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The instrumental nature of play and its role in development has been the focus of research for a long time, especially in the case of children with special needs. Existing literature presents contradictory opinion on how play of preschool children with Intellectual Disability (ID) differs from their typical peers, based on comparison of their play skills and complexity. Moreover, the experiential and affective aspects of play-activity, as distinct from play skills for children with ID, still remain under-studied. There is also a gap in existing knowledge on designing for play of these children, with lack of theoretical frameworks and guidelines for design practitioners. The present thesis uses design research to bridge some of these gaps in the domain of play, special needs and design practice. The main objective of the present thesis is to study the relationship between design characteristics of play artefacts/activities and observed playfulness of preschool children with mild to moderate ID. Playfulness has been used as a handle to account for the experiential and affective components of play activity and an assessment framework has been developed over the course of the thesis, based on Sanderson’s (2010) construct.
The thesis follows a sequential, exploratory mixed-methods design, considering the lack of existing literature on studying play experience in a special school setting in India. Following a set of pilot studies, the exploratory phase constitutes of an interventional study where play interactions of children with a variety of age-appropriate toys are analyzed in a free play context using a qualitative analytical framework derived from Classical grounded theory (Glaser, 1998). Among other rich insights, a set of five generalizable design characteristics have been identified which seem to have a significant positive effect on playfulness, termed as generative playfulness dimensions. These dimensions are defined as design guiding principles which could be used to predictably enhance the playfulness in play interactions across different contexts. They comprise of: narrative, player’s movement, showcase outcome, interactivity and player’s agency. Selected dimensions are further validated by operationalizing them individually and in combination, in the toy design across the unexplored application context of challenge-based play context in the validation phase using an experimental, quantitative research framework. A significant contribution of the thesis is to establish these principles using a rigorous methodology based on empirical data, unreported earlier. Apart from these dimensions, several useful properties of the dimensions have emerged which address novel and non- intuitive aspects of play preferences, like level of preferred repetition in narrative, or threshold for persisting in challenge-based play, etc. With the perspective of a design activist, a number of useful actionable insights have also been reported for design practitioners and facilitators. A playfulness assessment framework has been developed which could be used to compare individual play episodes and observe the effect of interventions. Lastly, an initial proposal is made for a model useful for design practitioners to control the features in toy design using the dimensions and aid in the idea generation process for developing playful solutions, which would need further validation.
Design Office 203,
IDC School of Design,