This article provides a list of sources on the major trends in the study of play. First, the activity of play and its role in human development have been an area of research interest in many allied disciplines in social sciences. A review of the play literature indicates that the fields of developmental psychology, education, and anthropology, among others, offered many perspectives on the conceptualization of play. In the effort to present a comprehensive review of how play is conceptualized in these allied fields, the first part of this article presents a list of sources on the general overviews of play and play theories. Second, the majority of play theories and research efforts focused on play during infancy and early childhood, and addressed play’s contributions to children’s development and education. However, increasing evidence that play is ever present in the lives of older children and adults has resulted in examination of play as a life-span activity. Following these trends, in the second part, the sources that addressed the play of infants and early childhood are presented. This is followed by a section covering the play during middle childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The final section on the development of play includes an examination of play as a life-span activity. Mirroring the existing literature, the sections on infancy and early childhood consist of the majority of the works covered in the development section. Third, a significant amount of work conducted to examine play in relation to its cultural and social context are included in this section. A sample of work is presented to indicate that the development of play is highly influenced by the various structural elements of children’s cultures including income and adult values. Sections on social class differences, caregiver-child play, and play with siblings and peers illustrate that availability of play opportunities vary according to many different aspects of children’s contexts that need to be taken into account in examining their play activities. Fourth, following the research efforts that were conducted to make the point that play contributes to different aspects of cognitive, social-emotional, and linguistic development, selected resources are provided that seek relations between play and these aspects of development along with criticisms directed to these endeavors. Fifth, an overview of early childhood programs that incorporate play is discussed. Sixth and finally, a sample of work on social policy about the institution of play in early childhood settings is presented. Also, use of play as an instructional and curricular medium is discussed.
General Overviews and Theories
Recent writings that have culminated in a number of books have made significant contributions to the expansion of play theory and research. Extending the existing theories of play (e.g., Spariosu 1989, Sutton-Smith 1997), these works collectively emphasized the significance of play in human development. However, they drew attention to different aspects of play because of their varying foci and priorities. For example, work in ethology illustrated the presence of play in the lives of different species and its adaptive functions and encouraged work to address the universals in different kinds of human play extending from physical play involving large muscle movements to pretend play involving use of symbols. Some examples of such work can be found in Göncü and Gaskins 2006, Pellegrini 2011, and Power 2000. In some contrast to evolutionary work, research conducted in sociocultural and anthropological frameworks emphasized cultural variation in play. In the effort to understand cultural variation, sociocultural work offered to consider how economical structure, values and beliefs paramount in the children’s culture, and other competing activities influence the emergence of play and its frequency. The goal of this line of research has been to guard against ethnocentrism paramount in the play research conducted in the Western world by illustrating the cultural differences and seeking explanations for them. Work reported in Johnson, et al. 2005; Fleer 2010; Göncü and Gaskins 2006; Pellegrini 2009; Pellegrini 2011; and Power 2000 provides rich examples of such efforts. Lancy 2008, devoted entirely to this question, discusses both cultural and historical variation in children’s play activities. The third important trend in recent work has emphasized the role of play in applied settings such as the classrooms. Fine examples of work in which play’s relevance to children’s schooling is discussed are Fleer 2010 and Johnson, et al. 2005. Drawing largely from the sociocultural theories, this line of work has integrated the psychological and educational approaches, providing guidance both for the researcher and the practitioner. This work has the aim of illustrating specific contributions of play to children’s development such as cognition and communication as it also seeks to advance appropriate implementation of play that is meaningful for everybody involved in the classroom. These books in combination with the others annotated in the sections on cognitive, affective, and communicative theories of play provide a rich start for those who are interested in beginning a career in play research.
Fleer, Marilyn. 2010. Early learning and development: Cultural-historical concepts in play. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Drawing from the theory of Vygotsky and other cultural-historical approaches, this book provides recent advances in play research and discusses the role of play in early childhood development and education. Because of its coverage of teachers’ beliefs about children’s play, the book is of interest to early childhood educators as well as developmental researchers.
Göncü, Artin, and Suzanne Gaskins. 2006. Play and development: Evolutionary, sociocultural, and functional perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Presents a fairly exhaustive coverage of play theory with a focus on cognitive, social-emotional, and communicative dimensions of play. Addresses the educational and clinical uses and theories of play as well as those on its development. Assumes background knowledge and familiarity with technical language. It is for advanced graduate students and researchers.
Johnson, James E., James F. Christie, and Francis Wardle. 2005. Play, development, and early education. Boston: Pearson.
A textbook on young children’s play and education, this book provides a comprehensive and broad review of theories of play that extend from classical theories such as surplus-energy, recreation, recapitulation, and practice theory to modern psychodynamic and cognitive theories. This is a useful introduction for beginning-level graduate students and researchers.
Lancy, David F. 2008. The anthropology of childhood: Cherubs, chattel, changelings. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
This is a rare book on the anthropology of childhood with sections on cultural views of play. It is highly comprehensive and should be of use for both the novice and the advanced researcher of play and child development.
Pellegrini, A. 2009. The role of play in human development. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Presents a fairly exhaustive review of play theories. Discusses research on different kinds of play such as social, object, pretend, and locomotor play. As such, serves as a recent sourcebook for play researchers.
Pellegrini, Anthony, ed. 2011. The Oxford handbook of the development of play. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
This edited volume presents a balanced collection of cultural, cognitive, social, and ethological perspectives on children and animal play. It presents dimensions of play covered in theory and research, and offers different methodologies of research in which theories were addressed.
Power, Thomas G. 2000. Play and exploration in children and animals. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
A detailed, lengthy, and comparative account of different kinds of play. Provides a combination of play theory and research. It is an extensive discussion of children’s play from a developmental perspective as it occurs in different interactional and cultural contexts. It is of interest both to seasoned and beginning researchers.
Spariosu, Mihai. 1989. Dionysus reborn: Play and the aesthetic dimension in modern philosophical and scientific discourse. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.
An important advanced sourcebook tracing the history of ideas on human play in philosophy. Although it may not appear directly relevant to contemporary play researchers in psychology and education, it is a useful sourcebook that provides background information needed for the appreciation of current theories.
Sutton-Smith, Brian. 1997. The ambiguity of play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
An extensive review of theories and different meanings of play. It illustrates the complexities involved in the conceptualizing and studying of play. Argues that play theories reflect the cultural assumptions and values of the theoretician.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Academic Achievement
- Academic Audit for Universities
- Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States
- Action Research in Education
- Adjuncts in Higher Education in the United States
- Administrator Preparation
- Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Courses
- African American Racial Identity and Learning
- Alternative Certification Programs for Educators
- Alternative Schools
- American Indian Education
- Art Education
- Assessing School Leader Effectiveness
- Assessment, Behavioral
- Assessment, Educational
- Assessment in Early Childhood Education
- Athletics, College
- Beginning-Teacher Induction
- Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
- Blended Learning
- Case Study in Education Research
- Changing Professional and Academic Identities
- Character Education
- Children’s and Young Adult Literature
- Children's Beliefs about Intelligence
- Children's Rights in Early Childhood Education
- Classroom Management
- College Admissions in the United States
- Community Relations
- Comparative Education
- Computer-Based Testing
- Counseling in Schools
- Critical Race Theory
- Crossborder and Transnational Higher Education
- Culturally Responsive Leadership
- Culturally Responsive Pedagogies
- Culturally Responsive Teacher Education in the United Stat...
- Curriculum Design
- Data Collection in Educational Research
- Data-driven Decision Making in the United States
- Deaf Education
- Desegregation and Integration
- Development, Moral
- Digital Age Teacher, The
- Distance Learning
- Distributed Leadership
- Doctoral Education and Training
- Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Denmark
- Early Childhood Education and Development in Mexico
- Early Childhood Education in Australia
- Early Childhood Education in China
- Early Childhood Education in Europe
- Early Childhood Education in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Early Childhood Education in Sweden
- Early Childhood Education Pedagogy
- Early Childhood Education Policy
- Early Childhood Education, The Arts in
- Early Childhood Mathematics
- Early Childhood Teacher Education
- Early Childhood Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand
- Early Years Professionalism and Professionalization Polici...
- Economics of Education
- Education For Children with Autism
- Education Leadership, Empirical Perspectives in
- Education Reform and School Change
- Educational Statistics for Longitudinal Research
- Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
- Epistemic Beliefs
- Ethics and Education
- Ethics of Teaching
- Ethnic Studies
- Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention
- Family and Community Partnerships in Education
- Family Day Care
- Federal Government Programs and Issues
- Finance, Education
- Financial Aid
- Formative Assessment
- Gender and Achievement
- Gifted Education
- Global Mindedness and Global Citizenship Education
- Global University Rankings
- Governance, Education
- Grounded Theory
- Higher Education and Globalization
- Higher Education and the Developing World
- Higher Education Governance
- Higher Education in China
- Higher Education in the United States, Historical Evolutio...
- Higher Education, International Issues in
- Higher Education Management
- Higher Education Policy
- Higher Education Research
- Higher Education Student Assessment
- High-stakes Testing
- History of Education in the United States
- Inclusive Education
- Indigenous Education in a Global Context
- Inservice Teacher Education
- Integrating Art across the Curriculum
- Intensive Interventions for Children and Adolescents with ...
- Intersectionality and Education
- Knowledge Development in Early Childhood
- Leadership Development, Coaching and Feedback for
- Leadership Training
- Learning Difficulties
- Learning, Lifelong
- Learning, Multimedia
- Learning Strategies
- Legal Matters and Education Law
- LGBT Youth in Schools
- Linguistic Diversity
- Linguistically Inclusive Pedagogy
- Literacy Development and Language Acquisition
- Literacy, Multiple Documents
- Literature Reviews
- Mathematics Instruction and Interventions for Students wit...
- Mathematics Teacher Education
- Measurement in Education in the United States
- Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis in Education
- Methodologies for Conducting Education Research
- Mindfulness, Learning, and Education
- Mixed Methods Research
- Multivariate Research Methodology
- Museums, Education, and Curriculum
- Music Education
- Narrative Research in Education
- Numeracy Education
- Online Education
- Pedagogy of Teacher Education, A
- Performance Objectives and Measurement
- Performance-based Research Assessment in Higher Education
- Performance-based Research Funding
- Phenomenology in Educational Research
- Philosophy of Education
- Physical Education
- Politics of Education
- Portable Technology for Special Education
- Pre-Service Teacher Education
- Problem Solving
- Professional Development
- Professional Learning Communities
- Program Evaluation
- Programs and Services for Students with Emotional or Behav...
- Psychology Learning and Teaching
- Psychometric Issues in the Assessment of English Language ...
- Qualitative Data Analysis Techniques
- Qualitative Research Design
- Quantitative Research Designs in Educational Research
- Race and Affirmative Action in Higher Education
- Reading Education
- Refugee and New Immigrant Learners
- Religion in Elementary and Secondary Education in the Unit...
- Researcher Development and Skills Training within the Cont...
- Response to Intervention
- Restorative Practices
- School Accreditation
- School Choice
- School Culture
- School Improvement through Inclusive Education
- School Reform
- Schools, Private and Independent
- School-Wide Positive Behavior Support
- Science Education
- Secondary to Postsecondary Transition Issues
- Self-Regulated Learning
- Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices
- Severe Disabilities
- Single Salary Schedule
- Single-sex Education
- Single-Subject Research Design
- Social Context of Education
- Social Justice
- Social Network Analysis
- Social Pedagogy
- Social Science and Education Research
- Social Studies Education
- Sociology of Education
- Standards-Based Education
- Statistical Assumptions
- Student Assignment Policy
- Student Engagement in Tertiary Education
- Student Participation
- Student Voice in Teacher Development
- Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Effectiveness
- Teacher Preparation
- Teacher Training and Development
- Teacher Unions and Associations
- Teaching Critical Thinking
- Technology Education in Early Childhood
- Technology, Educational
- Technology-based Assessment
- The Bologna Process
- The Regulation of Standards in Higher Education
- Theories of Educational Leadership
- Tracking and Detracking
- Transitions in Early Childhood Education
- University Faculty Roles and Responsibilities in the Unite...
- Using Ethnography in Educational Research
- Value of Higher Education for Students and Other Stakehold...
- Vocational and Technical Education
- Wellness and Well-Being in Education
- Women's and Gender Studies