alamazoo College

Social Development (PSYC 460)


Idea: Students learn about the development of childrens' social skills through direct observation and interaction with children in school playgrounds, and write an extensive observation report that connects their practical experience with course material from readings and lectures in Dr. Tan's Social Development course at Kalamazoo College.
Procedure: There was a time when it was believed that the primary venue for learning was the classroom, and that the playground was simply a place where children burned off surplus energy or rejuvenated themselves so that they could go about doing "more important things" in the classroom. But contemporary thinking about children's play is that it is of great significance to development. A child's play is a child's work. The playground is an important venue of learning. It is "the classroom without walls," where children learn social social skills that affect every domain of development.

Our Social Development course focus on topics such as: entry skills, play, playground design, aggression, empathy, popularity, shyness and social withdrawal, peer rejection, victimization, bullying, and theory of mind. Throughout the quarter, we cover over 500 pages of advanced readings.

The experiential component to the course is the PLAYGROUND CREW PROJECT. Students in this course form a Playground Crew. Each student devotes approximately 15 hours outside class to be a Playground Assistant in a local school playground. Students then write an extensive observation report, discussing their observations and experience in the context of concepts, theories, and research findings covered in the course. In so doing, they integrate theory and application, and find a real world application for what they have learned.

Thus far, our Playground Crew has devoted over 2,000 hours of playground assistance at local school playgrounds, such as the Woodward School for Technology and Research (WSTaR). Aside from ensuring safety and harmony, members of the Playground Crew help children develop and refine specific social skills such as successful entry strategies, turn-taking, and perspective-taking. It is a mutually rewarding arrangement: The Kalamazoo College students have rich opportunities to interact with children and apply what they have learned, and WSTaR receives much needed assistance in their playground from dedicated and enthusiastic college students.


Playground Observation Reports: Here are some Playground Observation Reports written by Kalamazoo College students. Our reading list changes from year to year, so topics covered and works cited in the reports may vary.

Stephanie Vibbert's Playground Observation Report (Word Version, PDF Version)

Kristin Alt's Playground Observation Report (Word Version, PDF Version)

Kelly Koss' Playground Observation Report (Word Version, PDF Version)

Amber Hodges' Playground Observation Report (Word Version, PDF Version)

What Playground Crew members say about the experience:
"Going to Woodward brings the class to life. No matter how much you read or study the theories of social development, they aren't real or significant until you see them really happening on the playground. The children remind you of why you are taking the class and studying social development."
Katie Miller, K'01

"Working with the children at Woodward provides the opportunity to observe and apply behavior and methods learned about in class while playing with the children. I like the opportunity to break the "K" bubble and have fun doing it! Children provide a hands on learning environment that allow for the education of both parties."
Becca Chaliman, K'03

"Having completed my time at the elementary school I leave better informed about children, and more knowledgeable about theories and concepts associated with developmental psychology. I enjoyed the time I spent at the school because it allowed me to witness in action many of the concepts we had discussed, which gave me a very practical application for models and theories we learned. ...Until you are in a naturalistic setting where the theories emerge on their own, they are just so many words and pages of notes."
Stephen Haedicke, K'03

What Woodward School Principal says about the Playground Crew Project:
"K-College students have truly helped to make a difference through their participation in the playground project, modeling how to positively interact with other children through active engagement in activities. Some K-students joined soccer games and focused on "Good Sportspersonship." They helped children realize that if someone accidentally was kicked, it was not necessarily out of spite. Other K students simply played, listened, and talked to other children on the playground and demonstrated appropriate behaviors. Their guidance and presence on the playground helped children to be actively involved in learning how to get along in a way that was safe and fun. The WSTaR students enjoyed having the K students around and asked for them each day. Both groups of students were able to make meaningful connections, and learned to understand each other a little better."
Beth Yankee, Principal of Woodward School for Technology and Research

Photographs: The Playground Crew members shown here (from top to bottom of page) are: Stephanie Vibbert (K'03, hon.), Katie Miller (K'01), and Bill Tokar III (K'03). Steph Vibbert passed away in January 2003, and we have kept her photograph on our site as a testament to her devotion to children. Steph took the Social Development class in 2001 and volunteered to spend almost twice the number of Playground Crew hours as the course requires, simply because she loved helping others and being with children. (Photographs by Teresa Denton).
Playground Crew Project
Psychology Department
Kalamazoo College
1200 Academy Street
Kalamazoo MI 49006
Phone: (269) 337-7331

Web site designed by Paul W. Jeffries
This site was last updated April 20, 2004