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Exploring parent attitudes toward children's play and learning in Cyprus.

This descriptive study, undertaken in Nicosia, Cyprus, sought to examine the beliefs and attitudes of Greek/Cypriot parents (n = 142) toward play and learning. The research findings revealed that Greek/Cypriot parents valued play over and above academic training and considered it important for the development of their young children. However, this emphasis on play was not instantiated in the daily after-school routines of their children, which incorporated more hours spent on academics and organized lessons than any other activity, including play, per day. Other findings revealed more inconsistent attitudes regarding play and learning expressed by the Greek/Cypriot parents, placing them closer to the academically oriented formal and direct instruction side of the education and play spectrum, with little time available for play.

Keywords: parents, attitudes, play, learning, Cyprus

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Early childhood education professional groups (e.g., Association for Childhood Education International, National Association for the Education of Young Children) and play researchers in North America (e.g., Johnson, Christie, & Yawkey, 1999) and Europe (e.g., Trageton, Hagesaeter, & Helming, 1999, on play in Norwegian children) have time and again highlighted the value of play in the acquisition of cognitive and social skills during early childhood. They have maintained that play, rather than more direct instructional techniques, should be at the heart of the early childhood curriculum. This belief, however, is not universally accepted, as it clashes with the view of some groups (e.g., Farver & Shin, 1997, research on Korean children; Tulananda & Roopnarine, 2001, research on Thai children) that place a high premium on educational systems that overwhelmingly emphasize a strong push for learning the basics early in life. They subscribe to the premise that there is a critical window during preschool years that not only prepares children for academic success, but also makes it easier for them to learn fundamentally academic skills that are required for later school success (Parmer, Harkness, Super, & Johnson, 2001). Furthermore, in a few societies (e.g., Hadza, Mayan children), play may be replaced by subsistence-type activities (Bock, 2002a, 2002b; Lancy, 1996) and in the minds of parents regulated as secondary to childhood development.

This study measured Greek/Cypriot parents' attitudes toward play and learning in Nicosia, Cyprus. Of interest to this research, therefore, are some of the research findings on beliefs and attitudes about the academic expectations and play activities of young children in other cultures. Studies that looked at intercultural differences in parents' attitudes toward the play and learning of young children and studies that looked at intracultural differences will be reviewed. The importance of presenting such studies is twofold: (1) to indicate that our attitudes, beliefs, and values, particularly those concerned with how children's time ought to be administered to give them the best possible base for becoming healthy and skillful grown-ups, are deeply rooted in culture (Elkind, 1988) and (2) to eventually allow future cross-cultural comparison of the attitudes and practices of Greek/Cypriot parents toward play and learning in Nicosia, Cyprus, with those of parents from other cultures and/or countries.

INTERCULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN PARENTS' ATTITUDES TOWARD PLAY AND LEARNING

In a study carried out by Carlson and Stenmalm-Sjoblom (1989), parents' perceptions of early education programs in Samaland, Sweden, and in St. Louis county in Minnesota, United States of America, were compared. Of interest to this study is the importance parents in both countries placed on the various materials and activities for children. The parents in Sweden were more likely to rate creative materials (props, puppets, and musical instruments) and high-mobility materials (riding toys, woodworking equipment, and climbing structures) and creative dramatics (role-playing in daily tasks of life) as important in early education. The parents in the United States were more likely to value lined paper, coloring books, technological equipment, rote counting, and a stimulating physical environment and field trips as important for early education. Thus, the researchers concluded that one of the most important differences in parents' perceptions of early childhood programs in the two countries was an emphasis on child-centered, inner-directed actions in Sweden, compared to the conformist, outward-directed focus in the United States.

In contrast to the above study, Farver and Shin (1997) reported a less conformist approach to education on the part of U.S. parents when observing 48 Korean and 48 White children in their preschool behavior settings, to examine the role of culture in organizing children's activities and in shaping their pretend play behavior. Observations revealed that children in the Korean American preschool spent much more time seated at tables tracing numbers and English and Korean letters, working with flashcards, and answering teacher-directed questions in rote memorization fashion. In contrast, the observations inside the White preschool showed children wandering between learning center areas, interacting with classmates, and playing with available toys and other objects if they desired. Forty-seven percent of the Korean American mothers believed that the purpose of play is for amusement, to relieve boredom, and to express curiosity, whereas only 10% of the White mothers believed play is for amusement and 84% believed that play is learning and is related to developmental outcome.

In a different study, which focused more on the outcomes of parental attitudes toward play and education, Huntsinger, Jose, and Larson (1998) examined whether parent practices to encourage academic competence influenced the social adjustment of young White (n = 40) and Chinese American children (n = 36) in the 1st and 2nd grade. Although the data showed no differences in the social development of Chinese American and White children, other important findings were reported. The Chinese American children were awake more hours per day; had less free time; spent more time doing academic homework, music practice, and Chinese homework; and spent less time in organized sports than their White counterparts did. Effect sizes were very large. In comparison with their White counterparts, Chinese American children spent 3 times as much daily time doing academic homework, 10 times as much daily time practicing music, and one third the amount of time in sports practice. Chinese American parents also used more formal methods of facilitating reading than White parents did. Furthermore, White parents tended to use methods embedded in context, like real-life situations, to facilitate mathematics development in their children, whereas Chinese American parents were more likely to emphasize memorization of math facts, to buy additional teaching materials, and to introduce mathematics beyond the child's grade level. Huntsinger et al. (1998) suggested that the teaching methods used by the Chinese American parents corresponded closely with those described by Sigel (1987) as "hothousing"--a process of inducing infants to acquire knowledge that is typically acquired at a later point in developmental time.

In a more recent study, Parmar, Harkness, and Super (2004) interviewed Asian and White parents and teachers of preschool-age children concerning their beliefs about the nature and purpose of play. Parents also completed two questionnaires and a diary of their children's daily activities. Results showed that White parents placed greater importance on play than did the Asian parents, and they also stressed more their own role in children's play, as partners and as a resource to children. In contrast, the Asian parents placed greater emphasis on the importance of early academics and the importance of getting a head start. Asian children spent more time learning letters and numbers, learning early math skills, playing alphabet and number games, and playing and learning with computers. By contrast, the White children spent more time reading books at bedtime. The magnitude of these differences was striking: for example, the Asian children were spending more than 1 hour weekly learning early math skills, compared to only about 7 minutes for the White children. Overall, the Asian children were spending about 5 hours and 45 minutes weekly on learning letters and numbers, learning early math skills, playing alphabet and number games, and playing and learning with computers, compared to about 1 hour and 40 minutes for the White children. White children on the other hand, were being read more books at bedtime more frequently, about 4 hours weekly on average, compared to just fewer than 3 hours for the Asian children. Further, the preschool teachers reported in their interviews that Asian children had greater competence in letters and numbers when they first arrived at school.

The Lego Learning Institute (2002) conducted a research study to investigate parents' attitudes, beliefs, and values concerning children's use of time. Parents' conceptions of play and its significance in terms of child development was investigated in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Data were collected from approximately 3,000 parents of children between ages 0 and 12, picked randomly from the target populations. Results showed that a large majority (94%) of all parents agreed strongly or slightly with the notion that time spent playing is also time spent learning, whereas only 15.8% felt that children's free time is often wasted. However, answers to this question varied greatly across countries; only 5% of Japanese parents agreed that children's free time is often wasted time, whereas 32% of parents in the United Kingdom agreed with that statement. Even though the majority of parents in the five countries seemed to acknowledge the fact that time spent playing is also time spent learning, a significant proportion (73.6%) thought that school time needed to be supplemented with other planned activities to complete a child's education. Additionally, a majority (86%) thought that children needed to participate in organized activities outside the home to develop social skills. Parents in the United Kingdom (50%), United States (54%), and France (55%) reported that they encouraged their children to spend more time in planned activities and lessons, whereas parents in Japan (83%) and Germany (61%) reported that they encouraged their children to spend more time choosing freely what to do. Finally, almost two thirds of all parents in the United States and Germany considered their children to be overscheduled, whereas 48% of the parents in the United Kingdom characterized their children as overscheduled. Data were not collected from Japan and France.

INTRACULTURAL DIFFERENCES IN PARENTS' ATTITUDES TOWARD PLAY AND LEARNING

Haight, Parke, and Black (1997) observed mother-child and father-child activities and how they valued play in terms of benefits for toddlers' development in White families residing in a town in central Illinois. Twenty-nine middle-class fathers and 29 middle-class mothers were recruited to take part in this study. The researchers were able to demonstrate that the participant parents attributed different developmental significance to a number of everyday activities. Ninety-six percent of mothers and 92% of fathers reported that pretend play activities assisted children's development, 100% of mothers and fathers reported that book reading did, and 76% of mothers and 55% of fathers suggested that rough-and-tumble play did. Parents in the Haight et al. (1997) study generally viewed play as an enjoyable and developmentally facilitative activity, and themselves as appropriate play partners. However, consistent with characterizations of mother as generally didactic and teaching oriented and fathers as play oriented with a focus on stimulation and arousal (Parke, 1996), "cognitive" and "motivational" components of beliefs were related to the proportion of mother-child play time spent in pretend play, and an "effective" component of beliefs was related to the proportion of father-child play time spent in pretend play.

In contrast to the findings in the Haight et al. (1997) survey, a study conducted in Thailand (Bloch & Wichaidat, 1986) reported that parents (n = 81) were not certain about the cognitive and social value of play during the early childhood period. The purpose of this work was to examine parents' (n = 81) and teachers' (n = 38) attitudes about play and work activities in early childhood programs in Thailand. Four public and six private kindergartens were selected. Results indicated that Thai parents in Bangkok expressed less optimism about the value of play activities in learning and had less favorable attitudes toward play activities than teachers did. Further, parents whose children were enrolled in public schools reported that play was more beneficial than those whose children were enrolled in private schools.

The low reliance on play for the socialization of childhood skills in Thailand, as reported in the study above, was confirmed in an observational study of parent-child interactions in Chaing Mai Province, one of 17 provinces in northern Thailand (Tulananda & Roopnarine, 2001). Fifty-three mothers and fathers and their preschool children participated in this investigation. The researchers observed some everyday activities of mothers and fathers with children for 2 hours in the home, including the frequency that parents engaged in play and educational activities. Exceedingly low rates of paternal and maternal engagement in fantasy and constructive play and in games with rules with preschool-age children were documented. What is more, mothers were consistently more involved in the educational activities of their children that entailed telling stories and assisting them with their homework and did so more than fathers. Tulananda and Roopnarine (2001) attributed the lack of gender difference in parent-child play participation to today's strong cultural push to raise "good, tidy, and clever" children (Khemmani, 1996, p. 7) and this starts early in the life of Thai children.

To sum up the above, we have seen that parental attitudes toward play and learning differ within (e.g., between mothers and fathers) cultures, and that the parental practices used to encourage children academically and the time allocated, or left, for play also differs between cultures. Play is a universal activity among young children, but its nature, as evident from the studies documented above, varies across cultures in response to specific constraints and differential degrees of encouragement (Farver, 1999; Gaskins, 2002; Harkness & Super, 1986; Schwartzman, 1978). Parents' cultural belief systems or "parental ethnotheories" have been shown to influence the organization of children's environments of learning and development in many different societies (Harkness & Super, 1986, 1999; Roopnarine, Johnson, & Hooper, 1994; Roopnarine, Lasker, Sacks, & Stores, 1998). This descriptive research was thus designed to explore the "ethnotheories" of Greek/Cypriot parents residing in Nicosia, Cyprus, regarding the play and learning of children. The researchers hope to eventually allow future cross-cultural comparison of these results with those of other cultures and/or countries, some of which have been mentioned above.

It was anticipated that Greek/Cypriot parents would consider play as an important vehicle for their children's development. This information on parental attitudes was collected as part of a larger research project that investigated the effects of developmentally appropriate and inappropriate teaching practices on children's social, emotional, and cognitive development in Cyprus (Shiakou & Belsky, 2009).

METHOD

Participants

The research participants were 142 Greek/Cypriot parents (10 fathers) of children between age 4.1 and 7.0 (M = 5.9, SD = .65). The children were at the time enrolled in seven preschool classes and nine first-year classes in six schools in Nicosia, Cyprus. Overall, 54% of the invited families agreed to take part in the research (142/263). Information from the parent demographics measurement indicated that the mean age of mothers was 36 years and the mean age of fathers was 39 years. The participant parents were highly educated: 45% were university graduates and all others were high school graduates, with approximately 36% having post-high school education. Twenty-nine percent of the mothers and 62% of the fathers received a monthly salary of more than 2,000 Euros. Lastly, 67% of mothers worked between 4 and 8 hours per day and 60% of fathers worked more than 8 hours per day. The parents did not differ from one another on a variety of demographics variables, including mother's and father's ages, education, income, and hours of employment (ANOVA analyses over the six schools indicated the following results: mother age F[5, 135] = .26, p = .90; father age F[5, 135] = .60, p = .66; mother level of education F[5, 136] = .68, p = .61; father level of education F[5, 135] = 1.41, p = .23; mother income F[5, 132] = .96, p = .43; father income F[5, 129] = 1.1, p = .37; mother work hours F[5, 143] = .38, p = .82; and father work hours F[5,143] = 1.41, p = .23).

Procedure

Before any data were collected, permission to enter schools in Nicosia and recruit parents of the attending children was obtained from the Ministry of Education and Culture in Cyprus, as well as from the head of each school. Students took an informative letter home to their parents describing the research and inviting families to participate. Parents who consented to participate were sent questionnaires by post to assess their beliefs and practices about play and learning. Shortly thereafter, arrangements were made to interview the participant parent, usually at the family's home, to assess through an interview their beliefs and practices about their children's play and learning. All measures administered to parents were translated initially into Greek and then back-translated into English to ensure the reliability of the conversion.

Measures and Materials

In addition to the demographic background questionnaires (results are reported above), parental beliefs about play and learning were assessed using the Education Attitudes Scale (EAS; Rescorla, 1991), the Pre-school Play and Learning Questionnaire (PPLQ; Parmar et al., 2004), and the Parental Belief Interview (PBI; Parmar et al., 2004). The Daily Activities Checklist (DAC; Parmar et al., 2004) was administered to assess how children spent their time after the school day.

The material required for this study were tape recorders, used for recording the interview with parents, and printed questionnaires that parents completed.

The EAS probed attitudes about achievement and performance in three skill areas (i.e., academic, athletic, and artistic/musical), as well as in two social areas (i.e., peer relations and compliance). The scale includes 32 statements, such as "It's important for my preschooler to learn to be good at recognizing letters" and "It's important to me that my preschooler is good at playing with other kids." The items were scored on a Likert-type scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Evidence for the validity of the instrument comes from the Parmar et al. (2004) study highlighting cultural differences in parental beliefs via comparison of a sample of White American parents with a sample of parents of Asian origin (i.e., China, Korea, Pakistan, Nepal, and India) who had been living in the United States for 10 years.

The PPLQ assessed parents' beliefs about the importance of play and learning and their own role in early development (e.g., "Play should not be just for fun," "Young children learn social skills through play," "Parents should only play with their preschoolers when children ask them to do so"). Each item was rated on a 7-point Likert-type scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, with higher scores indicating stronger importance for development.

The DAC was used to assess the after-school daily lives of the children over a 1-week period, using a checklist of activities related to play and learning that parents completed at the end of each day. For every activity of the child recorded, the parent noted who the child was with, where the activity took place, and how long the activity lasted. Because standard school hours in Cyprus run from 7.45 a.m. to 1:05 p.m. (with the exception of very few schools that run until 3:00 p.m. on a pilot trial), it was interesting to investigate which type of activities children occupy themselves with, and for how long and with whom, during the rest of the day. Evidence of the validity of the DAC instrument came from data showing the sensitivity of scores derived from the checklist of variations in culture in the Parmar et al. (2004) study.

The PBI consisted of eight open-ended questions regarding a parent' s beliefs about the importance of play, how play contributes to the development and learning of children, how parents structure the home for the play and learning of children, and parents' expectations regarding preschool and primary grades. Evidence of the validity of the PBI instrument came from observations in each participating family's home in the Parmar et al. study (2004). For the purposes of this study, the PBI was administered at the home of each family and was recorded. The interviews took from 20 to 45 minutes to complete, according to how much each parent was willing or could contribute to each question, and all eight questions were administered. Only the following three questions were used in the analysis of the current study, as these were most pertinent to the topic under investigation: (1) "What do you think is more important for the development of your child?" (2) "In what ways do you think play contributes to the development of your child?" and (3) "What do you think of children's play?"

Based on previous research (Parmar et al., 2004), the methods used for this study were designed to evaluate parental ethnotheories about play and learning and their instantiation in practices at home. In summary, the methods used included structured questionnaires, forms for noting daily activities, and a semistructured interview that could be analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively (Parmar et al., 2004).

RESULTS

The descriptive characteristics of all variables are presented, highlighting mainly the relative importance parents placed on various aspects of children' s development.

Education Attitudes Scale

Twenty-eight of 32 original items used by Parmar et al. (2004) were subject to factor analysis when it was determined that a priori scales were not internally consistent in this sample. Five factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0 guided the generation of 5 subscales reflecting the importance parents placed on academics (6 items: [alpha] = .77), art (3 items: [alpha] = .61), social skills (3 items: [alpha] = .50), compliance (2 items: [alpha] = .50), and athletics (2 items: [alpha] = .61). High scores reflected strong emphasis placed on skill domain. Visual inspection of the variable means and ranges in Table 1 pertaining to parental attitudes indicates that parents placed more importance on academics and less on the areas of development other than compliance, which seemed to be on the higher end of the importance spectrum.

Preschool Play and Learning Questionnaire

For the purposes of this study, respondent ratings of all 25 items were categorized on the basis of their content (i.e., face validity) into three subscales suggested by earlier research (Parmar et al., 2004). Three items were dropped to increase the internal consistency of the three subscales: importance of play for development (9 items: [alpha] = .74), importance of early academics (7 items: [alpha] = .67), and importance of parent's role (6 items: [alpha] = .71). Inspection of Table 1 revealed that parents reported that they considered the importance of play to be slightly higher than that of academics and equally stressed their own role in their children's development.

Daily Activities Checklist

For this study, variables were generated reflecting time spent in eight activities, the first seven of which were also used by Parmar et al. (2004): play, preacademics (e.g., letters, numbers), watching TV, household chores, art and music, books at bedtime, visiting the library, and organized lessons. Close consideration of the information provided by the parents regarding the daily activities of their children revealed that the type of organized play and lessons the children were involved in were more academically oriented, rather than play oriented. Examples included piano lessons and piano practice at home, guitar lessons and practice at home, art lessons with homework at home, and so on. Such activities seemed to take time away from play, rather than constitute actual play activities. Because most, if not all, of the activities that parents listed required that the children pass examinations to proceed to the next level, it was decided not to classify such activities as "play activities," but rather to create the eighth category of "organized lessons." Factor analyses reduced the data to three subscales reflecting hours per week spent in academics/no play (preacademics-organized lessons), TV/chores, and art/music/bedtime stories.

Inspection of Table 1 reveals that children spent more time studying at home and participating in other organized lessons (academics-no-play) rather than playing, watching TV, doing chores (TV & chores), and listening to music and stories.

Parental Belief Interview

Parent's responses to the three questions of the PBI were coded for the occurrence of spontaneously expressed ideas, as they fell into several inductively derived categories. This coding was done from the audiotape recording. Following Parmar et al. (2004), it was assumed that the frequency of mentioning a particular idea or theme reflected its salience or importance for the parents; thus, frequency of mentioning a codable theme was scored in the case of the two questions: (1) "What do you think is more important for the development of your child?" and (2) "In what ways do you think play contributes to the development of your child?" Responses derived from the third question, "What do you think of children's play?," were scored in a manner reflecting the percentage of respondents who mentioned each category.

Regarding what is more important for the development of the child, parents' responses fell easily into six category themes: relationship with parents and stable family life, education and schooling, play, emotional stability and love, morality and manners, and stimulation and socialization. Table 2 provides examples of parental responses that were assigned to each category.

The parent responses to the second question, about what ways they thought play contributed to the development of their children, fell under six categories/themes: cognition/education, general development, social and emotional development, physical development, fun and carefree, and other. Table 3 presents some examples assigned to each of these categories.

Responses regarding the third question to discover what parents thought about children's play were more straightforward than the two above-mentioned questions. Parents answered in a manner that reflected whether they considered play to be important for the development of their children. Examples included "Children must play," "Play is important for their development," "Play is absolutely necessary, lots of hours must be dedicated to play," "Today's children do not play; their programs are so overloaded." Responses were assigned to the following four categories/themes: play is important only if it is linked to education, play is absolutely important for children's development, play is important for children's development, and play is important for development, but children have no time for it.

Upon analysis of the interview data regarding the parent responses to the question of what is most important for their children's development, inspection of the data (Table 4) indicates that the category of play scored very low in importance for the development of children relative to education and schooling, which were mentioned twice as much. Of further note is that a good relationship with their child, as well as a stable family life, was on the top of the Greek/Cypriot parents' list. In response to the question, "In what ways do you think play contributes to the development of your child," Table 4 indicates that cognition and education was one of the most popular answers. The physical contributions of play to the child as well as its fun and carefree aspects were mentioned very rarely.

Table 5 presents coded responses to parents' answers to the third and final interview question: "What do you think of children's play?" As previously mentioned, the responses were coded in terms of spontaneously expressed ideas, from which the four categories indicated in Table 5 were derived. The data have been assembled in a manner to highlight the percentage of respondents who mentioned each category. Inspection of the data in Table 5 shows that a large number of respondents believed that play is "important" for the development of their children and a somewhat smaller number regarded it as "absolutely necessary." A small percentage (8.9%) of parents mentioned that play is important, but children have no time for it.

DISCUSSION

For a long time now, experts have deemed play as important to the growth of the child (Bergen, 1988; Bruner, 1983; Elkind, 1981; Fein & Rivkin, 1986; Piaget, 1962; Vygotsky, 1967). Those adhering to the notion of childhood recognize the need to include time for play in children's lives, with the freedom to explore an environment through movement and talk (Ranz-Smith, 2007). Indeed, one would think that play would enjoy a place of honor in lives of children in Westernized cultures that have traditionally participated in play as a cherished component of appropriate practice (Stone, 1995). Unfortunately, this is not the case. In recent years, children's play has come under serious attack (Zigler & Bishop-Josef, 2006). Such claims have inspired the authors of this work to evaluate parents' attitudes toward play and learning in Cyprus. In a country where families are still very close-knit, it was interesting to examine to what extent family beliefs and practices regarding play and learning have an influence on children's type of education and functioning (Shiakou & Belsky, 2009).

This research demonstrated the cultural basis of beliefs relevant to early childhood education and play in the country of Cyprus derived by Greek/Cypriot parents. As expected, Greek/Cypriot parents rated play to be important for the development of their children (PBI) and to be more valuable in their children's lives than academics (PPLQ). Interestingly, however, this finding only came up when the parents were asked directly about play and its importance to development and academics and its importance to development. When the parents were not "guided" by the questions to talk about, or rate, the importance of play (consider this in the case of the PBI and question "What do you think is more important for the development of your child"), play was spontaneously mentioned the least in comparison to education and schooling, which were mentioned the most along with a stable family life. Furthermore, the strong emphasis on academics was instantiated in the daily home practices of the children. Children spent more time studying at home and involved in organized lessons, like playing the piano or guitar (which required practice of these skills at home) than playing, watching TV, or doing chores and listening to music. Additionally, the creation of an eighth category on the DAC was required given the large amounts of hours children were involved in organized lessons outside of school on a daily basis. Consistent with the amount of time children spent in organized lessons are the beliefs regarding the contribution of play to cognitive development expressed most often by the parents during the interview. It might be the case that Greek/Cypriot parents consider organized lessons, like piano, guitar, art, and karate (mentioned most often), as play activities that contribute to cognitive development.

When parents were asked directly what they thought of children's play, almost all of them reported that it was important for children's development, and a smaller percentage even reported that it was absolutely necessary. These findings are inconsistent not only to other reports by the same parents on the same scale, but also with the home practices of their children, as mentioned above. It is interesting perhaps to consider why it is that though parents in this study considered play to be more important that academics, their very young children spent more time doing academics at home than any other activity, including play. In other words, children in the first years of schooling study more hours than they play per day. This might partly be a school effect, where children are assigned more homework than is appropriate for their age. A recent study by Shiakou and Belsky (2009) revealed that teachers in Greek/Cypriot schools tended to use developmentally inappropriate teaching practices that did not adhere to the individual and age needs of each child. Assigning large amounts of homework to very young children is one such developmentally inappropriate practice, according to Bredekamp and Copple (1997). On the other hand, the evidence in this study that reports children to be spending large amounts of time involved in organized lessons after school might be put down to the culturally shared beliefs of Greek/Cypriot parents regarding what is important and valuable for children's development. Organized lessons and involvement in academic activities seem to be high on their list.

The constellation of related beliefs and practices described in this research provides an example of how the child's culturally structured developmental niche organizes the child's experiences and opportunities for learning over the course of development. More specifically, as expected, Greek/Cypriots considered play to be valuable for the development of children and to be over and above academics. The weekly practices of the children, however, revealed quite the opposite and seemed to resemble the over-scheduled daily programs of Asian and Chinese American children documented in previous research (Huntsinger et al., 1998; Parmar et al., 2004). The daily after-school hours routine of the children and the inconsistent attitudes expressed by the Greek/Cypriot parents so far seem to deemphasize play and make learning the be-all and end-all in children's lives, which can lead to overstressed and overworked young children (Elkind, 1981). Greek/Cypriot parents, particularly with the strong importance they placed on academics in contrast to other areas of development (e.g., art, athletics, and social skills), seem to be proponents of educating the cognitive child versus the whole child. The whole child approach emphasizes development of the whole child, not just its "brain"--hence the cognitive child--and thus focuses on physical, emotional, and social as well as intellectual development (Zigler & Bishop-Josef, 2006). The long-term effects on children's development of such attitudes and practices described in this work are worthy of investigation in future research.

Future research can go one step further and explore how parental beliefs and attitudes toward play and learning are instantiated in practices at home in relation to, for example, provision of toys, organization of home for play and learning, and use of time (Parmar et al., 2004). This will allow the comparison of the constellation of related beliefs and practices of Greek/Cypriot parents with those of parents from other countries. Thus, future research, inspired from this work, can form a study of cross-cultural comparisons of parental beliefs and practices toward play and learning. It would be interesting to see where along the educational and play spectrum Greek/Cypriot parents attitudes lay. Do they lay closer to the academically oriented formal and direct instruction side with little time available for play--which typically describes the views of Asian parents (Huntsinger et al., 1998; Parmar et al., 2004)? Or, do Greek/Cypriot parental attitudes lay closer to the less formal, child-initiated approach side, with play forming an important vehicle for development? The latter description is typical of American parents' views (Parmar et al., 2004). Or do Greek/Cypriot parental attitudes toward play and learning lay somewhere in the middle?

DOI: 10.1080/02568543.2012.739592

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<ADD> Monica Shiakou European University Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus Jay Belsky University of California, Davis, California </ADD>

Submitted May 20, 2011; accepted August 24, 2011.

Address correspondence to Monica Shiakou, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, European University Cyprus, 6 Diogenis Street, Engomi, P.O. Box 22006, 1516 Nicosia, Cyprus. E-mail: m.s iakou@euc.ac.cy
TABLE 1

Means, SD, and Mean Ranges of All Predictor Variables

Variables                            M        SD       Range

EAS-Parents
  Academics                         5.16     0.93    2.00-6.00
  Art                               4.46     0.90    1.00-6.00
  Athletics                         4.70     1.11    2.00-6.00
  Social                            5.00     0.64    2.33-6.00
  Compliance                        5.81     0.53    2.00-6.00

PPLQ
  Importance of play                5.47     0.87    1.78-6.67
  Importance of academics           4.70     0.94    1.43-7.00
  Importance of parent's role       5.45     1.00    1.17-7.00

DAC
  Academics - no play (hours p/w)   6.34     4.36      0-21
  TV & chores (hours p/w)           4.46     3.18      0-18
  Music & stories (hours p/w)       1.83     2.19      0-17

Note. EAS = Education Attitudes Scale; PPLQ = Pre-school Play and
Learning Questionnaire; DAC = Daily Activities Checklist;
p/w = per week.

TABLE 2

Examples of Parent Responses Assigned to Each Category/Theme for the
Question "What Do You Think Is  More Important for the Development of
Your Child?"

Category/Theme                   Examples of Parent Responses

Relationship with parents and    "A balanced family environment and
stable family life               close relationship with siblings
                                 and parents."
                                 "The most important thing is for
                                 children to live in a happy and
                                 healthy home."
                                 "It is important for children to
                                 develop strong and trusting
                                 relationships with their parents
                                 while they are growing."
                                 "Having both parents next to her,
                                 giving her a sense of stability in
                                 her life."

Education and schooling          "I want my child to eagerly take
                                 part in school activities."
                                 "It is important for my child to
                                 receive the right type of education
                                 to help her develop her math and
                                 writing skills."

Play                             "I think that more hours playing
                                 outside [are needed]."
                                 "Play is also very important for the
                                 development of my child."

Emotional stability/love         "Love, which will provide him with
                                 emotional security."
                                 "The most important thing that a
                                 child needs to develop is love."
                                 "Emotional fulfilment and
                                 understanding, I believe will help
                                 develop self-confidence in my
                                 children."

Morality and manners             "Above all, I want my child to
                                 become a functional person in
                                 society with high morals."
                                 "I will try and teach him to be a
                                 good and respected person, with good
                                 manners and high morals."

Stimulation/ socialization       "I try to take them to theaters,
                                 parks, museums, and exhibitions that
                                 will help develop their spirit."

                                 "There should be a lot of stimulation
                                 in his environment, be this toys, TV,
                                 and, most importantly,
                                 other children."

                                 "Peers! Her peers are important, as
                                 they teach her how to behave and
                                 co-exist with other people, as that
                                 is what the real word is all about!"

TABLE 3

Examples of Parent Responses Assigned to Each Category/Theme for the
Question "In What Ways Do You Think Play Contributes to the
Development of Your Child?"

Category/Theme          Examples of Parent Responses

Cognition/education     "Through play, children learn their numbers,
                        letter, and colors. Things that they need to
                        know for school."
                        "Play helps children become effective problem
                        solvers, and increases their concentration
                        span. This helps them with their homework."

General development     "Through play, children make and receive
                        experiences, and develop skills that they
                        will use later in life."
                        "Play enables the child to set goals,
                        and strive to reach them. This prepares
                        them for the future."

Social and emotional    "By playing with others, the child can become
development             part of a group, and learns to function and
                        behave as part of a group."
                        "Children learn a lot by playing with other
                        children. They learn to interact,
                        communicate, and distinguish themselves as
                        individuals."

Physical                "Play is also important for physical
development             development."
                        "All parts of the body must be exercised.
                        The mind, the spirit, and of course
                        the body."

Fun and carefree        "Through play, my son lets off a lot of
                        steam. He gets out of the school system,
                        and there is no discipline. He can relax,
                        enjoy, and have a carefree time."
                        "Play relaxes her as well as entertains
                        her. It's a fun time for her."

Other                   "Play stimulates imagination and creativity."
                        "Play develops a child's perception on life."

TABLE 4
Frequency of Parent Responses on Interview Questions

Frequency of responses                                 l      2      3

Parent responses
  What do you think is more important for the         55      20      5
    development of your child? Relationship with
    parent & stable family environment
  Education and schooling                             49      12      5
  Play                                                19      11      4
  Emotional stability/love                            37       6     13
  Morality/ manners                                   17       8      5
  Stimulation/ socialization                          27       6      5

In what ways do you think play contributes to the
development of your child?
  Cognition /education                                54      34     12
  General development                                 57       2      2
  Social & emotional development                      39      11      6
  Physical development                                16       3      2
  Fun and carefree                                    15       3      2
  Other                                               38       5      0

TABLE 5
Percentage of Parents Responding to the Question "What Do
You Think of Children's Play?"

Parent Responses                                              %

Play is important only if it is linked to education            1.4
Play is important, but children have no time for it            8.9
Play is important for children's development                  70
Play is absolutely important for children's development       19.7
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