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Study information

The Psychology of Play

Module titleThe Psychology of Play
Module codePSY3457
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Rachel Nesbit (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Play is essential to childhood and is protected in the UN Convention of the Right of Child. This module will consider the relation between play and child outcomes, including cognition, education, and mental health. Throughout this module we will explore the changing landscape of play, how play is used for interventions and the role of play in learning. The module will use a combination of lectures from the module convenor, but will require you to actively engage in in-class discussions, presentations, and debates. No prior knowledge is needed to take this module. This module is suitable for inter-disciplinary pathways – and may be of particular interest to students wishing to pursue careers working with children and/or in an educational context.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will provide you with knowledge and critical understanding of the role of play in development, behaviour, and health. The module aims to explore in depth the relationship between play and cognition, social development, mental health, and education. In addition, you will examine the impact of the social (societal beliefs, norms, attitudes) and physical environment (space, access) on opportunities for play.

This module will involve interactive elements, including group discussions, presentations, and debates. There will also be a focus on developing skills in science communication, including the importance of communicating with parents, schools, and policy makers.

Through attending the weekly seminars and completing assessments, you will develop the following academic and professional skills:

  • problem solving (linking theory to practice, developing your own ideas with confidence, showing entrepreneurial awareness, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems)
  • time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group)
  • collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose), and
  • audience awareness and science communication (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions, writing for different audiences e.g., parents/government).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe and evaluate research on the relation between children’s play and their cognition and social development
  • 2. Describe and evaluate research on the relation between children’s health, including physical and mental health
  • 3. Describe and evaluate how the environment may be related to children’s opportunities for play

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Acquire an understanding on how research can be communicated to different stakeholders and demonstrate this in assessments
  • 5. Review and critically evaluate published work and identify the strengths and weaknesses of this work and structure this literature to present logical, coherent, and sustained arguments to support conclusions at an advanced level
  • 6. Acquire detailed, systematic and comprehensive knowledge within the discipline, with in-depth specialisation at the forefront of the discipline in certain areas and demonstrate advanced critical understanding of this knowledge and of the limits and provisional nature of this knowledge

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Interact effectively and supportively within a learning group
  • 8. Manage your own learning using the full range of resources of the discipline and with minimum guidance
  • 9. Engage effectively in debate in a professional manner and produce detailed and coherent written work
  • 10. Develop skills in science communication
  • 11. Communicate your own thoughts and ideas in response to the ideas of others in a succinct and engaging way

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Play, cognition and social development
  • Play and health
  • Play in adolescents and adulthood
  • Play and evolution – Animal play
  • Play therapy
  • Risky play
  • Play in education
  • The role of adults in children’s play
  • The changing landscape of play
  • Theories of Play

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching33Seminars (11x3)
Guided Independent Study82Preparation for seminars and wider reading
Guided Independent Study35Preparation for assessments and examinations

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Small-group discussions during seminars11 seminarsVerbal feedback
Small-group presentations/debates during seminars11 seminarsVerbal feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination603 hoursAllFinal mark
Science communication piece (Parent information leaflet or letter to government) or Essay402000 wordsAllWritten

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Examination (60%), 3 hoursExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
Science communication piece (Parent information leaflet or letter to government) or Essay (40%), 2000 wordsScience communication piece (Parent information leaflet or letter to government) or EssayAllAugust ref/def

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the examination you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. Where you have been referred/deferred in the coursework you will be required to resubmit the coursework. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.

Please refer to the TQA section on Referral/Deferral:

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

A list of recommended readings for each topic will be circulated at the beginning of the course. Most of the research discussed will be drawn from journal articles.


The following textbook will provide good background reading to the general topics covered:

  • Pellegrini, A. D. (2009). The role of play in human development. Oxford University Press, USA.



The following journal articles will provide more focussed reading on specific topics:

  • Barros, R. M., Silver, E. J., & Stein, R. E. (2009). School recess and group classroom behavior. Pediatrics123(2), 431-436.
  • Brussoni, M., Gibbons, R., Gray, C., Ishikawa, T., Sandseter, E. B. H., Bienenstock, A., ... & Tremblay, M. S. (2015). What is the relationship between risky outdoor play and health in children? A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health12(6), 6423-6454.
  • Clements, R. (2004). An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemporary issues in early childhood5(1), 68-80.
  • Dodd, H. F., FitzGibbon, L., Watson, B. E., & Nesbit, R. J. (2021). Children’s play and independent mobility in 2020: results from the British Children’s Play Survey. International journal of environmental research and public health18(8), 4334.
  • Pellegrini, A. D., Dupuis, D., & Smith, P. K. (2007). Play in evolution and development. Developmental review27(2), 261-276.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE – Faculty to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Indicative learning resources - Other resources


Key words search

Psychology, play, play and cognition, risky play, play and health

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date