Ben is a 4 ½ year-old boy. He was observed in his suburban home along with his sister, Sally, who is nine months old. The children were observed for 90 minutes. Their mother was at home and remained in the kitchen, which adjoined the family room where the children were playing, during most of the observation. The children are first generation American. Both parents are from Sri-Lanka. At this time, their mother, Eromi, is a stay-at-home mother. Their father, Dilvan, is an engineer with the local public transportation company. They live in a modest, suburban, three-bedroom home in a safe community. The children are well-dressed, well-groomed, and appear to be well-mannered. Ben appears to be a little small for a four1/2 year-old boy. His sister also appears to be small for her age. Their mother is petite in stature as well. She is about five feet tall and quite thin. In family photos, it appears that their father is maybe five foot six. The children will possibly always be small.
I am able to sit in an alcove next to the fireplace. There is a low chair in front of me, which obscures me from the children’s view. When I am quiet, the children forget that I am in the room, which is the ideal situation for an observation. It is Monday, December 9, 2012 in the middle of the afternoon. Sally has been up from her second nap for about fifteen minutes. Ben no longer naps, but he returned from preschool fifteen minutes ago. It was getting out of the car from getting Ben that woke Sally up from her slumber. The children had a quick snack of water and Ben had string cheese before they came into the family room to sit on the floor and play.
Eromi sits Sally on the floor with a stuffed bunny and a fuzzy blanket. Ben goes over to a shelf with toys and pulls down a house, a barn, an airport, and a school. One at a time he brings them over near Sally and sets them up on the floor. He spends quite a bit of time moving them back and forth a few inches at a time until they are in the right positions. When he is satisfied with their placement, he walks back to the shelf and gets a zippered bag and carries it back near Sally. He opens it and dumps the pieces onto the floor. There are probably a hundred people, animals, cars, planes, fence pieces, and trees. He picks up eight pieces and puts them next to Sally.
Sally does not yet speak, but she has squeals that are high-pitched when she gets excited. She squeals when she gets the toys. Ben asks her if she likes the toys he picked and then answers for her as well that she does. Ben talks to her all of the time while he plays. Even when Ben is having his characters role play, he looks at Sally and interacts with her and she seems to enjoy the attention.
Ben spends most of his time for the next 20 minutes engaged in imaginative parallel play. Most of his focus is making up a story line about the kids in the house getting ready to go to school and then their school day. When Sally squeals or coos, he interacts with her. If Sally is pounding one of the people she has, he imitates her to get her to laugh. Sally will also imitate Ben when he is engrossed in play, but he does not seem to notice Sally when he is focused on his story-making time. It is clear that Sally uses the eight toys that Ben gave her, and does not seem interested in the other ones. In fact, Sally seems to only use four of the toys Ben gave her to use. She seems content watching and listening to Ben (Parten’s Contemporary Research on Social Skills).
During the school day play activity, Ben has two students fight over not sharing toys. Ben’s face gets wrinkled and he uses an angry tone for both children, with distinct voices for each. The ‘students’ both want to play with the same car. One of the students goes to get the teacher to help but the teacher says that they can talk about their problem and ‘make a fix.’ Ben has each of the ‘students’ make an argument about why it is their turn to have the car. Their fix is that the school day is over and they have to go home. Through these few minutes of play Ben was able to demonstrate that he has conflicts in school and is learning how to solve the problems without the teacher’s help (Bodrova & Leong, 1996).
Sally starts to cry and Ben is immediately at her side, toys forgotten, trying to console her. He decides that she needs a new diaper and goes to the kitchen to inform his mother. Eromi suggests that the children have a snack, since Sally probably wants her bottle and dinner is not for another hour. Ben asks permission to get a treat from the snack basket and his mother says that he may. He gets and apple and a peeler and also asks for some milk. He puts some hand sanitizer on his hands and rubs his hands and then Sally’s hands together. After Eromi puts Sally in her high chair, Ben talks silly to her and makes her giggle until her bottle is warm and his apple is peeled. He sits in his chair, eats his apple wedges, and accepts some pieces of cheese that are offered to him with his milk. Sally is excited to get some cheese as well. Ben continues to talk to Sally as they snack. When she starts to yell “ba, ba” he gets excited and tries to get her to say “Ben, Ben.” When they are done, Eromi wipes their hands and asks Ben if he wants to play a little longer. She knows I have 20 minutes remaining. He is excited because usually it is time to practice piano. Eromi does tell him that he will have piano practice in a little while.
When Sally is put down again, she is placed next to the airport. Ben gives her a plane, a car and a few people with which she can play. After ten minutes of playing with the animals in the farm, Sally starts to fuss. Ben took one of the other planes and showed Sally how to make it ‘fly’ telling her to “remember how we did this yesterday?” She watched him for a minute and then she held her plane up in the air. He was excited and told her “Good girl!” He then had his plane ‘land’ on the runway of the airport. In a minute, Sally plopped her plane down on the runway. Ben laughed and told her that she made her plane crash. Sally laughed too. Ben had done an excellent job of helping Sally expand her zone of proximal development. As Vygotsky had taught, Ben had demonstrated just one small action for Sally to learn, to have her plane ‘fly’ and then a second action when he demonstrated how her plane could ‘land.’ Sally is too young to have the imagination that Ben has, but she wants to participate in play like Ben and enjoys imitating his actions (Bodrove & Leong, 1995).
During the remaining 10 minutes, Ben played again with the family and the house and Sally imitated some of his actions, although Ben did not notice. Sally made some squeals after about ten minutes, no longer content to be ignored, and Ben immediately talked to her and gave her a new person for which she dropped her other toys to grab. She was glad to be receiving attention again. Then, Sally leaned over, fell onto her belly, and was trying to crawl. Ben held his hands behind her feet so she would actually make some movement forward. She made her way over to where Ben had been playing and knocked over the house, spilling the people all over the floor. When Ben began to protest, his mother reminded him it was time for piano practice so it was time to help Sally learn how to clean up. Eromi helped Sally put some of the small toys into the bag and Ben put the bigger toys on the shelf. He then came over and helped clean up the little toys as well. When he asked what was for dinner and found out it was pizza he got excited, which got Sally to squeal. When I got up, both children jumped. They had forgotten all about me, which was perfect for my purposes. Ben asked if I would be back tomorrow, and when I told him “No,” he took my hand and walked me to the door, politely thanked me for coming, and told me it “was a pleasure to meet you.” Ben has excellent manners for a child.
Bodrove, E. & Leong, D. (1996). Tools of the mind: The Vygotskian approach to early childhood
education. Simon & Schuster.
Bodrova, E. & Leong, D. (1995). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Beacon 17(1) 5-7.
Parten’s Contemporary Research on Social Skills.