Vulnerable Children? The Heterogeneity of Young Children’s Experiences in Kenya and Brazil


Deliberate attempts to impart or elicit information relating to:


School (spelling, counting, learning shapes, comparing quantities, colors, etc.)


How things work, why things happen, safety


Appropriate behavior with others, etiquette etc.


Religious or spiritual matters


Household activities (cooking, cleaning, repairing, etc.), shopping, etc.

Play, entertainment

Activities engaged in for their own enjoyment, including:


Play with objects designed specifically for play or manipulation by children

 Natural objects

Play with objects from the natural world, such as rocks, mud, leaves, sand, sticks, etc.

 No object

Play that does not feature any type of object, such as rough and tumble play, chase, word games, singing, etc.

 Adult objects

Play with objects that were not designed for children, such as household objects, games designed for adolescents, etc.

 Pretend play

Play involving evidence that a role is being assumed, whether part of the normal adult world (a mother shopping, a teacher) or purely fantasy (being a super-hero, fantasy figure, or baby)

 Academic object

Play with an object designed with school in mind, such as looking at a book, playing with shapes or numbers, etc., with no lesson involved


Listening to radio, going to a ball-game, circus, etc.


Watching television, video, or DVD, whether school-related, child-­focused, or not designed with children in mind


Talk with a sustained or focused topic about things not the current focus of engagement


Activities such as sleeping, eating, bathing, and those that were uncodable


Engagement in Activities

One of the questions of interest was the extent to which the children in these two cities engaged in similar or different types of activities. However, to put these data into context, we also provide relevant information from the other five cities from which we collected data (Tudge, 2008; Tudge et al., 2006). Looking first at the broadest categories, the children in Kisumu and Porto Alegre were almost as likely to spend their time in play (just under 60 % of the observations), similar to their counterparts in Greensboro (United States) and Tartu (Estonia). They spent less time in play than did children in Suwon (Korea) and Oulu (Finland) but were more than did children in Obninsk (Russia).

There was a good deal more variability across cities in the extent to which the children were observed in lessons, with those in Kisumu observed in this type of activity almost three times as often as were children in Porto Alegre (6 % vs. 2 %). To put these figures into a broader context, children in Obninsk and Tartu were involved in lessons in about 10 % of their observations, those in Greensboro in about 6 % of their observations, and those in Oulu and Suwon in 3–4 % of their observations. Children in Kisumu were involved in conversation in 7 % of their observations, less than those in Porto Alegre (9 %), Greensboro (9 %), Obninsk (10 %), Tartu (11 %), and Oulu (17 %), but more than the children in Suwon (6 %).

Kisumu children were much more involved in work (15 % of their observations) than were their counterparts in Porto Alegre (5 %). However, the children in the remaining cities were observed being involved in work between 8 and 13 % of the observations. Thus, it is difficult to argue that the children in Kisumu were engaged in work to a much greater extent than those in other cities, a finding that does not fit well with what scholars of child rearing in Kenya have traditionally portrayed. Moreover, children in Porto Alegre were less likely to be involved in work than in any city where we collected data, hardly supporting the idea that Majority World children are more likely than those in the Minority World to be involved in work.

On the basis of these data, one might be tempted to say that children in these Kenyan and Brazilian cities engaged in similar types of everyday activities and interactions as did children in cities in other parts of the world and thus hardly seem “vulnerable” or in need of “defending.” After all, they spent the majority of their time in play and were involved in the other activities to similar extents as their counterparts elsewhere. However, before yielding to this temptation, we need to consider (a) variations in the subcategories of each of these activities and (b) within-city variations, as a function of social class.

Across-group differences were seen most clearly in the play objects of Kisumu children (from both social-class groups). They were the only children who played to a similar extent with toys (13 %), objects from the natural world (8 %), with no object at all (9 %), and, most frequently, with objects from the adult world (16 %). For example, children in Kisumu were seen playing with Vaseline containers, bottle tops, an old oil bottle, a tube of toothpaste, old cassette tapes, a spice container, a box of cookies, a walking stick, an abandoned wheel, and innumerable other objects from the adult world. The Kisumu children also played far more with objects from the natural world (leaves, branches, clay) or with no objects at all than did other children (Tudge, 2008; Tudge et al., 2006). Perhaps not surprisingly, they watched television less often, both among the middle-class children (3 % of observations), whose families owned televisions, and working-class children (2 %).

By contrast, middle- and working-class children from Porto Alegre played with similar types of objects as did children elsewhere. For example, they played with toys in about a quarter of our observations and also watched television a lot, in 8 % (middle-class children) and 12 % (working-class children) of our observations. They were far less likely to play with objects from the natural world (1 %), with objects from the adult world (7 %), or with no object at all (4 %).

We were also interested in the extent to which children played with objects that were designed to be relevant to school and learning (looking at books, playing with things that had numbers on them, geometric shapes, etc.). Middle-class children in Kisumu engaged in these activities in almost 7 % of their observations, twice as often as their working-class counterparts and almost twice as often as their middle-­class counterparts in Porto Alegre (3.5 %). The working-class children in Porto Alegre, however, were almost never observed in this type of play (0.3 %), less often than any other group of children. To put these data into broader perspective, middle-­class children in Suwon (Korea) were by far the most likely to have been observed engaged in this type of play (over 14 % of their observations), but their middle-class counterparts in Kisumu played with school-relevant objects more than children from any other group.

A similar pattern was observed when looking at the lessons in which children were involved—particularly school-relevant lessons (providing information or asking questions about numbers, letters or words, time, etc.). The middle-class children in Kisumu were observed more than those in any other group in this type of lesson (4.5 %), whereas the children in Porto Alegre were among the fewest engaged in such lessons (1 % and 0.4 % for the middle-class and working-class children, respectively). To put these data into broader perspective, White middle-class children in the United States are portrayed as being regularly engaged in rather didactic lessons (Rogoff, 1990, 2003; Tudge, 2008). Not only did the middle-class children in Kisumu engage in twice as many such lessons as did children from White middle-­class families in Greensboro (2.2 %), they also did so almost twice as often as their middle-class counterparts in Suwon (2.6 %) and Obninsk in Russia (2.3 %). Middle-­class children in each city were involved in more of these types of lessons than were their working-class counterparts.

Conversations, like all types of lessons, necessarily involve interaction with someone else. The Kisumu children were involved in relatively little conversation with adults, although still more so than the literature on Kenyan child-rearing practices has suggested (around 3 % for both the middle- and working-class Kisumu children). The Porto Alegre children, by comparison, conversed twice as much with adults (8 and 6 %), which was about the median across all groups. However, the Kisumu children were involved in more child-to-child conversation (around 2 %) than were children in any other group, more than twice as often as their Porto Alegre counterparts.

Young middle-class White children in the United States are said to converse a lot with adults, particularly with their mothers (Rogoff, 2003). We found that this group of children from Greensboro was involved in far more conversation with one or more adults (over 11 % of our observations) than were their working-class counterparts (6 %) and more than the two equivalent groups of Black children (3 % and 4 %, respectively). However, this amount of conversation pales by comparison with the Finnish children (almost 12 and 16 % of observations of the middle- and working-­class Oulu children).

The final type of activity in which we were interested was work. Although the children we observed were only 3 years old, many of them were involved in little tasks around the home, and some went on small errands to nearby shops. The literature on child rearing in Kenya suggests that children there are quite heavily involved in work, and, as noted earlier, these Luo children were more involved in work than were children in any other city. However, when looking separately by the social-­class background of their families, only the working-class children were heavily involved in work.

Our measure of work included both participation in and close observation of others working. When we examined only participation in work (doing chores, going to fetch something from a local shop, etc.), we found that the working-class Kisumu children did indeed participate more in work (8 % of their observations) than did children from any other group, but not greatly more so than did children from Obninsk and Tartu (around 6–7 % of their observations). In other words, these Luo children did work, but not to a much greater extent than children from parts of northeast Europe. More interestingly, their middle-class counterparts in Kisumu participated in work in just 2 % of their observations, a proportion that was lower than that of the children in Greensboro and Suwon and very similar to the extent to which children in Porto Alegre participated in work.

The impact of child care. We can understand better why it was that the Kisumu children (but not those from Porto Alegre) engaged in the activities in which they did by looking at where they spent their time. As mentioned earlier, the children were observed everywhere they spent time, and one of the settings in which some of the children were found was a formal child care center.

However, there were some clear social-class differences in both attendance and in child care facilities. Six of the ten Kisumu children from middle-class backgrounds spent more than 20 % of their time in a formal child care setting, whereas only one of the working-class children did so (and his child care setting had materials that were either old or locally constructed). By contrast, in both social-class groups in Porto Alegre, eight of the ten children spent at least this proportion of their time in child care, although the facilities, again, differed greatly by social class. Examining just those children who spent a significant proportion (20 % or more) of their time in child care, those in Kisumu engaged in very different proportions of activities when at child care compared to elsewhere. For example, they spent a much smaller proportion of their time engaged in play when in child care. By contrast, the children in Porto Alegre spent a greater proportion of their time playing while at child care than they did elsewhere (as was also the case for the White children in Greensboro).
Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue

Related Posts

Feb 14, 2017 | Posted by in PEDIATRICS | Comments Off on Vulnerable Children? The Heterogeneity of Young Children’s Experiences in Kenya and Brazil
Premium Wordpress Themes by UFO Themes