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close this bookActivity, Energy Expenditure and Energy Requirements of Infants and Children (International Dietary Energy Consultative Group - IDECG, 1989, 412 pages)
close this folderThe cultural regulation of infant and child activities
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View the documentAbstract
View the document1. Research on culture and child development
View the document2. The developmental niche
View the document3. The regulation of infant state
View the document4. The activities of older infants and children
View the document5. Toward a typology of activities
View the documentReferences

1. Research on culture and child development

Scientific research on the lives of children around the world has been carried out for a variety of purposes since its beginnings in the early twentieth century (HARKNESS and SUPER, 1987b). Although this body of work enables very few specific comparisons of activity level, the results are useful in suggesting the power of both developmental and contextual influences. One specific contribution from this literature to the present discussion is a theoretical framework, the 'developmental niche', for understanding how cultural settings influence children's lives, including their daily activities.

Much early ethnographic information on children's activities was collected in a qualitatively descriptive manner, and it was often incidental to the primary focus on social structures, ceremonial life, and customary practices. Nevertheless, many fine descriptions of the daily life of infants and children can be found in the classics of anthropological field reports, both old and new (e.g., BRIGGS, 1970; FOX, 1967; MALINOWSKI, 1923; MEAD, 1928; B. WHITING, 1963). Recounted in this body of work is a remarkably wide range of activities and restraints, including passive exercise of the limbs by caretakers, protection from overagitation, spontaneous games, quiet crafts, hunting, leisure, organized sports, household chores, agricultural work, ritual learning, and commercial activities.

Some qualitative aspects of child activities have been included in the systematic organization of the descriptive literature into the Human Relations Area Files for cross-cultural or holocultural comparisons (e.g., MURDOCK, 1953; NAROLL, MICHIK, and NAROLL, 1980; WHITING and CHILD, 1953). The lack of comparable quantitative measures for components of child life, however, has proven to be quite restrictive. Fortunately, more focused field studies of children and families in multiple cultures have become more frequent in the past decades, both in anthropology and cross-cultural psychology. WHITING and WHITING's six-culture study (1975) is the paradigm of this kind of research, and its reanalysis and expansion by WHITING and EDWARDS (1988) provides an unusually organized insight into the activities of young children in a number of societies. This work is primarily concerned with the embedded social behaviors, however, and it does not address the physical demands of children's activities. The few comparative studies that do focus on children's 'work' are concerned with the economic contribution of activities, not their expenditure of energy (MUNROE, MUNROE and SHIMMIN, 1984; MUNROE et al., 1983).