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Building spaces for play: How mothers design and explore new play environments with pre-walking and walking infants

Schneider, Joshua Lawrence (2024) Building spaces for play: How mothers design and explore new play environments with pre-walking and walking infants. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The physical environment is the backdrop for infant development. Yet researchers know little about how infants’ spaces come to be. For infants, play spaces are typically structured by caregivers who choose objects, furnishings, and their organization. As infants’ locomotor skills develop so does their agency for engaging with space. Learning to walk, for example, changes how infants interact within the environment. Compared to pre-walkers, walkers move more, travel more, and spend more time playing at a distance from caregivers. As a result, caregivers likely update the arrangements of infants’ spaces in response to an advancing repertoire for action. But how do caregivers build spaces for infant play? Does infant motor ability shape the spaces caregivers construct? This dissertation introduced a novel paradigm to examine how mothers of pre-walking and walking infants created a new play space and engaged in play in different environments. We observed 52 12-month-old infants (35 pre-walkers, 17 walkers) and their mothers. Mothers were asked to design a playroom using a set of building blocks in an empty room. We examined relations among infants’ locomotor status, mothers’ design choices, and patterns of infant and mother behavior during play (eight minutes in an identically organized, standard playroom; eight minutes in mother-designed playrooms). Mothers built spacious playrooms for pre-walkers (multiple constructions spanning a large area) and concentrated playrooms for walkers (one construction covering a small area). In the standard playroom, walkers moved more, traveled more, and engaged in more complex patterns of interpersonal distance to mothers compared to pre-walkers. Mothers directed similar amounts of language and gesture to infants, but communicated more frequently while infants were moving. In mother-designed playrooms, patterns of infant and mother behavior were similar. Differences in mothers’ playroom design (indexed by built area) only related to one behavior: infants generated more room layout changes (by moving blocks) when playrooms were larger. Taken together, this study expands our understanding of how infant motor development shapes caregiver behavior by extending connections to spatial construction. Most importantly, we contribute new insights about the dynamics of infant and caregiver behavior as a process embedded in the physical environment.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Schneider, Joshua Lawrencejls438@pitt.edujls4380000-0003-0635-0987
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLibertus,
Committee CoChairIverson,
Committee MemberLibertus,
Committee MemberVortuba-Drzal,
Committee MemberGill,
Date: 9 January 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 18 October 2023
Approval Date: 9 January 2024
Submission Date: 23 October 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 123
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: developmental cascades; gesture input; locomotor exploration; infant walking; language input; spatial design
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2024 19:25
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2024 19:25


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