Children's Play

This article is an excerpt from: Benesse Educational Research Center, 1999. Kodomo tachi no asobi Monogurafu shogakusei nau, Vol. 19, no. 1. Tokyo: Benesse Corporation. (Supervising Editor is Prof. Masashi Fukaya of Tokyo Seitoku Junior College)

I. Research Outline

1. Survey Subject: Children's play

2. Survey Topic: It is often pointed out that the nature of children's play has been changing. The purpose of this survey is to examine children's play and observe their play from different perspectives. The questions asked in this survey include:
how children spend their time during recess and after school (asked to answer about the previous day)
with whom they usually play
peer groups
how and when they make appointments to play together
when they play or do not play by themselves
what and where they usually play
what they do inside and outside their home
their play and life experience
traditional play
various play experiences and motivation
their weekly schedule
daily sense of satisfaction

3. Survey Period: October 1998

4. Survey Sample: 5th and 6th graders of six elementary schools in the metropolitan area (Tokyo and Kanagawa), and the suburban areas (Toyama, Chubu Region, and Kochi, Shikoku Region). Schools A, B, and C are located in metropolitan area, Schools D, E, and F are located in suburban areas.

5. Characteristics of Sample Schools: See Chart 1.

6. Survey Method: A questionnaire was distributed in the schools.

7. Sample Population: 492 students (253 children in the 5th grade and 239 children in the 6th grade; 261 boys and 231 girls).

Chart 1 Characteristics of schools
Average time to school
School A 30 minutes. Many take the train to school
School B 15 minutes
School C 15 minutes
School D 15 minutes
School E 30 minutes
School F 25 minutes
Schools that remain open after school and on holidays
School A Children are prohibited from returning to school and playing at the school playground or in classrooms after going home. The playground is allocated to each grade due to lack of space. Children can play some games in the roof garden.
School B Children can play for one hour and a half after school. School playground is open from 10:00 to 15:00 on holidays. However, children are not allowed to come back to school and play after going home.
School C Children can play for an hour after school. The school playground is open from the morning for 9 hours on holidays. Children are allowed to come back to school and play after going home. They play in the corner of the playground due to soccer club activities.
School D Children can play for an hour after school. School playground is open for four hours in the afternoon on holidays. They are allowed to come back to school and play after going home.
School E Children can play for 45 minutes after school. School playground is open the whole day on holidays if available. They are allowed to come back to school and play after going home.
School F Children can play for an hour after school. School playground is open for 4 hours on holidays. They are allowed to come back to school and play after going home.
Family environment
School A About one-third of the children live with their grandparents. Both of their parents work.
School B About two-thirds of the children live with their grandparents. Both of their parents work.
School C About one-third of the children live with their grandparents. Both of their parents work.
School D About half of the children have parents who both work. Not many live with their grandparents.
School E About two-thirds of the children live with their grandparents. Most have parents who both work.
School F About one-third of the children live with their grandparents. Two-thirds have parents who both work
Community characteristics
School A Mixture of old residential areas and newly developed areas like apartment houses and condominiums, commercial districts and office areas
School B Mainly a commercial district with many old residents
School C Mainly old residential areas, newly developed areas included; half are old residents while the other half are new residents
School D Mainly commercial districts; mixture of old residential areas, complex housing and office areas
School E Mainly agricultural areas; most are old residents
School F Mainly agricultural areas; most are old residents
Children's facilities
School A Many facilities including cram schools and private lesson classes.
School B Facilities such as cram schools and private lesson classes available, but not many parks or children's centers.
School C Many cram schools, private lesson classes, children's centers and convenience stores but few parks and vacant lands.
School D Many game centers and convenience stores; fairly many parks, vacant lands and children's centers.
School E Few cram schools, private lesson classes, parks, children's centers, game centers and convenience stores. No playing facilities, but children often play at their friends' home since the houses are big.
School F Few private lesson classes, children's centers, game centers and convenience stores

II. Summary

1. Children's life and play

1) How children spent recess yesterday
The survey asked, "Where did you play during recess yesterday?" Ranked first was the "athletic field or school playground," followed by "classrooms"(Table 1).

As to what they did yesterday during recess, more than 80% of the children answered that they chatted with friends. 40% played actively, i.e., ran around, played with balls and jumped rope. 10% played quietly, i.e., played with small toys, stationery and drew cartoons and pictures (Table 2). There is a difference between boys' play and girls' play and the nature of play among schools.

2) How children spent time after school yesterday
60% of the children went home right after school; 20% remained at school and played for a while and 10% played about half an hour (Table 3). 30% of them played with their friends after school and 70% did not (Table 4). 40% of them did not play after school and another 40% played only at home; there are not many children who played outside (Table 5).

3) What children usually do at home after school
Watching television is the most popular pastime; 70% answered that they often do watch television. Other popular pastimes are reading comic books and magazines (50%) and relaxing (40%) (Table 6). Many boys enjoy video games while many girls enjoy talking with family members (Table 7).

As for what they do after school outside of the home, the most popular activity was chatting with friends. 63% of them often or sometimes chat with their friends, including 36% who often do so. Other activities include playing with balls and riding around on a bicycle (Table 8). Such activities, however, are done less frequently compared with activities at home. We will discuss this further in the coming chapters. Many boys like to play with balls while many girls like to chat with their friends (Table 9).

2. When do children play?

1) Frequency of play after school
Children were asked when they do not play after school (Table 10). 54% answered that they do not play after school when they do not have time to play and another 54% said when they must go to cram schools or private lessons. There is not a big difference between males and females, but there is a difference among schools reflecting local features in the community (Table 11). Schools A, B, and C are located in the metropolitan area, Schools D, E, and F are located in the suburban areas.

2) After school activities
90% of the children answered that they attend cram school or take private lessons of some kind, when asked about their weekly schedule after school. More than 60% of them do not have any specific plans on Sundays (Table 12), but in general, many children go to cram schools or take private lessons. Many boys play sports on Saturdays and Sundays, while many girls play sports on Wednesdays (Table 13). There was a difference among schools, too (Table 14). About one-third of the children find it very enjoyable to go to cram schools or private lessons (Table 15).

3. Where do children play?

1) Play locations
57% of them often play at home; 46% play at their friends' home. The children play in small areas such as in their yard or in the neighborhood. There was also a difference among schools in this aspect (Table 16).

2) Indoor play vs. outdoor play
40% of the children like to play indoors better than outdoors, while 20% of them prefer playing outdoors, showing their preference for indoor games (Table 17). Children in rural areas prefer to play indoors compared with those in urban areas (Table 18). Those who like to play indoors often play at their own home or a friend's home, while those who like to play outdoors often go to their playground, parks, children's centers, ponds, rivers and forests.

4. Who do children play with?

1) Play mates
60% of the children often play with the same friends; 30% play with different friends and 10% play by themselves (Table 19). There was also a difference among schools (Table 20). A little more than 90% of them often or sometimes play with their classmates; 70% play with their friends of the same school year, which indicates that many children play with their school friends even after school (Table 21).

2) Play appointments
It is quite common for children to make their own appointments either, while at school or by telephone (Table 22). Many girls make appointments by telephone, while many boys just go to the places where they think that their friends are playing (Table 23).

3) Playing alone
48% of the children play by themselves when they do not have much time; another 48% do so when they want to play alone and 46% do so when they have no appointments to play with their friends (Table 24).

4) Cliques and play
80% of the children belong to a clique at school while, a little less than 60% of them belong to such peer groups after school (Table 25). Many children who do not belong to such groups often play with the same friends (Table 26). A larger number of children who belong to cliques play not only with their classmates or children in the same grade, but also with friends at cram schools, private lessons or sports classes (Table 27). Children in cliques more frequently make appointments to play with their friends at school, go to places where they think their friends are playing, or their friends come over to play (Table 28).

5. How do children play?

1) After school activities
It seems that children engage in pastimes that are not considered to be traditional play and can be categorized as follows.

Relaxing = play while having sweets, just relax, think about many things, listen to music, chat with family members, chat with friends outside
Hanging around = walk around, go to convenience stores, ride on bicycles
Visual enjoyment = read books, read comic books, watch TV, look at one's collections
Using one's hands, fingers and eyes = video games, yo-yos, etc.

The children can do the above activities without thinking much and while relaxing. They do not have to use their bodies but can just use their eyes, hands or fingers. They can enjoy themselves on their own since they do not need somebody else to play with. So-called traditional pastimes are ball games, tag, hide-and-seek and riding bicycles. These ways of playing, however, are only popular with boys. Girls play has changed to chatting or looking at something instead of playing outside. They collect things and information and their way of playing is similar to enjoying a hobby.

Although they seem to be actively participating in non-traditional behavior or events, they do not like to play outside with their friends in a physical manner on a daily basis as imagined by adults.

2) Popular, pastimes
The survey asked children about popular, pastimes, but these pastimes seems to be already over. More than 50% of them answered that they do not play such games at all, indicating that games for children go out of fashion very quickly. However, about half the girls often or occasionally collect Print Club and other stickers, character goods, or gather information on celebrities they like. Their pastimes seem to be forms of visual recreation (Table 29).

Collecting Print Club and other stickers is popular among girls, but boys rarely collect them (Table 30). On the other hand, there is a clear gender difference with girls rarely engaging in pastimes that are relatively popular among boys.

3) Traditional Japanese games
More than 60% of both boys and girls have played tag and hide-and-seek; more than 40% of girls have walked on stilts. 38% to 46% of boys have played Ken-dama, spun tops, 63% of girls have played cat's cradle, and 36% to 47% of them have played a juggling game, ken-dama and marbles.

4) Play experience
Children have not experienced many of the types of play that adults would expect. More than half of them have not had such experiences as playing with mud, catching beetles and frogs, or making a bonfire. However, about one-third of them have played outdoors until dark, climbed trees, and had secret places. These kinds of play still seem to exist. They have also been to department stores and or movie theaters by themselves, which may be similar to having secret places.

Children seem to be willing to participate in non-ordinary events like festivals. 75% of them joined such events. Cooking and making sweets are popular and this is probably due to TV programs or magazines; 51% of all the children and 36% of boys respectively have cooked or made sweets (Table 31 and Table 32). Girls in the upper school grades have not played outside much. They tend to participate less in outdoor activities compared with boys.

5) Regional differences in play
In general, more children in rural areas than in urban areas play in the following ways: playing with mud, climbing trees, making a bonfire, catching beetles and frogs and using saws and hammers. Compared with rural areas, girls in urban areas dress up and go out and play with a boyfriend more frequently. (Table 33).

6. Motivation and experience

1) What children experience through play
Children who think up new games (41%) or play with others whom they do not know (29%), often experience trouble such as arguing with friends (48%) or quarreling (21%). A little less than 40% of them do not know what to play (39%), or cannot find friends to play with (36%). Furthermore, 21% of them have been ostracized by others (Table 34)

2) When parents interrupt or limit play
53% of the children often or sometimes tell their parents when they will be home or where they are going. 27% of them have been told not to play in a certain way, and 25% of them have been told not to get themselves or their clothes dirty. As for time restrictions, 58% of them had to stop playing because they had other things to do. 84% of them feel that time passes so quickly while they are absorbed in play. When the children are absorbed in play, they feel dissatisfied when they are forced to stop (Table 35).

3) Outdoor play
Their wanting to play outdoors is correlated to their interest in interacting with others as well as creativity in thinking up new games. Those who enjoy traditional ways of playing want to play outdoors more (Table 36).

4) Indoor play
They like to stay at home and relax and this is linked to their inclination to play indoors. This tendency is strengthened by trouble with peer relationships. In order to overcome such trouble, it is important that the children belong to some peer groups (Table 37, 38, 39, and 40).

5) Change in play
The inclination to play in small groups is related to companion play or electronic games like video games. This type of inclination is somewhat similar to the inclination to play outdoors and the tendency is further strengthened by the play culture of electronic games (Table 41).

7. Play for children

1) How children feel looking back on a day
We asked them how they feel when they are going to bed, reflecting on the day they spent. 35.5% of them answered that they are always tired (Table 42). When they become 6th graders, they feel less that it was a happy day and feel tired more often (Table 43).

2) Cram schools, private lessons and daily sense of satisfaction
Many children going to cram schools or taking private lessons feel they studied hard or it was a busy day (Table 44). The more days they go to cram school or take private lessons, the more they tend to feel this way. On the other hand, some have a strong sense of satisfaction such as "it was a happy day," or "they played a lot." Having said that, those who go to cram schools or private lessons more than five days a week, have a lower sense of satisfaction. Those who find cram schools or private lessons enjoyable, in many cases, feel that it was a happy day, they were happy, or believe that something good is going to happen tomorrow (Table 45).

3) Sense of satisfaction in play
Children who often play with their friends have a stronger sense of satisfaction or happiness compared with those who often play by themselves (Table 46). Those who play outdoor games like ball games, tag play, hide and seek have a stronger sense of fulfillment, feeling that it was a happy day, or they played a lot. Meanwhile those who read comic books and magazines, or sit back and relax, indicate they are happy (Table 47).

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