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Monday, September 04, 2006

People Watching - A Day in the Life - Play Time



Sunday afternoon at Tuscawilla Park in Ocala Florida. It is a fresh afternoon with

a slight breeze and plenty of sunshine. I am sitting on the far side of the park under a

canopy of large oak trees. To the right, there is a wide open grassy area which leads to

a nearby pond. Farther away is a pool, baseball, tennis, basketball courts, and some

more playground equipment On this side a few picnic tables are scattered around the

area with families talking as their children quietly play. At the pond

there are three children fishing with an adult. There is a slide and swingset.


A young boy who appears to be 8-10 years of age is my chosen subject. The child is

lean and tan. He is dressed in aqua shorts and a deep blue T-shirt. He is wearing

tennis shoes without socks. He has dirty blond hair cut short. He is not very clean.

I see no brand names or insignias upon his shoes or clothing. The T-shirt is wrinkled,

the shorts are not.


The child is interacting with a female child in a "bullish" manner...repeatedly

challenging her verbally. Meanwhile he shifts from one foot to another and back

again...putting his hands on his head, then waving his arms around. The child is not

angry or even visibly excited...he just is Never still! As they continue to speak his arms

begin swinging back and forth...back and forth while he is walking around and around

and around in ever larger circles. Finally he (appears to have) pinched or pushed the

girl and begins to chase her. This appears to give him pleasure as he has a wide grin

on his face and when she runs away he begins to laugh out loud and chases her even

more. Although the girl is smiling, she stops and calls him a "brat". In response, the

boy reached down and picked up something ( I could not see what) to dangle in front

of the girl. "Thats GROSS!", the girl exclaims and they both begin to loudly bicker,

each trying to overtalk the other. At this point they were standing approximately 5 feet

from each other, leaning towards each other as they loudly attempted to be heard over

the other, making faces as they spoke. The girl suddenly made reference to the fact

that she was 13 years old and he was "so young and you shouldn't act like that!".

Meanwhile the boy is kicking rocks, dust, and anything else on the ground. Suddenly,

the boy runs to the swingset and climbs up on the seat of the swing, holding the chain

with one arm and dangling his leg from the swing. The girl slowly followed him to the

swing but stood approximately 10-12 feet away. He then put his abdomen on the seat

and pushed with his legs with his arms outstretched while they spoke more quietly.

The boy never actually used the swing in the normal sense of the word.

The child came to a complete stop when two other children approached the area.

The two new children were both boys, appearing to be in the 12-14 year old range (they

were substantially taller ). One of the new boys apparently knew the girl and spoke to

her. The primary boy became very quiet and at long last, remained fairly still

(personally I was wondering if this boy was capable of being still!). The target boy

closely watched the other boy and girl talking: hands straight at his side, very quiet.

The girl doesn't speak to the target boy at all. He begins to kick dust again while his

head is turned downward. The boy sees someone he knows (looks like an older

teenager or very young adult...tatoos, blue jeans, etc.) and runs while jumping

(simultaneously) over to him. The boy becomes loud once again with his arms over his

head and twisting his torso side to side, then swinging his arms back and forward.

After speaking to the teenager a bit, the boy runs and jumps back over to the

girl...slaps her across the shoulder and tells her he will see her later. At that time, the

teenager returns on a motorcycle, the boy climbs on to the back of the motorcycle and



I felt this child was at play mainly due to his laughter, constant motion, lack of

inhibited movements, and the spontaneous nature of his behavior. This child appeared

to be in school-aged category, however, the child may have been approaching

the adolescent stage of development. In either respect, his behavior seemed to overlap

both stages of development. This may have been partially a consequence of his

interacting with a girl older than himself. The school aged child is noted for

venturing outide the family and forming relationships with peers. The adolescent

stage is noted for value formation as determined through peers. In the following

paragraph I will give examples where this child exhibited both characteristics. Also,

the formation of more comprehensive thought processes yet still lacking a thourough

understanding of the more subtle forms of communication was noted. Again, these

will be further explored in later paragraphs.


During the interaction, the child manifest all four types of interaction levels; the

boy initiated conversation (picking up a "gross" object for response), he received

feedback (when told he was to young and shouldn't act in that manner), he sustained

interaction (at least until the other boys appeared), but he also terminated interaction

after the presence of the older boys. Given the childs age characteristics, it is natural

to assume he is experiencing an age appropriate response. While the school-aged child

is attempting to identify with his peer groups, this youngster was not yet fully part of

the next age category of teenager. The transitionary nature of this developmental

stage became more fully apparent at the arrival of the two older boys. This child has

already mastered an independent function outside of his immediate family and is now

attempting to establish recognition from a new peer group. The process of identity

formation has not yet been completed, although verbal and non-verbal feedback of

acceptable behavior was apparently understood as evidenced by his response to being

told how he should act given his age and his subsequent behavior at the arrival of the

older boys.


The childs body management was developed but not sophisticated. He was able to

control all basic body functions and maneuver very well. Flexibility, agility, and

kinetic energy were all established. Sophistication of "body language" was not yet

established. This child was in near constant motion. During times of excitement his

face and body motions gave an exaggerated demonstration of inward energy. During

times of (apparent) insecurity, he assumed a downcast, still mannerism. Facial

expressions were obvious and of an immature nature. Child did not yet appear to have

full control over physical demonstrations to emotional stimuli, rather, when faced with

an uncertain situation, the child remained still and observed interaction among others.


This childs level of play remained predominately social, however, he did tend to

utilize a simple game strategy to gain more attention. Except for the later end of the

observation period, this child spoke almost constantly and remained in near constant

motion. His level of physical response was near remarkable in that arms AND legs

were in movement simultaneously even while simply standing to speak. Every 2-3

minutes he would exert a great burst of energy and jump, begin to chase, or run to a

new area and back...all the while maintaining a conversation. His body often twisted

and turned, his arms frequently rested on top of his head or swund across his body.

His legs were spontaneously thrown into the air, used to push off for a jump, kicking,

or running. This child PHYSICALLY interacted with nearly everything within his

immediate environment...the girl, the swing, anything on the ground; but his primary

focus was upon the social interaction taking place between him and the girl.


Two theories of play seemed appropriate in regard to this childs behavior. Taken

alone, I personally do not feel either would adequately explain his total repetoire of

behaviors. Combined, the two theories explain the physical and social componets of

this boys behavior.

Regarding the near constant motion this child displayed, the biologically based

theory regarding a surplus of energy as presented by Spencer Schiller, would explain

this first componet. The Surplus of Energy theory maintains play is an outlet for

excess energy. Although I would question the validity of this theory in regard to all

play, I definetly feel it applys to this young boy. One of the major criticisms of the

theory is that it views play as an aimless activity. In this case, the primary focus of the

play model was not aimless and will be accounted for below, however, the secondary

behaviors and activities could be seen as aimless in that a degree of physical energy

would be the only outcome. These behaviors would include kicking dust and other

surrounding objects, swinging torso, kicking, etc.. I do not include running, chasing,

and pinching because they obviously entail social implications.

Regarding the primary focus of this childs play...his interaction with a female older

than himself, I would lean towards a developmental/learning approach as advocated by

Erickson and Piaget. This approach maintains play as a source of socializing the

young so they become acquainted with themselves and their relationship to others.

This approach ties in the development of play to the social and intellectual level of the

child. The youngster was verbally interacting with the girl more or less equally. She

responded "in-kind" . However, he repeatedly utilized less mature physical

interactions (slapping, pinching, running) which she quickly tired of. Upon arrival of

older boys, the youngster could be seen obviously observing their interaction despite his

partial withdrawl. This would correspond to the transitory nature of his age where he

may be inclined to affiliate with an adolescent group, yet not have the full range of

socialization skills necessary to "fit in". The cognitive dissonance created by his

developing intellectual abilities and expectations is not yet fully supported by his

degree of emotional and physical development. The resulting interplay provides a

foundation for continued growth.


In conclusion, it is obvious this child would respond positively to a stimuli which

provided for both his high level of physical energy and opportunities for social

interaction (with both genders). Given his (apparent) insecurity regarding interaction

among an older peer group, activities which he could physically excell at would

provide a means of distracting from his still developing social self. One example may

be skating at a local skating rink. This would provide an outlet for his high degree of

physical energy ( assuming he knows how to skate) while affording him the

opportunity to socially interact with adolescents in a non-threatening manner. I would

tend to avoid tedious activities which require him to remain still or quiet, perhaps

slowly inserting these types of activities into others to encourage growth in this area

without frustration. Mainly however, I would encourage his physical agility as a

catalyst to continued growth in other areas while affording him a taste of satisfaction

and interest.


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