The social construction of young children's play

Alice Marie Meckley, University of Pennsylvania


This thesis examines if young children's play can be considered as a way in which children learn to construct social reality. The view that human society is socially constructed is formulated in modern sociological terms by Berger and Luckmann (1966). Their central premise is that everyday life is shared with others in an individual and collective manner and demonstrates distinct, consistent and predictable patterns of repeated actions, objects, participants, and language. Examining the social organization of young children's play may reveal parallels between adult's and child's construction of reality. The major historian of play, Huizinga (1938/1950) contends that the activity of play parallels the social and cultural forms of society. To investigate this proposition, a research study from an ethnographic perspective was conducted in a nursery school class of children of ages 4 and 5 during their self-selected play time. Data collection included field notes; audio and video tapes; interviews; and surveys. The analysis of the data noted the simultaneous, multi-layered, metacommunicative nature of children's play while at the same time explored the relationship between the key components of constructed play events: players, actions, settings, times, objects, and words. Results of the study reveal six play event principles confirming that young children's play is probably a key way in which children socially construct reality. The play event principles are: (1) A play community of young children reflects a social order as each play event has distinct, consistent, predictable patterns of repeated actions, objects, players, and words. (2) Play activities occur in an ordered manner in consistent settings over time. (3) Play events are collective, integrated, and interconnected. (4) In play, young children demonstrate shared knowledge of their play events through the use of actions, objects, and language. (5) Specific play events are controlled by individuals and groups of players. (6) Children's roles during play reflect their subjective and collective reality of social construction. Research and educational implications from this study focus on the play event principles yielding new information on a group of children's total play activities over an extended period of time.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Psychology|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Meckley, Alice Marie, "The social construction of young children's play" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9427578.