I observed a 4 year old preschool class during playtime in Staten Island, New York. The class consisted of eight children, and one certified preschool teacher. There were 4 boys and 4 girls in the class. During my sixty minute observation I noticed several instances of dramatic play, peer relationships, relationships with adults, and self-control.
During my observation, I witnessed a group of two- one boy and one girl-playing house. According to Hutchinson (2011) children often use playing house as an opportunity to explore reality and their social roles based on adult behavior. The two children that I observed explored reality and their social roles as they pretended to eat dinner together as family. The pair even took it a step further as they included doll babies to play as their children. As the children played house, the girl cooked dinner and the boy sat at the table waiting for dinner to be ready. As the boy waited for dinner to be ready, he got up, walked around as if he was looking for something and came back with two baby dolls and told the girl, “here they can sit next to you”. The boy had assigned the girl a perceived female role, to be the mother and care for the baby.
While the girl had assigned herself a female role, to cook for the male. Therefore, the boy was automatically assigned a perceived male role, to wait for the female to finish cooking so he could eat. The pair’s dramatic play demonstrates how children begin to understand standard gender roles and play accordingly during early childhood (Hutchinson, 2011). This play interaction was not gender segregated. This non-gender segregated play is a good example of how children play based on their gender. Although, many young children prefer to play with same sex mates, I believe this was not the case because the pair felt playing house required a female and male to fit the correct gender roles.
I also believe that mass media plays a strong role in the way preschool children play in their perceived gender roles. According to Kirkorian, Wartella and Anderson (2008), by preschool age children are active television viewers. Therefore, if children watch shows that are based on family life, such as Modern Family, they will notice a strong presence of women in the kitchen and caring for children, and model similar behaviors.
Relationships with Adults
During my observation there was little interaction with the teacher. Children seemed to prefer to play with their peers. One teacher-student interaction I observed was a withdrawal relationship. The teacher tried to engage the pair of preschoolers playing house. However, her engagement was unsuccessful. The teacher walked over to the pair’s play station and asked about the babies’ names. The pair answered the teacher but did not engage other than answering the question. During the time the teacher was questioning the pair, the girl got up from the play dinner table and walked over to play with another group, a group of girls. This example supports Garvey (1990) and Harper and McCluskey (2003) argument that the attention of an adult or teacher may hinder children’s peer interactions. The girl’s reaction to the teacher disrupting her play scenario was withdrawal. Another teacher-student interaction I observed was a friendly interaction.
The teacher engaged a boy who was with trucks in play. During this interaction, the boy was playing alone with cars and trucks. The teacher asked if she could play with him, and he agreed. The teacher and student then played with cars and trucks in a friendly manner. This is normal as there is a tendency for teachers to spend more time with children who are less social than more social children (Harper and McCluskey, 2003). The boy in this case could be perceived as less social than others as he played alone the entire hour.
During my observation I did not see attachment-seeking behavior from the children towards the adults. However. I did have the chance to observe one preschool girl dropped off by her mother prior to my observation. The preschool girl’s behavior was fussy and aggressive. The girl cried and kicked while the mother signed the girl in. The mom tried to soothe the girl, but looked like she needed soothing herself. Generally, separation from mothers can be stressful for children, however, separation from children can also be stressful for mothers (Balaban et al., 2002).
One peer relationship I observed consisted of three girls playing dress-up. Unlike the previous pair that was not gender segregated, this group of girls was gender segregated. According to Hutchinson (2011) in early childhood, children make friends with other children of the same gender and age. As these girls engaged in dramatic play they were very nice to each other. They played with each other’s hair, did each other’s make-up, and referred to each other as “my best friend”.
After the forth girl in the class finished playing house with the boy, she approached the three girls and asked if she could play with them. The three girls took the forth girls play initiation as a conflict. The three girls then teamed up and said “no way, you’re not our friend” to the fourth girl in the class. Young children often use the term friend and playmate interchangeable. According to Hutchinson (2011), young children see the definition of a friend as someone you play with. Therefore, when the fourth girl asked to play with the three girls she was excluded because she played with the boy and was the boy’s friend and not the three girl’s friend.
During my observation, I witness one instance of aggression. One girl was building a “princess castle” with building blocks and a boy came by and kicked over the castle. The girl immediately got up and pushed the boy and the boy pushed the girl back. The boy or girl did not show any self-regulation as they engaged in a fight. Also, there was no helpful or empathic prosocial behavior, as the children’s actions did not prevent negative impulses. In this instance of “self-control” or lack of self-control, the boy and the girl exhibited both instrumental aggression, fighting over toys and physical aggression, physical force against someone.
However, these form of aggression is normal for preschool aged children as aggression increases during early childhood years (Hutchinson, 2011). Fortunately, aggressive behaviors normally deteriorate by the end of early childhood as children learn to better communicate their needs (Hutchinson, 2011). My preschool observation was a pleasurable experience. I was able to watch eight happy children play, fight, laugh, and joke with each other. My observation was also an educational experience as I was able to apply theories learned in class to real life situations. Overall, my observation experience was both enjoyable and educational.
Balaban, N., Brodkin, A. M., David, J., Drucker, J., Feder-Feitel, L., & Greenberg, P. (2002). A Great Start To School. Scholastic Parent & Child,
Harper, Lawrence V & McCluskey, Karen S. (2003). Teacher-child and child-child interactions in inclusive preschool settings: Do adults inhibit peer interactions? Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18, 163-184. doi:10.1016/S0885-2006%2803%2900025-5 Hutchison, E. (2011). Early Childhood. In Dimensions of human behavior: The Changing Life Course (4th ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.
Kirkorian, H., Wartella, E., & Anderson, D. (2008). Media And Young Children’s Learning. The Future of Children, 18(1), 39-61.
Garvery, C. (1990). Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.