasy play’’Define ‘‘imaginary companion’’3-min No3 DJ (MPQ) Mothers’ and fathers’ attitudes regardingpretend playNo definition NA No4 EJ (ECDC) Play and learning—inseparable dimensions inpreschool practicesDefine play and its specific character NA Yes5 EJ (ECDC) 1. What is play?2.What is important in play?3. Play environment in different time periods(both parents’ and children’s view)It is one of the research questions Interviewfor 35–90 minNo6 EJ (ECDC) Children’s categorizations of play and learningbased on social contextIt is one of the research questions NA Yes7 EJ (ECDC) The role of a child’s negative affect in therelations between parenting styles and playDefine ‘‘reticent’’, ‘‘solitary-active’’, &‘‘rough-and -tumble play’’NA No8 EJ (ECDC) Criteria used by adults and children tocategorize subtypes of playDefine ‘‘pretend/fantasy play’’ NA No9 EJ (ECDC) Young children’s literacy-related play Define ‘‘literacy-related play’’ NA Yes10 EJ (ECEJ) Gender differences in preschool teachers’attitudes toward children’s playNo definition 45–90 min No11 EJ (ECEJ) Video games and social interactions No definition 2 months No12 EJ (ECEJ) Understanding nonsocial play—definition andreasonsDefine ‘‘nonsocial play’’ NA Yes13 EJ (ECEJ) The narratives in imaginary play and the visualtexts created by childrenNo definition 3 months Yes14 EJ (ECEJ) Preschoolers’ perceptions of gender appropriatetoys and parents’ beliefs about genderedbehaviorsWhat toys children identify as ‘‘girl’’toys and ‘‘boy’’ toys is one of theresearch questionNA Yes15 EJ (JRCE) Children’s ability to delay gratification andmake-believe playDefine ‘‘make-believe play’’ NA Yes16 EJ (JRCE) Social literacy to sustain and protect the ‘‘we’’space created in playDefine ‘‘play’’ 4 months Yes17 EJ (JRCE) Superhero/non-superhero toys and boys’physically active and imaginary playDefine ‘‘superhero play’’ Two 8-minplaysessionsYes18 EJ (ECRQ) Improvisation as a tool to examine teacher–child interactionsDefine ‘‘improvisation’’ 16 weeks Yes19 EJ (ECRQ) To develop and validate a scale measuring playbeliefs of African American mothersNo definition NA YesDJ developmental journal, EJ educational journal254 Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259123although Kuschner examined play articles from YoungChildren, which aims at communicating latest informationfor early childhood practitioners. In other words, playarticles in Young Children are more practice-basedinformation related to teacher experience and not reportsof evidence-based research.However, our rate of 2.3 is greater than Ahn andJohnson’s (2005) 1.2 articles per journal per year studyingsix journals (three child development and three early education) over 5 years, 2000–2004. The rate change from 1.2to 2.3 play articles per journal per year may reflect alessening of the adverse influence of the mega-trends notedby Roskos and Christie (2007) on the status of play in earlychildhood education and development. Roskos and Christienoted that the new science of early education and theconcern with early literacy and standards become moreimportant than play as we entered the twenty-first century.Searches for play studies from social-behavioral oreducational databases most assuredly will find many morearticles than we did. However, we should not assume that alocated citation with play in the title or abstract or listed asa key word is in fact primarily focused on play. Our findings suggest that electronic searches may yield overstatedinterest in play. Even in the review of the 57 play-relatedarticles in our study, 39% of these articles, seeminglyaiming to study play, were found to treat play as a researchcontext, but not the focus of the research. Only one third ofthe articles (19 out of 57 articles) had play as the primaryfocus of research. As noted earlier, the findings from theresearches conducted by the ECLKC and the CEECD wereeven more telling. Forty percent of the articles listed asplay-related were not primarily or even substantially aboutplay. Play studies that are located in data base need to bescrutinized to discern how play is treated and if it is really afocus in the publication. We should not be misled by thenumber of play studies initially identified when doing aliterature review.Examining educational and developmental journalsfrom 2005 to 2007, we found that play served differentroles; we called them major role, minor role, as a context,or related to special children and intervention. Twenty-twoout of 57 articles used play as a research context to studysome other phenomenon without a significant differencebetween educational and developmental journals. Play as acontext seems popular in play studies. This finding isconsistent with Power’s (2000) who reported a shift in thechild development field after 1980 in the study of play from‘a topic of interest’ to ‘a context to study’. In addition tothese 22 articles, eight out of 57 articles are related to useplay as a minor role; another eight are related to specialchildren and intervention. These three types of studiesstand for 66.7% of total play studies. It means that morethan half of the studies used play as a tool to study othertopics, rather than study play itself. The finding is consistent with Roskos and Christie’s (2001) play-literacyreviews. They concluded that there was a dominance of‘‘play as progress’’ rhetoric which implies play servesdevelopmental and educational purposes. Moreover, inOliver and Klugman’s (2007) review, they found thatcognitive and school-related early childhood topicsincreased rapidly, much more so than play research. Sothey suggested that play studies have to ask new questionsin order to respond to federal legislation requirements andto build a play research agenda. All these studies, includingours, found that an instrumental view of play dominates,not play as something that belongs to children, similar tothe findings of Kuschner (2007).We found that Type One studies appeared significantlymore in educational journals than in developmental journals. Perhaps researchers who submitted studies to educational journals are more interested in studying the topic ofplay itself. Both educational and developmental journalspublished research related to intervention and specialchildren. Studies related to special education emphasizeboth children’s development and education.Content analysis showed that the concept of play, therelationship between play and other variables, and theindividual differences in play were the three main purposesof Type One studies. The concept of play was a popularresearch purpose. Many educational researchers (i.e.,Howard et al. 2006; Pramling-Samuelsson and Johansson2006) addressed the importance of play itself rather thanthe usefulness of play. Moreover, some researchersemphasized the relationship between play and other variables, especially literacy (i.e., Ahn and Filipenko 2007;Ghafouri and Wien 2005; Saracho and Spodek 2006). Thisfocus reflects the phenomenon of ‘‘preparing the child forthe future.’’ These researchers tried to connect play withdevelopment or learning. Other studies examined in individual differences in play; some research investigatedgender differences in parents’ and teachers’ play beliefsand some research was on children’s play behaviors comparing boys and girls.As for the definition of play, 10 studies defined anddiscussed specific types of play according to their researchpurposes, and three studies tried to define what play is orwhat boys’ toys or girls’ toys are. The other six articles didnot discuss the definition of play at all. Compare theirfindings with Roskos and Christie (2001) who reviewedplay-literacy literature between 1992 and 2000 and foundthat play was loosely defined as any activity that happenedin a play center or in the presence of play materials. Put thisnext to Rubin et al. (1983) who argued that play was acomprehensive concept that could be defined as disposition, as observable behavior, and as context. Given that it isdifficult to conceptually define play comprehensively, itEarly Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259 255123should perhaps not be surprising that the majorityresearchers of studies we reviewed in the present studydecided to operationalize specific types of play accordingto their own particular research purposes.The time that researchers of Type One studies spent onmeasuring children’s play varied from 3 min to 4 monthsin these studies. Only four studies observed children’s playfor months. Since play occurs when adults provide childrenwith a rich environment and ample time, those studies thatmeasured play in minutes have questionable validity. Otherstudies involving the use of questionnaires to measure playdid not report play time.Although 11 articles in the educational category discussed how to apply their findings to educational practices,most of the Type One studies identified research implications only. Researchers of education but not the researchersof development articles wrote about the implications oftheir findings for practice. Suggestions included promotingplay-based learning, revealing the narrative in play to helpchildren construct meaning, understanding types of nonsocial play explaining how and when to decide to intervene, recognizing gender stereotype in toys choices andplay behaviors, using play to foster delay of gratification,mediating the impact of superhero toys on play, and usingplay as a method of assessment and/or intervention.Interestingly, our results are consistent with Sigel andKim’s (1996) review which reported that the usefulness ofthe research was discussed only twice in a large set ofarticles from two major developmental psychology journals. Evidently a disconnection between research andpractice remains. To be sure, research should follow scientific rules. Still, for practitioners research studies areoften viewed then as not user friendly (Sigel 2006); thiscould improve by researchers’ more explicitly drawing outrelevance of their findings for practitioners. Underuse ofresearch in educational practices is due to the gap betweenresearchers’ and practitioners’ conceptual frameworks,research problems and worldviews (Pepper 1970/1942).Responding to the increasing call for applying research topractice (e.g., Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2009) would seem torequire that researchers take the first step.For instance, Strokes (1997) has articulated the importance of ‘‘use-inspired basic research,’’ which meansgrounding research in practice in order to meet societalneeds. He suggests that the study of practice is enhanced bythe rigor that characterizes basic research methods, and thatgovernment would effect change if it supported useinspired research. Sigel (2006) advocates the same viewand proposes a ‘‘proximity index’’ to examine the distancebetween the readiness for findings to be used and theunderstanding of the meaning and the comprehensibility ofthe research report. He elaborated that scientific researchrequires moving away from linear models and comfort withcomplexity and change in order to apply the research intopractice. Thus, the usefulness of research needs collaboration from both researchers and practitioners and initiatives by researchers.Conclusions and RecommendationsThis study reviewed play articles from educational anddevelopmental journals between 2005 and 2007. The purposes were to discover the types of play study and tocompare the difference between the two research fields andthe main themes emerging from the content analysis. Tosummarize the major findings: (1) There were four types ofplay study, which included play as a context, play as amajor role, play as a minor role, and play related tointervention and special children. Researchers tended totreat play as a context to study other phenomenon morethan the other three types. (2) Type One studies appearedsignificantly more in educational journals than in developmental journals. (3) Several themes emerged from thecontent analysis of Type One studies, such as the concept ofplay itself was a major research purpose in seven studies,play and literacy in particular received research attention,the definition of play varied according to the researchpurpose, a short time to collect play data results in questionable ecological validity, a focus on play-based learningfor early childhood practitioners was common in educational journals, and there was a lack of educational implications for practitioners in child development journals.We should be careful not to suggest that our resultsrepresent the whole picture of the study of play or interestin play. Beyond our chosen educational and developmentaljournals, other research journals and books exist aboutplay. For example, Pellegrini and Bohn (2005) discussedrecess play in the journal of Educational Researcher.Raessens (2006) mentioned about computer games in thejournal of Popular Communication. The NAEYC publishesthe journal of Young Children which addresses the topic ofplay frequently as does the childcare magazine, Child CareInformation Exchange. Moreover, several internationaljournals in early education exist that frequently publisharticles about play. For example, the Korean Society forEarly Childhood Education publishes the InternationalJournal of Early Childhood Education. Furthermore, manyrecently edited books (i.e., Goncu and Gaskins 2007;Singer et al. 2006; Sluss and Jarrett 2007; Zigler et al.2004) and authored and co-authored books (i.e., Edmiston2008; Hirsh-Pasek et al. 2009; Rogers and Evans 2008;Singer and Singer 2005) have focused centrally on play andhave addressed different aspects of play. In other words,children’s play is alive and well and is a prominent topicreceiving attention from researchers and practitioners alike.256 Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259123Nevertheless, our study suggests that caution is neededbecause of the way the term ‘play’ is used in both earlychildhood education and child development literatures.When researchers put the term in their titles and abstractsbut are not really investigating play in their studies manyreaders may be lead astray; many readers may think thatplay is receiving more research attention than it actually is.Moreover, our review suggests that play has not been astrong research focus resulting in publication in peerreviewed journals. Leading research journals such as ChildDevelopment and Early Childhood Research Quarterlyusually publish studies supported by grants from foundations or government agencies. Play’s reputation is such thatas a construct it lacks acceptable levels of reliability,validity and clarity. Accordingly, play research projectsrarely, if ever, receive significant funding from outsidesources. Consequently, play studies are not usually large inscope and are seldom published in juried journals, especially first tier ones, as we have shown in this study. As atelling illustration, the flagship research journal of theNAEYC, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, haspublished an average of one per year or only 8 studiesdealing primarily with play from 2000 to 2007 based on thepresent results and those of Ahn and Johnson (2005).Perhaps, rationales and methods for empirical investigation of play in its own right, or as essential factors indevelopment and early education, need to be betterdeveloped before play will be taken more seriously byscientific communities. Basic and applied research focusedon play can be aided by new technologies and researchinstruments in the future. Also helpful would be moreprecise and testable conceptual models from biology andpsychology. Until such scientific advancement occurs, thestatus of research on play may not improve very much andplay will remain an ‘ugly duckling’ in child developmentresearch even as many regard it as a ‘beautiful swan’ inECE practice.AppendixSee Table 4.Table 4 List of type one articles in eight journalsItems Journal name Number of type onearticles/number of totalplay-related articles in the journalTitle of the play article1 Child Development (CD) 1/7 Howe et al. (2005)Developmental Psychology (DP) 0/7Journal of Applied DevelopmentalPsychology (JADP)0/62 Merrill Palmer Quarterly (MPQ) 2/2 Carlson and Taylor (2005)3 Gleason (2005)4 Early Child Developmentand Care (ECDC)6/16 Pramling-Samuelsson and Johansson (2006)5 Vickerius and Sandberg (2006)6 Howard et al. (2006)7 Legace-Seguin and d’Entremont (2006)8 Turnbull and Jenvey (2006)9 Saracho and Spodek (2006)10 Early Childhood EducationJournal (ECEJ)5/7 Sandberg and Pramling-Samuelsson (2005)11 Bacigalupa (2005)12 Luckey and Fabes (2005)13 Ahn and Filipenko (2007)14 Freeman (2007)15 Journal of Research in Childhood Education (JRCE) 3/7 Cemore and Herwig (2005)16 Ghafouri and Wien (2005)17 Parsons and Howe (2006)18 Early Childhood Research Quarterly (ECRQ) 2/5 Lobman (2006)19 Fogle and Mendez (2006)Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 37:249–259 257123ReferencesAhn, J., & Filipenko, M. (2007). Narrative, imaginary play, art, andself: Intersecting worlds. Early Childhood Education Journal,34(4), 279–289.Ahn, H. J., & Johnson, J. E. (2005, February). The state of playresearch and where to go from here. Paper presented in the 31stannual meeting of the association for the study of play. Sante Fe,New Mexico.Bacigalupa, C. (2005). The use of video games by kindergartners in afamily child care setting. 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However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.Copyright of Early Childhood Education Journal is the property of Springer Science & Business Media B.V.and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyrightholder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
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