Cautionary tales on interrupting children's play: a study from Sweden

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Date: July-August 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 4)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Report
Length: 4,238 words
Lexile Measure: 1240L

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Play is a natural and significant aspect of children's learning and development. Adults can be important to children's play, as they act as "play agents." Their involvement significantly influences the quality of the play activities in which children engage. The author briefly reviews the theoretical assumptions about adults' role in children's play to provide context for a study conducted in a preschool setting in Sweden. Observations from the study of adults' interaction with children during their playtime shed light on the potential negative effects of adult actions that may interrupt children's play. The study provides recommendations about ways to carry out daily preschool routines that do not impede the ongoing learning and development processes that may be occurring during play.

Today, many education professionals acknowledge play as a medium for children's learning and multifaceted development. Several researchers, including Pramling Samuelsson and Johansson (2006), Sutton-Smith (1997), and Lindberg (2003), have noted the positive social, cognitive, and emotional development that play promotes for children. It is also important to discuss adults' role and involvement in children's play.

The prominent play theorist Sutton-Smith (1997) explained that adults are important players or play agents. However, if adults are not skilled in how to interact appropriately with children as they play, their involvement could be an interruption and a threat to gaining the full benefit of children's play.

The potentially inappropriate interference by adults in children's play in preschool settings seems to be an overlooked aspect in the research literature. This article focuses on adults' involvement in children's play, briefly reviewing theoretical assumptions about adults' involvement in children's play and discussing practical data obtained from an observation and unstructured interview at a preschool setting in Sweden. The central questions concerned how the observed preschool teachers took part in the children's play and how they reacted to children's actions during play.


Adult Involvement in Children's Play

In play, children exercise control over their activity and thus exercise power (Sutton-Smith, 1997). In this sense, children being playful are active agents creating and breaking rules, making choices, and learning self-control or self-regulation (Vygotsky, 1978). During play, children are social agents who are competent interpreters of the world around them and are understood as having influence on and in their life. Although children are believed to have the competence to control their play, it is not uncommon to see adults unknowingly/unintentionally interrupting children's play with arguably inappropriate pedagogical acts. The purpose of this article is to show how such action by adults can have detrimental effects on children's play.

Adults are an important part of children's play process, helping the children to engage in play and possibly achieve gains in play-related areas of development. Vygotsky's (1978) notion of the zone of proximal development suggests that adults could help young children engage in advanced forms of play that they would not manage on their own. Frost and Sunderlin (1985) and Christie (1983) note that adults' involvement in play may be imperative, such as during higher forms of play,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A377775416