25 SES 12, Children's Participation and Play: Constructing a democratic culture
Children’s play is known to be one of the most important and representative activity in children’s lives. Because of its importance, many efforts have been made to recognise this activity as a right in childhood. The right to play was testified in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) as well as in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). In the literature on children’s play, there seems to be general agreement on the concern for play in childhood. In fact, in recent years this aspect has been highlighted by several authors (Göncü & Gauvain, 2012; Whitebread, Basilio, Kuvalja & Verma, 2012).
Despite the fact that children’s play is considered as the main right of children, in 2013, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has recently expressed concern about the limited recognition granted to this right. The excessive urbanization, the continuous waves of technology, the demanding nature of educational standards, spending too many hours at school, the high number of extracurricular activities, the extreme poverty and the lack of resources, etc. are contributing to change the culture of play (Frost, 2012; Gary, 2011; Whitebread & Basilio, 2013). This change of scenery is decreasing sharply the opportunities of play in children’s lives of European modern societies. The challenges in the global picture have promoted an extensive debate around children’s right to play in contemporary culture. For this reason, the last few years have seen an increased interest in the study of the time and space for children’s play. As an example of this recent interest, the study of Lester and Russell (2010), which explores an extensive review of research about the opportunities of play in the contemporary world, should be considered. Their findings emphasise the factors which have a negative impact on the opportunities of children’s play in urban environments. One of these factors is the tendency to over-supervise and overschedule, which is threatening the time and space suitable for children to play. Given the hazardous location of urban areas, it is no wonder that the interest in playgrounds, and parks, originally considered to be safe places, has increased in the last century and particularly in the past few decades. As a consequence of this situation, several questions arise, such as in what conditions the facilities of the playgrounds are; what kind of play is being promoted in the playgrounds; whether children from urban environments play in playgrounds; or what the dominant discourse is about spaces and places for children to play.
The first playground was constructed in 19th century Europe, when the pedagogue and student of Pestalozzi, F. Fröbel, created the “Kindergarten”, a model of education based on playful scenarios. Since then, several reports have emerged which highlight the importance of play in the human development. These works come from the contributions of the theorists of human development: Freud, Piaget and Vygotsky (Linaza, 2013), and have dominated the international scene of children’s play. From a pedagogical perspective and starting from a review of the most significant international literature on the subject, this study seeks to explore, identify and analyse the foundations of the potential of cultural and democratic meaning of children’s play, as well as its relationship with public spaces.
In Spain, the Children's Play Observatory represents the reference body for monitoring and controlling the right for children to play. The Observatory monitors the playful activity in many different scenarios such as family, schools or parks, and it is currently immersed in a study which aims at defining indicators through a research called “Formulation of a System of Indicators for the evaluation of the recognition of the Child's Right to Play”, from the Ministry Program for the Promotion of Scientific and Technical Research of Excellence. This study reveals part of its results by exploring and analysing, from a pedagogical perspective, the conceptions and cultural meaning of the phenomenon of children's play and its implications in the educational field within an occidental society. In December 2017, an exhibition of children’s play was organised by the Madrid City Council and the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers. Taking advantage of this massive concentration of children, our research group decided to collect data in order to complete a complex analysis of children’s play fields. The approach of this research is based on the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. For the purpose of making this happen, hermeneutic-reflexive and empirical researches are required. The empirical study consisted of a short semi-structured interview composed of three questions. The main proposal of this instrument was to evaluate the children's perception of space, time and interaction while playing. The sample was incidental, and it was composed of 907 children from the city of Madrid. In order to address what in this paper is understood as children’s play and how the public playful spaces have been configurated, firstly, a literature review about the meanings of children’s play will be presented. Subsequently, after having established a niche of study, some results of the empirical research will be revealed. The aforementioned results will arise and follow the contemporary debates behind the concepts of children’s play and playful spaces in occidental societies.
Most of the references found refer to children's play regarding human development; the most common one would be the dominant discourse which associates children's play with learning and developing cognitive abilities. Although in recent years the vast majority of the work achieved in this area has focused on the study of the benefits that play brings to the diverse dimensions of children’s development and its connection with learning in schools, few attempts have been made to investigate the role of play in the construction of democratic culture. The conception of children's play with a democratic meaning has been eclipsed by researches based on the benefits of playing in cognitive development and, therefore, it represents a field of research full of challenges and questions. The descriptive analysis supports the findings of Lester and Russell (2010) about the loss of opportunities for children's play in urban environments. The present study reveals that the majority of the participants (58%) declared playing “too much” every day, 25% confessed to playing “enough time” and, finally, 16,8% claimed to play “for a short time”. Regarding the places where they play most, 82% stated to do it in domestic or scholar areas. Only 8,6% of children declared playing in playgrounds or parks. Thus, once again, another question arises: what are the consequences of the loss of opportunities in the democratic meaning of children’s play? Following Spencer’s and Dewey’s assumptions (1949), play, playgrounds and parks have great educational value. Play makes it possible to conceive human beings as broad and deep entities, establishing itself as an essential element in the maintenance and sustainability of the democratic culture through normative educational contexts. Due to its great potential educational value, it might be necessary to emphasise the importance of the children's right to play in urban spaces within occidental societies.
Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2013). General comment No. 17 on the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts (art. 31). Geneva: United Nations. Dewey, J. (1940). Creative democracy: The task before us. New York: GP Putnam's Sons. Freud, S. (1962). The ego and the id. WW Norton & Company. Frost, J. L. (2012). The changing culture of play. International Journal of Play, 1, 117-130. Göncü, A. & Gauvain, M. (2012). Sociocultural approaches to educational psychology: Theory, research, and application. APA Educational Psychology Handbook, 1, 125-154. Gray, P. (2013). Definitions of Play. Scholarpedia, 8, no. 7 (April): 30578 https://doi:10.4249/scholarpedia.30578 Lester, S., & Russell, W. (2010). Children's Right to Play: An Examination of the Importance of Play in the Lives of Children Worldwide. Working Papers in Early Childhood Development, Working Paper No. 57. Linaza, J. L. (2013). El juego es un derecho y una necesidad de la infancia. Bordón. Revista de Pedagogía, 65(1), 103-117 Piaget, J. (1932). The moral development of the child. Kegan Paul, London. Piaget, J. (1973). La formación del símbolo en el niño. Fondo de cultura económica. Piaget, J. (1966). Response to Brian Sutton-Smith. Psychological Review, 73(1), 111. United General Assembly (1959). Declaration of the Rights of the Child. UNGA Res, 1386. United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child Labor, 8. Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Trans. E. Hanfmann and G. Vakar. Cambridge: MIT Press. Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Imagination and its development in childhood. The collected works of LS Vygotsky, 1, 339-350. Whitebread, D. (2011). Developmental Psychology and Early Childhood Education. London: Sage. Whitebread, D., Basilio, Kuvalja, M. & Verma, M. (2012). The importance of play. Brussels: Toy Industries Europe. Whitebread, D. & Basilio, M. (2013). Play, culture and creativity. Cultures of Creativity. Billund. Denmark: The LEGO Foundation.
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