Sociocultural Context of Play: Experiences of Indigenous Children in the Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta, Colombia
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Solis, S. Lynneth
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AbstractResearch on children’s play has been predominantly conducted in industrialized, Western societies (Göncü, Tuermer, Jain, & Johnson, 1999). While this approach has been fruitful in demonstrating the role of play in development, it is limited in scope and can lead to misinterpretations of the everyday realities of children across the world. Documenting indigenous children’s play is of particular importance given the sharp contrasts between their daily experiences and those of children in urbanized societies who are typically represented in research. By gaining insights into historical, cultural, and ecological pressures that shape play, we can surface its local and universal manifestations and incorporate play into educational approaches in a manner that respects local knowledge, tradition, and identity and helps build a strong educational foundation for young children (Moland, 2017).
Thus, the present ethnographic study employed a sociocultural lens to explore the influences that structure play experiences of Arhuaco, Kogi, and Wiwa children in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM), Colombia. Indigenous communities of the SNSM have preserved their customs and traditions; however, the introduction of formal schooling provides a unique opportunity to study play in evolving traditional societies. Through naturalistic observations and interviews in three indigenous communities over nine months, this study investigated children’s play in and out of school; the factors that impact the availability of play resources; and the beliefs that shape play opportunities.
I found a complex system of competing priorities and visions of childhood that all shape when and how children engage in play. Following a description of the study’s conceptual framework and research methodologies, I first present three ethnographic sketches that describe how children’s lives in each of the communities are characterized by a variety of behaviors and responsibilities, changing cultural contexts, and material and social resources that provide the space and opportunity for play. Next, I report on the range and frequency of children’s daily activities and demonstrate that social interactions and play, which often coincide, are the most common activities across research sites, and that formal schooling is an important setting shaping play experiences. Finally, I summarize the beliefs and attitudes about play of parents across the research sites; parents shared reservations about children’s participation in play but also named potential affective, intellectual, practical, and physical benefits, and this was true regardless of parent education level. This investigation contributes to a growing literature on play across cultures and informs efforts to design educational opportunities that promote a strong foundation for the children of the SNSM and beyond.
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