Maria Sibireva: Children’s Play


Research Committee on Sociology of Childhood (RC53)


Play Activity as the Basis of a Better World for our Children


Maria Sibireva

St. Petersburg, Russia


For many years, all children were in “silent” or “muffled” groups. They were considered as an “invisible” social group, “an ever-present but unseen social minority” (Wyness 2006: 29). But the children have not so much been ignored as they have been marginalized (Corsaro 2011: 8). Children were hidden within larger groups and categories, such as households and families, schools and kindergartens (Wyness 2006: 29). In such cases the sociologists investigated the childhood as something discharged of our adult world, without direct contact to children. Parents, teachers and other adults were allowed to speak for children. Thus it was very often when feelings and ideas of children remained behind the frameworks of questionnaires and interviews.

In the modern world, the researchers investigate children from the position of the sociology of childhood. This science considers children as active social actors who understand the world and can interpret it. “If we draw on child as the unit of analysis then we can start to build up a quite different picture of children’s life and relations” (Wyness 2006: 30). Certainly, the question about collecting of data is also a significant one. Such kind of qualitative researches as pictures, games, etc. can help to study the opinions of children. Being based on qualitative researches we can study the opinions of boys and girls and make them “visible”.

To create the whole picture of the lives of boys and girls it is necessary to apply “mosaic approach”, which combines together different pieces and perspectives in order to create an image of children’s worlds, both individual and collective (Clark 2005). According to this approach, it is necessary to connect several methods and techniques, since an every tool of measurement and an every result are the pieces of the mosaic and allow the researcher to receive the whole picture of a one or another aspect of the life of a child (Clark,& Moss 2005). The main elements of this approach are recognition of the different languages of children and treating the children as experts in their own lives (Clark 2005). One of the basic languages of children is Play. To understand the sense of play means to understand a wide social context in which a concrete child lives and to understand a lot of aspects of child’s life. The sociology of childhood can help to consider children’s play activity better and to study the child not as «a black box».

Children are social actors during play. Through play the children reinterpret messages from the world of “adults” (from a real life, mass-media, computer games, books); they are experts in their lives with their own children’s practices. Besides it, through play the children try to solve the children’s problems, to overcome fears. There is the necessity to understand, that we must consider play seriously and do not refer to it as the waste of children’s time.

Girl, 7 years old: “I am playing dolls (Winx) …”

As sociologists we are interested in the topics of how modern games and modern toys influence children; we are ‘fascinated’ by the question: “Сan we predict what the following generation will look like when we observe the play of children?’.

Owing to the several years of the researches with children the author of this essay can conclude that even young children can answer questions, how they see themselves in the process of play, what they want from the modern play, what the children fear and how they try to overcome these fears in the process of play.

What is play for children is not necessarily play in the sense of adults.

Generations are changing, play is changing too.

Play is a way of the social construction of the reality. The main aim of play activity is the satisfaction of social needs. When we try to learn play as the main part of socialization process of children from the point of view of sociology we can see play as a ‘mirror’ of our “adult” world. The play process depends on history, social circumstances, socially-spacial characteristics (Sibireva 2014).

As for the question of history and social circumstances, the prevailing attitude toward children which exists in society is one of the main factors which can influence the consideration of children’s play.

If children are seen as ‘small adults’ the play activity can be defined as the waste of time, the time of play is being reduced in the life of a concrete person and in the essence of the whole society.

If children are the “problems of society” – the play is the factor of noise, inaction, idleness, etc. From this point of view even playgrounds can be analyzed as the places to separate children from the other members of society and put the children in the ‘right places’ under the observation of certain agents of socialization.

When the children are our ‘future’ – the play can have strong educational means (in such case the games with rules have the privilege).

And when we see the children as full social actors and members of our society – we respect play in all its variations like physical play and games with rules, imaginative and unstructured play, etc. (it depends on what classification of play and games we prefer).

The girl is skipping over the rope, Girl, 6 years old

Girl, 6 years old: “The girl is skipping over the rope…”

Except of it, we must remember that even physical place can influence the opportunity of child to play and even concrete court-yard, garden or road can influence the wishes of children to play. One of the places can limit the mobility of children, be the center of fear and harassment, others can be the places which can provoke and stimulate play.Boy, 7 years old: “My friends are skating…”

Play activity is the basis of a better world. Play has a uniting force, it is the way to overcome stress, the way to spend time very well. But now there are a lot of statements of parents, teachers, psychologists and other specialists that there is a huge decrease of children’s play. Sometimes the fears can prevent the opportunity of play. One of the reasons is the attitudes of the adults. For example, according to the researches sometimes parents forbid play actions:

Not only mothers but sometimes other adults (which were not concretized by the children) do not allow to play at or another game:

Boy, 7 years old: “I want a skateboard, but my mom does not allow this toy”.

“I am not allowed to play football. They said that it is not a game”, “They do not allow me to play hockey. They said that this game is for big boys”.

To summarize the examples considered above, I want to say that childhood is the time to develop knowledge of the world around, especially the social world. Children are interested in people, they observe them, and the life in various displays should be interesting to the boys and girls, and they need to learn to overcome obstacles. And there is the necessity that adults must understand that play is the way to cope with difficulties and find new ways to operate with situations, to develop creativity and establish friendship.

Thus, to make play the basis of the better world for our children, firstly, we must respect children’s views on play; secondly, all adults must change their attitude toward play – to understand the potential of play. Wide serious sociological researches of children’s play activity are able to tell to the world about the great force of children’s play.


1. Clark A.(2005). Ways of Seeing: Using the Mosaic Approach to Listen to Young Children’s Perspectives. In Clark, A., Kjorholt, A. and Moss, P. (Eds.) Beyond Listening Children’s Perspectives on Early Childhood Services (pp. 29-49). Bristol: Policy Press.
2. Clark, A., & Moss, P. (2005). Listening to Young Children: the Mosaic Approach. London: National Children’s Bureau Enterprises.
3. Corsaro, W. A. (2011). The Sociology of Childhood. – 3rd.ed. Thousand Oaks, C.A: Pine Forge Press.
4. Sibireva, M. (2014). Play Activity as the System of the Relations of Child with World in M. Nicole Warehime (ed.) Soul of Society: A Focus on the Lives of Children and Youth (Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Volume 18) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.93-114.
5. Sibireva, M.(2014). Socialization of Children through Play (Children as Co-Researches). The Semifinalst Entry of the Re-imagine Learning Challenge. URL:
6. Sibireva M. (2014). What drawing with 300 young children has taught me? URL:
7. Sibireva, M. Blog. URL:
8. Wyness, M. (2006). Childhood and Society: An Introduction to the Sociology of Childhood. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.


Maria Sibireva photoMaria Sibireva obtained her PhD in Sociology from Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. Dr. Sibireva is a senior lecturer at the North-West Institute of Management in  Saint-Petersburg. She is a Board Member of International Sociological Association Research Committee on the Sociology of Childhood (ISA-RC53) and a member of the European Sociological Association (ESA) and the International Play Association (IPA). Her fields of scientific interests include the sociology of childhood, sociology of play, urban sociology, and the qualitative and quantitative methodologies of sociological research. She has authored publications in Russian and English. Linkedin profile:


Banner Image: Children drawings (from the collection of the author).

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