Studies have shown that the number of activities pursued gradually decreases as children grow older. Around the age of twelve years, there is not only a decrease in number of play activities engaged in but also a change in type of activity enjoyed. At this time, the favorite activities include highly organized games and sports and more solitary pursuits, such as going to the movies, watching television, watching sports, and reading.
Comparisons of the number of different activities at different ages showed that, among eight-year-olds, an average of 40.11 different play activities were engaged in during 1 week, while among persons twenty two years old and older, the average was 17.71. Play activities involving play with other children likewise decrease with age. At 712 years, an average of 27 are engaged in, as compared with 21 at 1112 years and 13 at 1612 years.
*Causes of Decrease.
The number of play activities decreases because older children have less time available for play; they have a greater understanding of their interests and abilities and, in addition, a longer attention span.
Children abandon some activities because they have become boring or are regarded as babyish. For example, kindergarten children begin to show a decreasing interest in blocks because other materials, such as paints, clay, crayons, and chalk, offer a greater variety of interesting activities. Dramatic play loses its appeal when the child is no longer able to imagine that he is the person he impersonates. Similarly, toys lose their appeal when the child no longer can endow them with life qualities and when doing so is regarded by the peer group as babyish.
The narrowing of the number of play activities may be the result of lack of play mates. Children who lack social acceptance in the peer group find themselves limited to solitary forms of play. This is especially true for boys because most of the play of older boys centers in gang activities. Racial or religious prejudice against the child may deprive him of playmates. In a study of the out-of-school activities of Negro elementary school children, it was found that proportionally more time was spent watching television, listening to the radio, going to the movies, and reading comics than was spent on club and group activities. Children who are not accepted by the peer group must limit their play activities to those they can enjoy alone.
As leisure time decreases because of new duties and because of the time spent in school, the child must select from the available play activities those which please him most and concentrate on them. This be comes increasingly true as the child grows older.
The amount of time a child has for play will be influenced, to some extent, by the socioeconomic status of the family. Among upper-class children, less and less time is available for play as they grow older and devote more time to school and out-of school lessons; in the lower-class group, more time is devoted to home duties or after-school jobs.
Because of poor concentration, little children go from one toy to another or from one play activity to another. A two year-old, for example, can attend to a play activity for 6.9 minutes, on the average, as compared with 12.6 minutes for a five-year old. When play materials are interesting to them, nursery-school children will persevere in a play situation even when the activity is difficult. This is apparent also in reading, radio listening, and television watching.
As children grow older and intellectually more mature, they can comprehend more. As a result, their interest does not wane so quickly, and they can attend to what they are doing for longer periods of time. When interest in an activity wanes, children spend less time on that activity. Kindergarten children, for example, begin to find block building less interesting than formerly and therefore devote less time to it.
The play of little children is spontaneous and informal. The child plays when and with what toys he wishes, regardless of time or place. He does not need special play equipment or special playclothes.
Gradually, play becomes more and more formal; much of the spontaneity of play disappears during adolescence. Even during the gang age, the child feels that special clothing, special equipment, and a special place for play are essential. Appointments are made to meet and play at a definite time, and each player is expected to appear promptly.
Perhaps in no respect is the trend toward formality more apparent than in the child's attitude toward his playmates. As a pre schooler, the child is willing to play with anyone available, but as a member of a gang, he will play only with gangmates; if they are not available, he will play alone, listening to the radio, watching television, or reading the comics. Similarly, at around the age of six, a boy feels that he must play only with boys, and a girl that she must play only with girls.
During the first three grades in school, children care little about sedentary play until late in the day, when they are tired. Then they like to watch television or be read to. From grade four on, however, there is a gradual increase in time spent in reading, going to the movies, watching television, listening to the radio, listening to music, and watching sports events. Interest in active play reaches its lowest point during early puberty. At that time, children not only withdraw from active play but also spend little time reading, playing indoor games, or even watching television. Most of their playtime is devoted to day dreaming-a form of play that requires a minimum of effort and expenditure of energy.