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Free play and free choice: troubling the discourse Dr Elizabeth Wood Professor of Education University of Exeter.

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1 Free play and free choice: troubling the discourse Dr Elizabeth Wood Professor of Education University of Exeter

2 Play and playfulness help to make us the most complex and successful primates on the planet. Play is not just for children, play is for everyone. Lifelong playing is just as important as lifelong learning. Human life is one long improvisation (Holzman, 2009) – we are constantly being/becoming, and therefore developing. ‘Playful’ identity work. 2 Image removed for privacy reasons

3 Brian Sutton-Smith (1997: 195) ‘the incredible structural complexity of the intricate enactment of play’. Joshua and the BBQ smoke Image removed for privacy reasons

4 (Some of) the challenges for play scholarship Definitions of play: functional, behavioural, psychological, age-related characteristics, developmental indicators. Forms of play: free play, organised games and sports, community play (such as festivals, parties, carnivals), dark play, risky/extreme play, virtual play. Reasons for play: relaxation/renewal of energy, exuberant dispersal of energy, quiet contemplation, competition, rivalry, co-operation, mastery, practice, rehearsal, fun? Motivations for play: freedom, choice, agency, control, power, disruption, contestation, balancing the possible and the probable. (dis)ordering, (un)tidying) de(stabilising), (de)constructing. Conditions for play: play is always dependent on context, as well as mood states and intentions of the players.

5 Socio-cultural/cultural-historical perspectives: zones of and zones for development Play is not the predominant activity, but is the leading source of development in the preschool years (Vygotksy, 1978) (also interpreted as the leading activity – see Bodrova, 2008) Play contains all the developmental tendencies: it is the source of development and creates the zone of proximal development. Underlying play are changes in needs and changes in general consciousness. (Vygotksy, 1978) Play creates zones for proximal development (Newman and Holzman, 1993). Children do what is familiar to them, and what is beyond them so that they are constantly being/becoming (Holzman, 2009)

6 Play is revolutionary (transformative) activity Play is about creative invention and imitation (not merely copying) but reinterpretation. Play as performance – a dialectical unity of being and becoming (Holzman, 2009) In play activities children act with imagined agency, power and competence. Power acts on and through children. Wood (2012) Play repertoires are culturally/historically influenced and culturally created by children (children’s cultural worlds and practices) (Edwards, 2010; Marsh 2013) And now I am flying, a beautiful bird Image removed for privacy reasons

7 Action in the imaginative sphere, in an imaginary situation, the creation of voluntary intentions and the formation of real- life plans and volitional motives – all appear in play and make it the highest level of pre-school development. The child moves forward essentially through play activity. Only in this sense can play be considered the leading activity that determines a child’s development (Vygotsky, 1978: 102– 103). potential space – the possible range of the child’s omnipotence in which children see themselves as more capable than they are in other contexts, and act accordingly. (Winnicot, 1971)

8 Freedom, choice, control, mastery Being and becoming, identity – possible selves J as footballer Routines, spontaneity, flow A sense of belonging and connecting Playful participation in social and cultural practices – play knowledge Images removed for privacy reasons

9 autonomy agency choices independence mastery of play Children’s play interests may be intrinsically bound with their self- interests, including status and identity maintenance. Play involves complex social processes: orchestrating tasks, negotiating power relationships, managing inclusion and exclusion, maintaining self-regulation, developing resilience, and taking risks. Images removed for privacy reasons

10 What does this do? What can I do with this? Material agency – acting on and with mediational means Zones of possible and probable development

11 Play as ‘self-actualisation’ Children perform different roles and relate to others in ways that they are not yet fully capable of performing (Holzman, 2009) Children act as if they are artists, technologists, designers, scientists, writers, makers, inventors – free play and choice assist combinatorial flexibility Images removed for privacy reasons

12 Playing involves imagination and pretence: ‘what if’ and ‘as if’. Play has ‘meta-level’ qualities – imagination, communication and symbolic transformations based on everyday knowledge. Play involves playing with feelings, mood states, identities, possibilities, ‘self-as-other’. Play as ethical practice – developing relational capacities such as empathy and theory of mind. Edminston (2008) Don’t be frightened, it’s only me...Lily Image removed for privacy reasons

13 Towards post-structural perspectives Play as a form of cultural appropriation – children learn about social norms and rules, about symbols, tools, within cultural-historical repertories of practice. BUT Corsaro argues that ‘children come to collectively produce their own peer worlds and cultures’ (1997: 24) Which raises issues about children’s choices, power, narratives, meanings, symbols, rituals, relationships, imaginative capabilities. Children’s choices and popular cultures.

14 Image removed for privacy reasons Children’s places and spaces

15 Play can involve individual and group rebelliousness against adult- imposed rules and regulatory practices. Rebelliousness can be expressed in overt or covert ways. ‘John and the Trolls’ Play can also be....chaotic, ‘dizzy’, unpredictable, noisy, messy, anarchic, challenging to established rules and authority, subversive, revolutionary, exuberant, wild....BUT there may also be order within the apparent chaos. (Wood, 2008; 2010) Children are performing imagined selves – who they are and who they are becoming. Playful identity work. ‘The hanging tree’

16 Playful children can be petulant, boisterous, careless with the feelings of others, and downright mean. They are fond of ‘showing off’ and ‘grossing out’ one another. They are hungry for the peer-based status that comes from demonstrating their defiance of adult roles. (Henricks, 2010, 204) Pretence is a form of agency because children act with imagined power. Play becomes a testing ground for whose freedom, power and control can be exercised. (Wood, 2012)

17 Philosophical theories of play - People are able to imagine things they never were and never will be...play should be understood as one of the special places for the conjuring of possibility. Henricks (2009) Adventures in frivolity Stepping sideways into another reality Play is a mode of existence, a state of mind and a state of being Play is a thing unto itself, a rebellion of the moment against longer-term patterns and commitments

18 If play is a thing unto itself, then… We need to pay more attention to children’s cultures, purposes and meanings, and the ways in which playful children will create more possibilities than we could ever imagine. Image removed for privacy reasons

19 Corsaro, W The Sociology of Childhood, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Edwards, S 'Numberjacks are on their way! A cultural historical reflection on contemporary society and the early childhood curriculum', Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 18: 3, 261 — 272: Henricks, T Play and the rhetorics of time: progress, regression and the meaning of the present, in D. Kuschner, (ed) From Children to Red Hatters: Diverse Images and Issues of Play, Maryland, University Press of America. Henricks, T.S Play as ascending meaning revisited: four types of assertive play, in Nwokah, E.E. (Ed) Play as Engagement and Communication, Play and Culture Studies, Vol 10. Maryland, University Press of America. Holzman, L Vygotsky at work and play, London, Routledge Sutton-Smith, B The Ambiguity of Play, MA: Harvard University Press. Wood, E Everyday play activities as therapeutic and pedagogical encounters, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 10:2, Wood, E Reconceptualising the play-pedagogy relationship, in L. Brooker & S. Edwards, Engaging Play, Maidenhead, Open University Press. Wood, E Free choice and free play in early childhood education: troubling the discourse. International Journal of Early Years Education (in press) Wood, E. & Attfield, J Play, Learning and the Early Childhood Curriculum, London, Sage.


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