Lights hanging inside the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center

Carolyn Dienhart

Major: Psychology
Topic: An investigation of informal play in children
Faculty Mentor:

Dr. John Tauer

For the last two years I have conducted research on formal play, or structured play, and informal play, or unstructured play.  Formal play occurs when children are playing sports with coaches and are given direction in an organized environment. Informal play occurs when children simply decide to play at a park or in their backyard with friends in an unorganized setting.  The reason we have focused on this topic is that there is much research in psychology that points to autonomy, or freedom, being a critical part of motivation. Because sports have become so structured in the past few decades, we are concerned that children may be becoming less motivated to not only play sports, but to play outside and engage in physical activity.  In our first study we found that exposing children to informal play resulted in increased enjoyment and perceived value in informal play. In a second study we found that parents were most concerned with safety when it came to informal play.  Therefore, we believe that increasing safety and promoting informal play could help to motivate children and help them have the best experiences possible in sports.

What was your favorite part of the project?

My favorite part of the project was being able to work alongside a professor and see all the detail and planning that goes into good research.  I also enjoyed finding significant results and seeing the benefits of my work.

Why did you choose St. Thomas?

I chose St. Thomas because I believe St. Thomas encourages people to be well-rounded individuals.  Although academics are very important, I think the school places a lot of value on the social aspects of college and the entire college experience.