Just finished The Effects of Sociodramatic Play on Disadvantaged Preschool Children and it solidified even more my belief that fantasy fiction is terrible for children. (Of course, it didn't meant to. It meant to do then opposite.) Here is my review:
Ridiculous study, but this book is clear, well-written, variables were controlled, and ideas clearly explained!
The authors of this book want foreign children to do better in their schools. They have noticed that the foreign kids fail to fit in (and therefore fail to feel successful at) Kindergarden and this starts the cycle of failure that sticks with them through all of their academic career.
The solution is to teach the Arabic and African children how to play dress up like the Israeli children, so that they can fit in and feel successful (because dress up play is the main focus of Kindergarden).
Of course the authors of this book think that there really is something wrong with the foreign kids and right with the western kids. They try to make dress up play with friends about our ability to organize and integrate information in our brains. Rather than "You will fail at the System of Progressive Education if you don't know how to play their game," they authors turn it into "you will fail to have an organized brain if you don't do well at dress up when you are 5."
It just doesn't work. Look at Montessori schools. Kids don't play dress up ever in Montessori schools yet Montessori schools turned out the creators of Google and Amazon. Sorry guys, right off the bat, dress up does not correlate to an organized brain or a functional adult in Western societies. Hmmm, unless those brilliant entrepreneurs are actually seen as problematic individualists mucking up a more ideal collective society, then it COULD be argued that dress up correlates to success at life.
Make believe play is nothing more than an aid to imitation, children playing dress up are trying to practice real life (they say this in the book). Montessori did not think the solution was to teach kids who aren't interested in dress up how to play dress up so they can be someone's idea of normal. She questioned normal, got in tune with the needs of the kids, and decided the solution was to scrap dress up and teach kids about real life.
Perhaps Montessori education prepares a child for one kind of school and life (individualistic) and the kind of school described in this book (progressive) prepares a child for a collectivistic school and life experience. Annoying that this book acts like there is only One Kind of School and Life and only one way to succeed at it.
Moreover, children generally want to please the adults around them. A study that proves that children will play how adults encourage them to play hasn't really said much.
But it is still interests me that:
-The culturally disadvantaged (foreign) children in this book are from homes in which there are two, still-married parents who have a warm and loving relationship with their children.
-Piaget's theory of development is Not correct for non-Western children as they do not pass through the dress up with friends stage but still reach the games with rules stage that comes after.
-Western children play dress up games with their friends and many non-Western children don't. My current theories (and this is ME, not this book) is that:
1) the Western children are constantly placed in groups of children of identical ages and therefore play games that are particular to that exact age rather than games that children of diverse ages can play together. Is it possible that sociodramatic play is not normal but rather a phenomenon of putting twenty three-year-olds in a room together?
2) Many non-western children are not encouraged to talk very much. Because children not encouraged to talk are generally behind in their talking (though not necessarily forever) Western children, it would make sense that they don't develop the ability for symbolic play (which requires a certain level of verbal ability) by the ages (3-6) in which it would have interested them. By the time their verbal skills have developed enough for them to engage in symbolic play, they have matured to the point that they would rather play games-with-rules, hence, them skipping this particularly Western developmental step.
3) Western child rearing is very influenced (though unaware of it) by Steiner's ideas (Waldorf) of forcing a "childhood" onto unwilling children. Western parents play pretend with their children from day one (Santa Claus anyone?). Children who are not "taught" to play dress up by their parents won't generally engage in it on their own.
4) Before the age of 2-3 children's play emphasizes reality. After 6-7 it does again. (They say this in this book.) Children outside of the Western world never lose that emphasis. Why is it so accepted in the Western scientific community that the reality break from 3-7 is Normal? Or good?
5) "In sociodramatic play the child's efforts are aimed at reproducing, as exactly as possible, the world as he observes it, as he understands it, and insofar as he remembers it." How can they say this and then condone Disney movies? How can they say this and then think it's not a little weird for today's kids to spend all day playing princess and superhero? Kids are not playing. They are practicing what they think is life.
Some quotes and my *sarcastic* responses:
"The D [culturally disadvantaged] child's satisfaction during play comes mainly from imitative activities. The closer his actions are to the adult's actions, the more satisfaction he gets." [How terrible! That poor kid! Get him some Disney movies NOW!]
"In most cases there is no evidence of dramatic text, verbal identification of the child with his role." [Oh no! That child does not know how to be an abstract version of himself rather than his actual self?! Tragedy!]
"According to Schiller, children manage, through their "play-drive," to free themselves from the shackles of reality. We found no hint in Schiller's theory that could explain why some children (underprivileged) do not achieve this freedom." [Wait... these kids don't know how to free themselves from reality!???? Oh man, that is a real problem. Children shouldn't live in reality! Why would they want to do that?!!!]