Preschoolers at Playground


Play is important for social competence


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Children’s interactions at the school playground are believed to be a rich learning opportunity for social skills during preschool years. But is there a certain kind of social play that facilitates the development of social competence? In order to find out, developmental psychologists Carolien Rieffe (Leiden University) and Guida Veiga (University of Évora, Portugal) joined forces with the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS, Joost Kok, Arno Knobbe and Ricardo Cachucho) to investigate this.


Sensor technique

Traditionally, research on playground dynamics is based on parents’ and teachers’ observations. Rieffe (who is part of the Leiden Centre of Data Science) and Veiga, however, decided to use a different method. The researchers wanted to obtain a broader and more accurate perspective on children’s play, without intruding on their space and affecting their behaviour. In collaboration with researchers from the Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science (Joost Kok, Arno Knobbe and Ricardo Cachucho), an innovative sensor technique was used, based on radio-frequency identification devices (RFID). These sensors, which can be clipped on a child’s coat or shirt, enable the continuous registration of spatial proximity.

Different forms of play

A total of 73 preschoolers (4-6 years old) wore the RFID sensors during class recess time. Additionally, their interactions at the playground were assessed through video observation. By using this combination of methods, the researchers were able to collect large amounts of data on the frequency and duration of interactions, group size and different forms of play - such as role play, exercise and rough-and-tumble. The data was compared with assessments of children’s social competence, provided by teachers.

Free playtime

The results of the study emphasized the importance of physical play for children’s social competence. The RFID data showed that children were also more socially competent when playing in smaller peer groups. These findings also have pedagogical implications, Rieffe says: ‘While there seems to be a trend of replacing children’s unstructured free playtime with academic activities, the outcomes of our study show the importance of free exercise play. Preschool institutions’ focus on academic achievements should not deprive children from the developmentally rich opportunities they can have during outdoor recess.’



Short film on the Project

NL: Twee jaar gelden zijn wij het schoolplein project gestart. Een project met als doel om de sociale inclusie van leerlingen met autisme te vergroten. In deze korte video leggen wij het project uit en laten zien wat er tot nu toe allemaal is gebeurd. Daarnaast geven wij ook informatie over lopende deelprojecten. Ben jij benieuwd of wil jij misschien ook meedoen, kijk dan naar de video

EN: The schoolyard project started two years ago. It aims to increase social inclusion of autistic pupils at schools. In this short video, we give an overview of the project and show what we have been able to do so far. Besides, we outline the present and upcoming plans within the project. Are you curious to know more or would you like to participate, watch the video. 


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News Archive Play

An angering friend in VR

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Two master students in Media Studies at the department for Computer Science (LIACS, Leiden University), Pieter Rohrbach and Nesse van der Meer, developed a VR game for the Focus on Emotion lab (Carolien and Marieke Bos) with which older children and young teenagers can practice their anger regulation with an avatar in a virtual reality setting. Read the interview (in Dutch), also with Robin de Lange, supervisor of Pieter and Nesse at Media Studies.

Designing a smart city together


How can we make clever use of new technologies to improve quality of life in cities? The answer is in the NL Smart City Strategy, which our prime minister Mark Rutte officially received on January 25th. Three professors from Leiden University - Carolien Rieffe, Joost Kok and Wessel Kraaij - gave advice.You can read the complete news item here (in Dutch) or here (in English)


Talk on Free Play at Kennis Café

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Children use a substantial part of the day to play. Play is not only fun, but also important for children’s development in many ways. December 12, Carolien was a guest at the ‘Kennis café’ in the Balie in Amsterdam, which is organized monthly in collaboration with KNAW, the Volkskrant, and science museum NEMO. After an opening in which a columnist expressed his antipathy for playing, the discussion with the four invited guests concentrated on the importance of play, the role of the toy industry on gender stereotyping, gaming, and new developments in play research. The evening can be followed (in Dutch) through this link.

Debate on virtual reality and empathy

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On 23 November 2016, Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam organised a debate about the impact that Virtual Reality and/or Augmented Reality can have on creating awareness and evoking empathy for other life circumstances, backgrounds, or cultures. Carolien was one of the speakers, and she discussed the possible impact of the game on children’s emotion regulation and empathic understanding. This blog gives an insight of what was discussed:

 The Smartest Innercity idea won by Leiden and Évora!

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The project on leisure time at the playground won the public prize for Smartest Innercity. The project is a collaboration between the team in at Leiden University (psychology and computer science), and the University of Évora in Portugal. Congratulations Carolien, Guida, Joost, Arno, and Ricardo! To know more about the Award and the project, please see the news article posted by the university here (in Dutch) or here (in English).

Grant for Virtual Reality game

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In collaboration with Shosho, a film and game studio in Amsterdam, Carolien and Karin (Dutch Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Child) received a grant from the Foundation for the Handicapped Child and the Revalidation Foundation to develop a Virtual Reality game for emotion regulation.The aim of this game will be to train young children with problems in their emotion regulationthrough solving puzzles with a virtual friend. The game will be suitable for children of different clinical groups, such as children with hearing loss or language impairments.

Carolien's pitch 2nd in contest for HoloLens


On the 20th of July, Carolien participated in the Ordina HoloLens Contest together with Joost Kok (LIACS). Participants could pitch their ideas for practical applications of the HoloLens - a pair of Augmented Reality glasses developed by Microsoft. 

Carolien’s idea was to explore the possibilities of using the HoloLens as a tool for emotional development. Most children develop emotional intelligence by practicing social situations (arguing, winning and losing, negotiating) with others. However, children with autism, hearing impairments, or language impairments are often faced with social isolation, which limits their possibilities for peer interactions, especially in groups, and in turn, develop emotional intelligence. Augmented Reality may offer new opportunities for these children: by using a HoloLens, a virtual friend can be created with whom they can practice social situations over and over again.  The audience of the contest was enthusiastic about Carolien’s pitch: they granted it a 2nd place, right behind Amsterdam Medical Center (AMC), which will be using the HoloLens for cancer research.