The observation took place at a local playground in a nearby park, because I felt that this would be the most comfortable, and therefore the most conducive environment for gathering the information I needed unobtrusively. I also chose this venue because according to renowned Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, playing is a critical part of the development process -- it enhances social exchanges, teaches a child patience such as how to wait their turn and inspires creative thinking and problems solving (Piaget, 1963).
I sat on a bench and my attention almost immediately went to a young girl with short brown hair who seemed to be about 4 years old. She had just arrived with a woman I assumed to be her mother, and she was quick to get into the action. I decided to name her "Lydia" for this purpose of this observation report. "Lydia's" attention turned quickly to a group of 2 young girls (approximately 6-7 years old) playing together on the swings. One girl was pushing the other on the swing while Lydia swung next to them alone. It was obvious that she was a peripheral part of this group but she inserted herself into the fold by taunting the other swinger's inability to swing higher than her even though she was being pushed. I sensed a tone of resentment in the Lydia's voice, which caused me to wonder if perhaps she resented that the other girl is getting "help" while she is left to fend for herself. It is as if she was determined to let everyone know that she doesn't need anyone's help to be "the best." This reminded me of Albert Bandura's (1986) theory of self-efficacy, in which striving to prove that you can do things yourself plays a large role in the development process. Lydia definitely seemed determined to prove that she was self-sufficient.
The notion that Lydia might have felt resentment toward the other children is a likely scenario when examining it within the context of Piaget's description of the preoperational period, which is where Lydia falls developmentally (2-6 years old). In this stage, according to Piaget, children are not fully skilled at problem solving or at attempts to fully understand the world around them. Therefore it is possible that Lydia's verbal and motor skills are ahead of her social skills, which could cause her to try to 'make trouble'. The girls she was taunting did not seem bothered and made a few "nuh uh" and "whatever" type comments and then continued with their activity as if Lydia was not there. Lydia then quickly tired of the swinging and moved on.
Her next activity was the slide, which presented another example of Lydia trying to fit in with the older children, but failing at the task. The need for belonging is part of Abraham Maslow's (1970) hierarchy of needs, and while Lydia seems very young, she definitely seemed to exhibit this need during my observations. There was a young boy whom I would estimate to be around six years old who was, with two other boys and one girl, all of whom seemed to be around eight years old, getting in line repeatedly to go down the big slide. Several times, I saw the older children push Lydia out of the way and climb the ladder to the slide in front of her when it was her turn.
Perhaps because of the earlier negative response from the swingers, Lydia actually seemed rather shy despite her aggressiveness in joining the other children, did not speak out against being pushed out of the way and just quietly took her turn when there was no one their to deter her. This could be, as Piaget asserts, part of the process of learning patience, however it could also be based on a lack of assertiveness rooted in low self-esteem. According to Maslow, low-self-esteem is often a byproduct of a blocked attempt at self-actualization. As Scotton, Chinen and Battista (1996) explain, "Self-actualized persons are reality-oriented, accept themselves and others, enjoy solitude, operate autonomously, and appreciate life" (p. 53). Lydia is obviously far too young to have reached this higher level state of development, however the striving for this state is a lifelong endeavor.
I was actually tempted to intervene, since the other children's parents seemed oblivious to the situation, and if I had not been there to be an unobtrusive observer, I just might have reprimanded the older children for bullying a little girl. However I was aware how important it was to remain completely objective and have no manipulative influence on the situation if I were to do what I came there for, which was to gather important observational data. Fortunately, I accomplished this goal successfully.
While Piaget divided childhood development into different stages, he still viewed children as unique and acknowledged that their actions are dependent not only on where they are in his developmental model, but also the experiences they have had up to that point in their lives. Perhaps this is the reason that, since the older children did not seem to be interested in playing with Lydia, she then turned to someone her own age -- someone less likely to reject or ignore her. A little girl of about 3-4 years old seemed to have trouble getting an outfit onto a Barbie doll and Lydia came over and helped her. There was no in-fighting or conflict, they worked together well to get the dress on the doll and seemed mutually happy with the results. I noticed several times that Lydia looked to her mother for my approval while she was helping the girl. It was as if she wanted to make sure that her good deed did not go unnoticed. This action could easily be equated with the behavioral theories of B.F. Skinner, who demonstrated that people repeat behaviors based on their likelihood to receive a reward (Corey, 2009). Of course I cannot get inside her head and know exactly what her motivations were in any of her actions. I can only observe and analyze to the best of my ability.
According to Piaget, our intellectual as well as physical development is based on our ability as biological organisms to adapt to our environment. Adaptation means adjusting to the environment in order to meet our needs. For example, through the process of evolution certain animals have grown fur to adjust to a changing climate. Infants learn not to touch things that are hot. Adaptation, then, involves two interrelated ideas: assimilation and accommodation. In a cognitive sense, assimilation is the process by which we are actively involved in absorbing anything around us, such as ideas, objects, events, and so forth. A toddler assimilates things by putting anything and everything within his reach into his mouth. From these experiences he will accommodate or learn what he likes and dislikes. The process of accommodation will also allow him to determine what is harmful and must be avoided.
Lydia seems to have advanced through this stage of development, which was demonstrated in her adaptation and assimilation of her environment when forgoing the rejection of the older children for the acceptance of a child her own age. She learned quickly that one situation was not producing favorable results so she adapted her actions and choices toward actions that were more likely to work in her favor. Initially, she tried to do the same thing by switching from the swings to the slide, but the problem was that she changed the wrong variable. It was not the location of the children or the activity they were participating in that caused her to feel excluded, but rather the age of the children. Perhaps subconsciously she realized this after her second failure at acceptance at the slide, and adapted…