The relationship of gender, language facility, and parental involvement to the contextualized and decontextualized play behaviors of low-income Mexican American four-year-olds



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Texas Tech University


The sociodramatic play of 42 low socioeconomic status Mexican American four-year-olds in a Head Start/Pre- Kindergarten program in a small West Texas town was examined to determine if it was predominantly contextualized or decontextualized and if the nature of their play was related to gender, language facility, and parental involvement in literacy and pretense events.

Time-sampling techniques were used to determine if the play of the subjects was contextualized, that is imitative and reality-based or decontextualized, that is based on fantasy which was removed from the children's immediate experience. Nine ten-minute observations were made during free-play by three observers--the investigator, a graduate assistant, and an undergraduate assistant.

The language facility of the children was measured by the PRE-LAS (Language Assessment Scale for Preschoolers, Duncan and De Avila, 1985). Parental involvement with the children in literacy and pretense events was determined by an oral interview with the parents conducted by the investigator with the assistance of a bilingual aide when needed.

The categorical and fre(3uency data produced in this study recjuired a descriptive design employing analysis by nonparametric means. Using chi-square, significant relationships were found between the nature of the subjects' play and gender, language facility of the children, and parental involvement in literacy and pretense events. The play of all subjects was found to be predominantly contextualized. However, girls engaged in more contextualized play than boys, and boys engaged in more decontextualized play than girls.

Fluent speakers did not engage in more decontextualized play than nonfluent speakers as had been predicted. This discrepancy may have resulted from the failure of the test instrument to discriminate adequately between fluent and nonfluent speakers.

Parental involvement with their children in literacy and pretense events was categorized as never, seldom or some, and often. Children whose parents read to them and pretended with them often engaged in significantly more decontextualized play behaviors than children whose parents seldom read to or pretended with them. However, children whose parents never read to or pretended with them accounted for a larger than expected number of decontextualized play behaviors. The influence of modeling by play leaders in the classroom is a possible explanation for this discrepancy.