The behavioral responses of preschool children (three and five years of age) to structurally modified self-manipulating play systems

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Exploratory in nature, this research investigated children's responses to a modular play system in which three stages from static (the children could not manipulate the forms themselves) to flexible (the children could completely alter the prearrangement) were introduced. The degree to which the children wished to manipulate their play environments to support their activities was explored. Three, sexually mixed groups each consisting of three-three year olds and two-five year olds were selected from a traditional learning program. The collected data, numerically and narratively reported, evaluated individual responses and group reactions to the three arrangements. Both the children and the structures to which they were exposed influenced resulting activities. The conditions with both manipulative and non-manipulative forms displayed the highest occurrence of dramatic play, stimulated group play, encouraged structural changes which largely supported play activities, and maintained a more constant level of interaction and interest in activities than the two conditions alone. The children's differing ages and characteristics affected the degree of manipulation preferred. Five year olds appeared to need more flexibility in their play equipment than three year olds. Passive children also preferred flexible structures; active children preferred static, fixed structures. The order of introducing the structures to the groups did not influence responses. The children repeated activities from one testing arrangement to another but did not replicate the exact structural prearrangements. Rather, they duplicated the concepts and connecting systems of these structures to support their own behaviors and activities.