Has Technology Changed the Way Children Play?

    by Audrey Watters
    September 7, 2011
    Photo by Trevor Manternach on Flickr.

    Last spring, there was a minor outcry when the Auburn School District in Maine
    announced that it would be piloting a one-to-one iPad program with its
    kindergarteners. Part of the uproar involved the cost of the program —
    some $200,000. But much of it involved the notion that somehow young
    children should not be exposed to technology, that somehow iPads and
    other gadgets inhibit their imagination and make them play less — or, to
    slightly modify one of Apple’s famous logos, to “play different.”

    But is that really the case? Has technology really dampened the way children play?

    "There seems very little evidence that the influence of technology and media is making kids play less."


    A new study (PDF)
    of children’s playground games and songs suggests that much of the
    outcry about declining kids’ play may be exaggerated. The research comes
    from a collaboration between the Universities of London, Sheffield and
    East London, along with the British Library, and draws from the Opie
    Collection and the work of the famous children’s folklorists Lona and Peter Opie.

    i-e10e5b7925d58b84b2fa121badb63c66-kidsplaying_seattlemunicipalarchives-thumb-300x196-3659.jpgAnd as most folklorists will tell you, the discipline itself has
    always been associated with the idea that cultural practices — whether
    of children or adults — are dying out, and that songs and games and
    folktales must be collected and preserved to prevent that from
    happening. So it was in the 19th century, and so it is today.


    Things have changed since the Opies did
    their research on children’s folklore in World War II. It isn’t simply
    the rise of technology or media influences; family structure is more
    fluid (with more divorces, for example) and the definitions of
    childhood, adolescence, and adulthood have changed too. Children,
    particularly those from higher socio-economic backgrounds, have more
    leisure time, but there’s also more surveillance over their activities —
    no matter their background. No more playing freely in the street, for
    example. The playground space — where many folklorists observe
    children’s games and songs — has changed as well.

    But despite the fears about an untoward influence of media and
    technology, the researchers found that children’s folklore and
    children’s imaginations still thrive:

    Modern children are, then, immersed in an enveloping
    mediascape, which is impossible for them to ignore. However, our
    research indicates that playground culture and children’s games are not
    overwhelmed, marginalized or threatened by the quantity and plurality of
    available media. We have seen that children make use of the cultural
    and media resources that surround them, and creatively manipulate them
    to their own ends. In the playground, children are still singing rhymes
    and songs that have come down through the decades, whilst sometimes
    bringing them up to date with references to the latest TV shows, soap
    opera characters and pop stars. Skipping games and clapping games are
    still popular, and hula-hoops have made a comeback. Cheerleading and
    other dance routines are in evidence, children citing influences as
    diverse as Michael Jackson and “High School Musical.” Make-believe games
    and old favorites such as Tig are staples of the primary school
    playground. Media is an undeniably important aspect of children’s lives,
    but part of a wider repertoire of playground culture that also includes
    older games, songs and rhymes.

    Children still play hand-clapping games; they still play singing
    games; they still play “counting out” games; they still know the rules
    for “tag” and the like. And according to the researchers, there is
    “evidence of a rich expansion of pretend play drawing on a wider media

    Children’s play is changing, as it always has and will continue to.
    But there seems very little evidence that the influence of technology
    and media is making them play less.

    (via Sylvia Martinez)

    Photo of kids on the playground from the Seattle Municipal Archives and used with Creative Commons license.

    Audrey Watters is an education technology writer, rabble-rouser, and folklorist. She writes for MindShift, O’Reilly Radar, Hack Education, and ReadWriteWeb.

    i-e8972c04bb50d1e1ff98a13097161b6f-mindshift-logo-100x100.pngThis post originally appeared on KQEDs MindShift,
    which explores the future of learning, covering cultural and tech
    trends and innovations in education. Follow MindShift on Twitter @mindshiftKQED and on Facebook.

    Tagged: ipad kids and media kids and technology kids playing learning tablets

    Comments are closed.

  • About EducationShift

    EducationShift aims to move journalism education forward with coverage of innovation in the classroom as journalism and communications schools around the globe are coping with massive technological change. The project includes a website, bi-weekly Twitter chats at #EdShift, mixers and workshops, and webinars for educators.
    Amanda Bright: Education Curator
    Mark Glaser: Executive Editor
    Design: Vega Project

    MediaShift received a grant from the Knight Foundation to revamp its EducationShift section to focus on change in journalism education.
  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media