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«Abstract Early Childhood Pedagogical Play re-theorizes the relationship of pedagogy and play as pedagogical play which we suggest is characterised by ...»

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Chapter 2

Re-theorising Play as Pedagogical


Early Childhood Pedagogical Play re-theorizes the relationship of

pedagogy and play as pedagogical play which we suggest is characterised by

conceptual reciprocity (a pedagogical approach for supporting children’s academic

learning through joint play) and agentic imagination (a concept that when pre-

sent in play, affords the child’s motives and imagination, a critical role in learning

and development). We bring these new concepts to life using a cultural-historical approach to analysis of play, supported in each chapter by the use of case studies with visual narratives used as a research method for re-theorising play as being pedagogical.

Keywords Conceptual reciprocity · Agentic imagination · Culturally diverse · Playful event · Role play · Play theorists · Institutional practices · Political landscape of play

2.1 Introduction At this point we draw attention to the Chap. 2 illustration because it represents our cultural-historical approach in action; an approach that involves accounting for inclusive and culturally diverse thinking. Being three authors writing together, we use widely varied examples, including transcripts and visual images from our orig- inal research, to narrate, illustrate and support our analysis of play as learning. In the process of collaboratively writing each chapter of this book, the multiple per-

spectives represented in the illustration lead us to discuss the following question:

What is a cultural-historical approach to analysing pedagogical play?

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2015 5 A. Ridgway et al., Early Childhood Pedagogical Play, DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-475-7_2 2 Re-theorising Play as Pedagogical 6 When a cultural-historical approach is applied to understanding pedagogical play we always include the whole context of a playful event. We acknowledge the presence of the child’s cultural context in order to bring better understanding of their play. Children from different countries, will play differently for many rea- sons that may include levels of provision of resources, local cultural beliefs about play and specific pedagogical practices. The inclusion and acknowledgement of social, cultural and historical contexts gives viability and value to understanding play from both child and adult perspectives which we believe is important for the child’s learning and development. In our thinking about pedagogical play we also include the relationships that children and adults have with human and non human others and any connections with artefacts and the material environment.

Over the last decade notable cultural-historical scholars including (Elkonin 2005a, b; Kravtsova 2008; Hedegaard 2005, 2008; Gonzalez Rey 2011; Fleer 2010; van Oers 2013a) inspired by Vygotsky’s translated works (1929, 1966a, 1978, 1987, 1994, 1998, 2004) have each turned their research attention to matters around young children’s learning and development. It is interesting to note that Vygotsky’s theories were formed in a period of great social change that followed the Russian Revolution of 1917. In this time Vygotsky immersed himself in an intellectual and cultural life where his ideas were expressed and exchanged with European and Western cultures. This was also the time of great cultural richness and intellectual flowering in Russia, a time in fact, when Pasternak created poetry, Shostakovich composed, Chagall painted, Diagliev danced, Eisenstein filmed, Pavlov researched stimulus-response in dogs, Nabokov produced novels and Vygotsky proposed his theory of social formation of mind. The growing impact of Vygotsky’s legacy and the historical relevance of his work have been written about by many scholars including Cole (1995), Edwards and D’Arcy (2004) and Veresov (2006). Vygotsky’s work is based on the application of the Marxist dialectical historical material approach, which focuses on the historical, cultural and social roots of cognition and emotion development, asserting that a person’s development must be effective within the cultural-historical environment.

Taking a cultural-historical approach to the task of re-theorising play as pedagogical also means accounting for different environments, cultural beliefs and the effect and affect of these on children’s learning and development. Bert van Oers has focused for example on pedagogical value in playful activity. His work showed effective learning in early childhood as being a characteristic of shared playful activity (van Oers 2013a, b). Van Oers re-conceptualised role-play on the basis of cultural-historical theory, rejecting developmentalism and proposed the relevance of role play for cultural development. He urged educators to guide young children, encourage choices and question themselves as to what is the best they can offer to children in their professional work. In order to emphasize the important pedagogical value of educators and children playing in roles (where personal and social rules may be enacted), van Oers also brought attention to the notion of degrees of freedom evident in choices made when a role is being played.

He showed that playful activity involved negotiation between participants and any negotiation can be a site for pedagogical opportunity.

2.1 Introduction 7

In thinking about playful activity he wrote:

it is definitely important to study both adults’ and children’s perspectives on activities that are theoretically construed as play. In particular, further studies are needed on how decisions and evaluations of rules, allowed degrees of freedom, and involvement are negotiated, both by adults and children (van Oers 2013b, p. 196).

Hedegaard et al. (2012) represent examples of cultural-historical scholars whose research builds on the seminal work of Russian scholar Lev Vygotsky (1896–1938). Hedegaard et al. (2012) found in their research (particularly with children from immigrant families), that learning happens when activities change the social relations in a pedagogical practice and thereby give further possibilities for new activities. She takes the view that development occurs when learning takes place across different institutional practices (and this includes the home as a place of ‘institutional practices’) and qualitatively changes the relations in all practices the child has participated in. When using a cultural-historical approach in research we look for the changes in context and relations evident in children’s play activity in order to find where and if learning happens.

2.2 Why Use Cultural-Historical Theory Today?

One of the strong reasons for using cultural-historical theory is that it is not a reductive or static theory but renewable and expansive. Cultural-historical theory has conceptualized human development in relational and open-ended terms, and this, represents a fresh world-view for research into child development.

The intention of this book is to take a cultural-historical approach to thinking about play and learning. It became clear in our research that learning, as Vygotsky (1978) had proposed, was much more than a process that took place in individual minds; it was a social phenomenon based in the external circumstances of the child’s everyday life and times.

Vygotsky argued that the dynamic developmental process resulted from the individual’s interactions in the social and cultural context, which is the fundamental difference between human beings and animals (Minick 1987). The social interaction is a key concept of a cultural-historical approach. At times, visual narratives are used throughout this book to help illustrate children’s social interaction with others in play and develop our analysis of children’s play experiences in their daily life circumstances including participation across different institutional contexts (home, centre/school, community). Our examples help to re-shape, change, enhance, extend and even transform thinking about pedagogical play in its multi-cultural, multi-layered contexts and complexities, and overcome common misconceptions of what play means for babies, young children, families and educators.

2 Re-theorising Play as Pedagogical 8

2.3 Political Landscape of Play

We understand that early childhood education is a political endeavour because it always reflects particular values, beliefs, as well as economic and social conditions of its time and place in history. Elkonin (2005a, b) who examined the sources and nature of role-play noted that the origin of role play was social, linked historically to community and family life and the child’s place in the everyday activities of that life: ‘the nature of children’s play can be understood only by relating play to the child’s life in society’ (2005a, p. 57). In addition, van Oers (2013c) realised the political context of early childhood when he stated that educators had a pedagogical responsibility in their work, to make choices for quality provision but that tensions would arise in the choices made as ‘all educational practices should now be considered basically cultural-political constructions’ (p. 180).

The essence of recent guides and texts for early childhood educators (e.g. Allen and Cowdery 2012), is to encourage early childhood educators to give thought to how children are included and what children are learning in play-based curriculum. In Australia for example, outcomes for children’s learning are stated in a mandated framework,—the Early Years Learning Framework—developed by the Australian Government through what was then the Department for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR 2009). In other words, the whole notion of pedagogical play is clearly on the agenda for quality provision of early childhood education.

We read in published support booklets, about different types of play e.g. Role Play (Harries and Raban 2011) and Sensory Play (Gascoyne and Raban 2012). In a series of practice based ‘how to’ booklets published on ‘Play in the Early Years’ designed to support Australian educators in reframing their work with a mandated play-based curriculum, we noted an emphasis on elevating the pedagogical role of play. For example readers of ‘Role Play’ (Harries and Raban 2011, p. 8) are informed that ‘Play is not a break from learning, it is learning, and there should be rigour in play which stimulates and challenges children to develop their learning’. In a similar vein, readers of ‘Sensory Play’ (Gascoyne and Raban 2012, p. 5) are reminded that ‘opportunities for children to actually touch or taste are often discouraged, or limited to plastic’. In these booklets we find efforts directed at rethinking the role of play in young children’s learning.

Re-thinking what pedagogy and play means for developing quality early childhood education and care is on the political agenda in Australia, China, Mexico and elsewhere. Early childhood curriculum changes are occurring globally (e.g.

Learning and Teaching Scotland 2010) and in Australia have been brought about by the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (DEEWR 2009).

Political changes to policy and practice always have consequences for early childhood professionals, pre-service teachers and families who are expected to build new understandings about how play-based curriculum may be enacted in daily interactions with young children. The political landscape clearly makes new demands on educators in the early childhood field to reframe their professional work.

2.3 Political Landscape of Play 9 It is important to understand play in contemporary times and to understand play we need to have some knowledge about how it has been theorised in the past.

Play is variously interpreted (Wood 2013; Singer 2013; Hedges 2014; PramlingSamuelsson and Fleer 2009) and to illustrate this point we have created a brief summary of past influential play theorists and theories.

Table 2.1 overview has follow up references for detailed information, as our intention is to flesh out the new insights brought by cultural—historical views on play and acknowledge influential play theorists In an historical overview of the foundations of best practices in early childhood education, Follari (2011), wrote that ‘Piaget valued the role of experience as well as the internal processes engaged in by the child on his or her quest to know the world’ (p.

41) but that the work of Vygotsky (1978) has taken researchers ‘beyond the theories of Piaget’ (p. 41). Contemporary theories of play are characterised by new cultural-historical approaches to research (Hedegaard 2005; Siraj-Blatchford 2007; Kravtsova 2008; Rogers and Evans 2008; Fleer 2010; Singer 2013; van Oers 2013b) that show how children’s play is uncultured and institutionally contextualised and therefore lead to thinking more about the pedagogical relationships that exist in play experiences. The potential for the child’s learning is at the heart of our re-theorisation of play as pedagogical.

For a useful summary about defining play we found Pramling-Samuelsson and Fleer’s work (2009) to be both international in scope, and most comprehensive.

2.4 Cultural-Historical Conceptualisation of Play

In thinking about play in cultural-historical terms, we used Vygotsky’s (1978)

notion of the imaginary situation as being a defining characteristic of all play:

… in establishing criteria for distinguishing a child’s play from other forms of activity, we conclude that in play a child creates an imaginary situation (1978, p. 934) We understand that play for children is a cultural and historical construction and that imagination is present and intact in the highly varied situations and spaces that children find themselves in. In different cultures and spaces, play is understood differently. For example, in a rural community in the north of Mexico children have open spaces and very few resources but they are able to imagine and play with the objects available to them.

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