Parents’ Beliefs About Play and the Purpose of Preschool Education, Preschoolers’ Home Activity and Executive Functions

Parents’ Beliefs About Play and the Purpose of Preschool Education, Preschoolers’ Home Activity and Executive Functions
Biruk Kebede Metaferia, PhD student of the Doctoral School of Education, and his supervisors, Zsófia Garai-Takács and Judit Futó are examining the preschoolers’ home experience and the role of playing in the development of executive functions. Their latest study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. We discussed the details of the research on Hungarian and Ethiopian children and their parents with the first author of the article, Biruk Kebede Metaferia.

There are many studies about the developmental benefits of play among preschoolers. What is the novelty in your approach?

Our study examined the role of preschoolers’ home experiences, where play is part of it, in the development of their executive functions (EF). So, it is more comprehensive in the sense that it examined the role of children’s everyday home experience (that includes both play and other activities) in the development of their EFs. For instance, our investigation addressed important home experiences such as preschoolers’ frequently of having breakfast at home, spending mealtime together with family, engagement in sports and physical activities, academic practice, total sleep during the night, and total playtime per day in the development of EF. The inclusion of these factors into our study helped us to provide a more comprehensive view of the contribution of home experiences in the development of EF skills.

Another point that makes our investigation different from the previous ones is that only a handful of research investigated the benefits of play in the development of EF in particular. Almost all of these studies focused basically on the importance of pretend play. Play type/form other than pretend play such as peer play, solitary play, motor play gets little attention to be examined in relation to the development of EFs. So, one of the novelties in our investigation is that it examined the contribution of different types and forms of play in the development of EF. On top of that our investigation is also the first of its kind in examining the link between parents’ play beliefs and their preschoolers’ EF skills next to our first study on Ethiopian participants.

Are parents’ play beliefs more important than the play itself the preschoolers engage in?

Parental play beliefs couldn’t be considered separately from the play experiences of children. In this regard, literature shows that the beliefs parents hold about the importance of play for child development affect their level of involvement in their children’s play (ranging from the supply of play materials to designing play activities for children and play together with them) and children’s play experience including access to opportunities to play with peers and adults. Parents who valued play for its developmental benefits encourage and assist their children’s play through different means such us supplying numerous play materials to promote play opportunities, devote their time in designing play initiation activities and playing with their children, and encourage and facilitate early peer contacts. All such kinds of advantages of play opportunities for children, in turn, could create better developmental opportunities for children.

How can cognitive development be examined in early childhood?

Cognitive development is examined using tests. As there are different aspects of cognitive development, the selection of the test to be administered depends on the aspect of cognitive development to be examined.

What does the expression “executive functions” implies? Is this equivalent to school readiness?

EF is an umbrella term that guides and supports self-regulation of thought, action, and emotion in order to achieve a goal. Children with better EF skills control their impulsive response; think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the changing situation; and have a better capacity of holding information in mind in order to complete a task. These skills are important elements of school readiness. Thus, EF plays a central role in fostering school readiness. There is strong evidence indicating that EF is a strong predictor of school readiness in both typically and atypically developing children.

· Who did you examine and with what way in your recent research?

We examined preschoolers with their parents. Preschoolers were examined for their EF skills that include inhibitory control, shifting, and working memory skills and home experiences. Parents’ play and educational beliefs were examined using a survey designed for the purpose. And, preschoolers EFs were examined using three different computerized tasks.

· In the sample of parents examined in your research there are more woman than man providing answers. Does it distort the results in any way?

As the survey required more detailed information especially about the preschoolers’ daily home routines, the parent who is very close to the child (primary caregiver) and have better information about the issue filled in the questionnaire. So, as you see in the paper, more mothers get involved in providing the required information for the study. It indicates most of the primary caregivers for the participant children were mothers. It has nothing to do with keeping the gender balance of parents here. In this regard, we don’t think that this distorts the result in any way.

What exactly do those parents differently who hold strong play support beliefs?

As I pointed out above, parents with strong play support beliefs better support children’s play starting from supplying more play materials to directly involve in children’s play by designing play activities for their children and play together compared to their counterparts who hold week play beliefs. This would create children better opportunities for their development.

In a previous study, Ethiopian preschoolers were examined with the same method. Why was this research carried out specifically in Ethiopia? What are your main findings when you compare the development of Ethiopian and Hungarian children?

Well, there are at least two major reasons that triggered our Ethiopian study. First, there are findings from an Ethiopian study indicating that parents of preschoolers hold strong academic-focused beliefs and low play support beliefs, and they give more weight to academic development instead of other aspects of development such as social-emotional development. The study also reported that to meet parental expectations, preschools in Ethiopia focus on children’s academic development. My practical observation also showed me that parents’ practice at their home is also targeted at children’s academic development. This triggered our Ethiopian study. Second, as I pointed out before, only very few studies examined the contribution of preschoolers’ home experience in their EF development. Most of this handful of studies were conducted with western samples and under the western socio-cultural context.

So, we thought that our Ethiopian study addressed a sample that is highly underrepresented in research.

From our previous Ethiopian and Hungarian studies, we found that parental play support is an important factor associated with the development of preschoolers’ inhibitory control skills. On the other hand, our finding indicates that preschoolers’ frequency of breakfast at home and pretend play was found to be important predictors of preschoolers’ performance in go/no-go task in Ethiopian and Hungarian samples respectively. Moreover, the frequency of engagement in arts and crafts and fine motor activities were linked with their performance in a visual-spatial working memory task. These are a brief summary of our main findings. However, as the design of the investigations was not cross-cultural, it could be difficult to make a direct comparison of the findings. Our third study, which is under progress, compares the development of Ethiopian and Hungarian children in a cross-cultural approach. So, this question could be adequately answered in that study.

In the study you examined what parents think about the primary purpose of preschool education. Why is it important concerning preschoolers’ activities at home?

Actually, our study examined the link between parental educational and play beliefs thinking that parental educational beliefs could be linked to their play beliefs and the play beliefs, in turn, could be associated with their children’s home activities. Our thought was that parents, on their part, make efforts at their home in order to help their children’s school readiness. These efforts could be reflected in their children’s daily home routines. For instance, parents who hold a belief that academic skills development is the primary purpose of preschool education could make efforts to help their children develop these skills at their home beyond the preschools. Similarly, parents who hold the belief that the development of social-emotional competence is the primary purpose of preschool education could also create more opportunities (e.g. facilitate peer play, design relevant challenges) for their children at home to develop these skills. These points clearly indicate that examining parental thinking of the primary purpose of preschool education could be an important issue to be examined in relation to preschoolers’ home activities. However, our study didn’t entertain this issue. It just examined the link between parental educational and play beliefs.

The article is available here.