Back to reality: research reveals new play-time habits

By Ashley Boyle

Although superheroes and mythical characters dominate children’s films, scientists believe that the toys that are associated with these stories are not as desirable as first thought. Recent studies suggest that children are not as interested in pretend games and would rather play games which involved real life experiences.

Researchers say that it is less appealing to play an imaginary game because it is too different to reality. They suggested that the children, as soon as they can talk, seek the chance to help their parents with everyday tasks, things which adults may find simple or routine. They appear eager to learn and would often prefer to carry out tasks, such as cutting vegetables or feeding a baby, rather than pretend to do so.

Children within tribes and farming villages already take on a lot of these traits, as they are less likely to take part in fantasy games compared to western children. Instead their parents would actually encourage them to explore and use real tools, such as knives and firewood, as so to prepare them for adulthood. The parents feel that whilst it could sometimes be risky, their children will consequently learn valuable lessons by themselves if they are more hands on.

The experiment consisted of allowing some children to take part in an activity, whether imaginary or actual. Some of the children found the actual tasks more appealing to them because they were things that they would not normally do. Because of this, they were seen as fun tasks or novel when they could take part. One child described how they had never actually talked on the phone as a reason for picking the practical over the pretend. Whilst some children were keen to try new things, others who picked the pretend over practical did so because of the fear of the unknown or simply because they were happy with just pretending.

A second test was taken on 3 to 6 year olds which monitored the children’s playing habits with real objects, such as a microscope, and the toys that replicated these objects. They found that whilst the younger children spent an equal amount of time on average playing with both real and pretend objects, the older children among the sample of 16 spent nearly double the amount of time with the real objects than that with the toys.

Ultimately, it seems that children today are eager to be entertained by regular tasks or objects compared to more traditional toys, meaning that children may start swapping Barbies for some Marigolds in the future.

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