The Impact of a Play Intervention on the Social-Emotional Development of Preschool Children in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Abstract

Practitioners working with children have emphasized that play is vital to children’s development, Links between children’s social-emotional development and play have been widely documented. However, rigorous research evidence of these links remains limited. This study’s objectives were to measure the impact of play on children’s social-emotional development in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia; identify teachers’ viewpoints around the use of play intervention; and understand the children’s experience of play intervention. Fifty-nine children aged between five and six years, with mean age of 5.5 (SD 3.376) and eight teachers participated in the study. The study used a mixed-method strategy including questionnaires, interviews, and focus group discussions. Children’s social-emotional development was measured by using the Strengths and Difficulties Questioner (SDQ). A pre-/post-test counterbalanced design was used to measure the impact of the play intervention on children’s development. Teachers’ perspectives on play were obtained by interviewing eight teachers. Children’s views were gathered through focus group discussions. Repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to determine the differences in the SDQ score over three time points. Results showed that using unstructured loose parts play had positively impacted children’s social-emotional development. After participation in the play intervention, scores from the SDQ indicated that children demonstrated significantly less problematic emotional, conduct and peer relationship issues. They also scored significantly higher in their positive prosocial behaviour. These positive effects were sustained after six weeks of stopping the intervention. The play intervention did not however impact children’s hyperactivity level. The interviews analysis illustrates four main themes: concept and characteristics of play, play functions, developmental benefits of play, and play and practice. Regarding children’s discussion, affordance emerged as a main theme; this includes emotional, social, and functional affordances. Unstructured loose parts play intervention was demonstrated to have positive impacts on children’s social-emotional development. The study’s findings support the view that play is a way to increase children’s development

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