Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, Unit 11, Chapter 3 Vandermass-Peler, M. (2002). Cultural
variations in parental support of children's play. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N.
Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 11, Chapter 3),
(http://www.wwu.edu/~culture), Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University,
Bellingham, Washington USA. This material is copyrighted by the author(s), who have kindly extended
to the Center the right to use the material as described in the Introduction to this collection and the form
entitled "Agreement to Extend License to Use Work."
UNIT 11, CHAPTER 3
CULTURAL VARIATIONS IN PARENTAL SUPPORT OF CHILDREN'S PLAY
Elon University, U.S.A.
The purpose of this reading is to highlight the importance of play for children's development and to
examine the role of parents in supporting children's play in various cultures. Although play is believed to
be universal, the amount of attention devoted to play in a particular society depends in part
on the cultural beliefs about the nature of childhood, and on the adults' specific goals for their young
children. Researchers have found that some parents consider themselves appropriate social partners for
their young children, but in many communities it is older siblings and peers who are the children's
primary play partners. Regardless of their direct involvement in the on-going play activities, parents often
provide support and guidance for children's play.
An elderly Maya woman sits in her chair by the outdoor brick oven, making a large stack of corn tortillas
that will soon be cooked for the mid-day meal. She smiles and talks to her visitors, but her hands never
stop pressing the tortillas. Around her feet are a number of chickens scratching and pecking at the dirt
floor. Occasionally the woman stops, grabs a long stick nearby, and shoos the chickens away. As the
woman resumes making tortillas, her oldest daughter begins to set the table, asking the visitors what they
would like to drink. The youngest member of the family present is a young girl of about four years of age.
She is watching all the preparations but not yet taking an active part in them. Occasionally she shoos the
chickens, but she is focused mostly on playing with some kittens and watching the strangers. When asked
what toys she likes to play with, the little girl smiles shyly, goes into the house and brings back two
treasured items. She hands one of them to me, a pop-up book of animals who live in the rain forest. The
other she holds up proudly, a worn looking, blond-haired blue-eyed Barbie. It is the same doll that my
daughter plays with,
in another country and in an entirely different cultural setting. One of the most remarkable features of
play is that children all over the world engage in various forms of play, whether it be with dolls, balls,
homemade materials or with only the child's imagination. Hughes (1999) calls play a "true cultural