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Francis, G. et al. (2019) Do Tangible User Interfaces promote social behaviour during free play? A comparison of autistic and typically-developing children playing with passive and digital construction toys (Journal Article)


Little is known about the extent to which embodied digital mediation may support social engagement between children with or without autism (ASD) in free play settings. This study draws on Affordance theory and Constructionism to investigate social play behaviours associated with use of a Tangible User Interface (TUI) during free play.
The study used a detailed observational and descriptive design. Two groups of children with ASD and two groups of typically developing (TD) children were filmed during a 20-minute play session with either a passive toy, or a digital toy with a TUI. Behaviours were coded according to a scheme based on Parten’s Play States. Data were described in terms of duration, frequency and the likelihood of transition to another state, given the current state.
For TD children, Parallel and Associative were the most frequently observed Play States across both conditions. For those with ASD, Parallel Play and Non-Play-Related Conversation were the most frequent states in the passive condition, while Parallel and Associative Play were the most common in the TUI condition. This group demonstrated a longer duration of co-operative play with the TUI toy compared to TD children. Both groups showed higher frequencies of social play in the TUI condition.
Social play states can be effectively mediated by TUIs for both TD and ASD groups. For the ASD group, repetitive behaviour with a TUI may not be inhibitory to social engagement. Practitioners may consider making TUI enabled toys available during free play opportunities.

January 2019
  • Cooperative play
  • Free play
  • Social play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Gibson, J. et al. (2017) A Systematic Review of Research into the Impact of Loose Parts Play on Children’s Cognitive, Social and Emotional Development (Journal Article)


Loose parts play (LPP) interventions introduce moveable materials and equipment to children’s play spaces to facilitate unstructured, child-led play. Meta-analysis of previous school-based research has shown significant benefits of LPP for physical activity. In the current paper, we review the scope and quality of the quantitative evidence relating to cognitive, social and emotional outcomes. We conducted a systematic search of the literature on LPP interventions for primary school-aged children which used quantitative outcome indicators for cognitive, social and/or emotional development. Studies were screened for inclusion by two independent researchers and reviewed for content, relevant outcomes and quality indicators. Five studies met the review inclusion criteria. Two studies used a randomised controlled trial design, two studies used quasi-experimental design, and one used an observational design. Outcomes measured focused mainly on social development. With the exception of enjoyment, school satisfaction and self-esteem, emotional outcomes were almost entirely absent. No measures of cognitive or academic outcomes were found. For the studies using control groups, few differences between groups were reported, although one study found increased happiness at school and increased odds of reporting being pushed/shoved at playtime associated with intervention. Null results were found for peer acceptance, relational bullying, social competence, social skills, peer group size and psychosocial quality of life. In the non-controlled study, there were observed increases in co-operative play. There is insufficient high-quality, quantitative, empirical evidence available to determine whether or not LPP interventions have an impact on children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. We conclude our review with some recommendations which we hope will assist future research in this promising field.

January 2017
Publisher or Journal:
  • Social-emotional