Open Access
Cheng, Mei-Fang
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 18, 2011
Committee Members:
  • James Ewald Johnson, Dissertation Advisor
  • James Ewald Johnson, Committee Chair
  • Robert Lee Burgess, Committee Member
  • Vivian Yenika Agbaw, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Rama B Radhakrishna, Committee Member
  • socio-cultural perspective
  • children's play
  • self-regulation
  • executive function
  • theory of mind
  • early childhood education
Play has been recognized for its importance to children’s development. In addition, self-regulation has been found to be associated with school readiness and future success. Research has supported that play is a vital context for the development of self-regulation. This study adopted a socio-cultural perspective to examine the relationship between play and self-regulation in Taiwanese young children. The research questions are as follows: 1. What is the developmental status of cognitive self-regulation, i.e., executive function and theory of mind, for Taiwanese 4- to 5-year-old children? 2. What is the developmental status of behavioral self-regulation, measured by observations in group time and teacher evaluations, for Taiwanese 4- to 5-year-old children? 3. What are the play types of Taiwanese 4- to 5-year-old children? 4. How are teachers involved in play and how do children react to teachers’ involvement? 5. Is there any relationship between specific types of play and executive function in Taiwanese 4- to 5-year-old children? 6. Is there any relationship between specific types of play and theory of mind in Taiwanese 4- to 5-year-old children? 7. Is there any relationship between specific types of play and behavioral self-regulation in Taiwanese 4- to 5-year-old children? A correlational design was used in this study, in which fifty 4- to 5-year-old typically developing Taiwanese young children participated. However, due to different social ecologies in the classroom age-grouping, data for only 34 children were analyzed in the study. The data collection began in May 2009 and ended in January 2010. Two phases were involved—the preparation phase and the data collection phase. In the latter phase, five procedures were involved: (1) observing children’s play behaviors in free play, (2) observing teacher involvement in children’s play and children’s responses in free play, (3) conducting two executive function tasks, two theory of mind tasks, and assessing children’s verbal ability, (4) observing children’s self-regulation behaviors in group time, and (5) teacher ratings of behavioral self-regulation for each participating child. The measures employed in this study included the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Taiwanese version Form A, the Modified Social/Cognitive Scale of Play Behaviors, the Executive Function Battery, the Theory of Mind Battery, the Self-Regulation Coding System, and the Self-Control Rating Scale. Descriptive and correlation statistics were used to analyze the data in the study. This study revealed seven results: 1. Taiwanese children aged 4 to 5 demonstrated an advanced development in the executive function tasks, but were slower in their theory-of-mind understanding compared to their American counterparts. 2. Taiwanese children aged 4 to 5 were attentive in group time in general and were assessed as controlling their impulsivity well by their classroom teacher after one semester of observation. 3. Taiwanese children aged 4 to 5 tended to perform sophisticated social levels of play like group play, and higher cognitive levels of play like constructive and dramatic play. 4. Teachers were not involved in children’s play most of the time. This might relate to the fact that there was no free-play time in the arrangement of the daily schedule, and that teachers had to deal with administrative responsibilities or talk to parents during the time of observation. 5. A lack of relationship between executive function and any type of play was due to a ceiling effect on children’s executive function tasks. 6. A positive relationship between two dramatic play types and theory-of-mind understanding might reflect some shared meta-representations existing, and also that they can reinforce each other. 7. Unexpectedly, a negative association between group play and teacher evaluation was found. This might reflect an early stage of group play and the Chinese cultural pursuit of “a silent child.” Although this was an exploratory study, it contributes to the following areas: to provide culturally persuasive evidence to support a play pedagogy in Taiwan; to provide timely results to inform ECE research; to give an example to study from a socio-cultural perspective; to provide a research by using multi-measures and multi-sources; and to inspire further thinking about the influence of Chinese cultural values. Several modifications regarding the limitations in this study were suggested for future studies. Recommendations for educators and parents were proposed as well: paying more attention to children’s socio-emotional development, and adopting a dramatic-play pedagogy to provide a great path for intrinsically-motivated self-regulation in a joyful environment.