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Blog post Part of special issue: BERA Blog Special Issues: BERA/TACTYC

Play and Pedagogy

Elizabeth Wood Liz Chesworth

Carrying out the research for the section on Play and Pedagogy was a pleasure. This was because the field of play scholarship is extensive, international, multi-disciplinary and progressive in providing different ways of understanding play from a range of perspectives. Although the focus has been on UK research, and on Early Childhood education and care, many of the themes identified in the review are reflected in international research. But inevitably, the review has thrown up some challenging issues about what is happening to play for children in education contexts. The review highlights a persistent tension – a progressive focus in research, but a potentially regressive framing of play in policy contexts. This is captured by the juxtaposition between what play is, and what play means for children, and what play does, and what play produces, from the perspective of policy.

‘The research indicates that play in Early Childhood Education is particularly vulnerable to being marginalized or sidelined’

Taking this juxtaposition into account means that we can also identify long-standing tensions in what practice-focused research is revealing. A consistent concern across all five themes of the Review is that practitioners are pulled in different directions as they navigate policy, practice, and their own beliefs and aspirations. The research indicates that, despite powerful claims for its importance in all areas of children’s learning and development, play in Early Childhood Education is particularly vulnerable to being marginalized or sidelined. For example, in England the school readiness discourse takes priority during the Reception year, and privileges formal approaches. The apparent certainties of adult-led activities may be favoured over the uncertainties and complexities of where play leads children. In terms of Learning and Development, play may not readily produce the outcomes that are identified in policy frameworks, in the time-frames that delineate children’s access to and opportunities for freely chosen play.

The appearance of ‘educational play’ or ‘eduplay’ is an imperfect policy response to the dilemmas of play and pedagogy. Misunderstandings and misconceptions about play in policy continue to abound, as exemplified in the recent OFSTED report on teaching and play (]. The over-simplified recommendations in this report belie the complexity of research on play, and the guidance that research offers for supporting children’s learning across all curriculum areas. In addition, much research that focuses on children’s perspectives and experiences reveals the complex intersections between agency and power relationships, peer affiliations, inclusion and exclusion, and how children bring diverse funds of knowledge to their freely chosen play. These perspectives also offer alternative views to practitioners of their pedagogical roles as inherently social, relational and democratic.

The Review of Play and Pedagogy identifies seven areas that offer potential for further research on play in ECEC. There are, of course, many more and it is likely that play will continue to be the focus for research and ongoing debates amongst students, practitioners and scholars. The research provokes current debates, and reflects tensions and challenges that will engage early childhood communities for many years to come. We look forward to engaging in these debates when we launch the Review at the 2017 BERA conference.