The role of preacademic activities and adult-centeredness in mother-child play in educated urban middle-class families from three cultures

Joscha Kärtner, Antje von Suchodoletz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study analyzes similarities and differences in cultural beliefs about mother-child play and their manifestation in maternal and children's play practices in three different educated urban middle-class cultures. Based on the general assumption that mother-child play is an important context for child learning and development in educated urban middle-class communities that should result in cross-cultural similarities in mother-child play, the current study also hypothesized culture-specific accentuations, namely a stronger emphasis on preacademic vs. non-academic play activities and on adult-centered vs. child-centered modes of interaction in Chennai, India, (n = 28) than in Münster, Germany, (n = 35) and New York City (NYC), USA, (n = 36). Maternal goals and strategies were assessed in semi-structured interviews and mothers from Chennai emphasized play goals and preacademic goals to similar degrees, whereas mothers from Münster and NYC accentuated play goals. In line with their emphasis on preacademic goals and strategies, Chennai mothers showed significantly more preacademic activities during play with their 2-year-olds, especially explicit teaching. Furthermore, Chennai mothers’ stronger emphasis on play directives and children's higher levels of responsive play complemented the pattern of more adult-centered beliefs and practices. In contrast, mothers from Münster and NYC were more likely to emphasize child-centeredness, with significantly more goals revolving around child immersion in play activities and autonomy-supporting play practices, including autonomous exploration, toddlers’ leadership and control, and maternal responsiveness. Unexpectedly, toddlers from NYC engaged the most in preacademic activities, especially responding to maternal quizzing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101600
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Adult-centeredness
  • Cross-cultural similarities and differences
  • Mother-child play
  • Preacademic activities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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