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Article

Drew Chappell

Play as an academic field comprises multiple disciplines, definitions, and objectives and acknowledges a link between play and learning. Historically and in contemporary societies, play has been used as a teaching methodology; this occurs in formal classroom pedagogy as well as outside the classroom as part of informal and improvisational curriculum. Because play generally includes a component of pleasure, as a methodology it compels entry into learning in a way other practices do not. Yet this playful learning can be problematic, depending on outcomes and structures that define the play/learning experience through narrative and power dynamics. Scholars may analyze various aspects of curricular play, including but not limited to narratives provided, students’ lived experiences within those narratives, actions allowable, objectives and advancement, and sources developing the narratives.

Article

Einar Sundsdal and Maria Øksnes

Play has been an interest of philosophers and educationalists since the first academies and a field of scholarly interest for over a hundred years. There is no memorandum of understanding on what is common to all forms of play, neither in a philosophical nor an educational context. Despite this lack of a common understanding of play, philosophers of education have had high expectations for play’s contributions to human life. In troubling times, when philosophers and educationalists assume that freedom is compromised, the future is uncertain and bleak, and there is not much hope for freedom and progress, play is often considered a valuable problem-solving apparatus. Bold claims are made on behalf of play—that it is “the absolute primary category of life,” “the purest, most spiritual activity of man,” and not least that man is “only fully a human being when he plays.” It is a common assumption that children’s play is a future-oriented practice central to all development and learning in childhood. Play has been valued for its role in the education and upbringing of children based on the belief that through play the child moves forward. This assumption raises important questions about both play and educational practice. When formal schooling is a central part of children’s lives, educationalists ask how play can contribute to the best academic education. Thus, a central question has been to figure out how play can be put to use as a means for reaching certain educational goals, and how play can be organized to best prepare children for further education and development. Most researchers do not deny that play may contribute to a child’s development, but some argue that we have gone too far in assuming the contributions play makes to development and learning. They question whether it is possible to make play work for academic education and suggest that we risk replacing the spontaneous experience of play with a more instrumental version of play where it becomes a skill or literacy. This questioning points to the discussion of when something is play and when it is not play but something else. In addition, the claim that play can contribute to a range of developmental and learning outcomes seems to hinder research premised on the intrinsic value of play.

Article

Self-regulation is a complex, multifaceted concept that can be described as a higher mental process oriented toward children’s (and adults’) metacognitive, motivational, and behaviorally active participation in their own learning. It includes cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development. It is related to several other higher mental processes, notably executive function, and the two are sometimes confused and even conflated. They are, however, not interchangeable, and it is vital to clarify both what self-regulation is and what it is not. Failure to do so may lead to confusion at practice and policy levels, and ineffective or inappropriate practice, potentially disadvantageous to young children. Self-regulation may be significant in all aspects of development, particularly in early childhood, and efforts to enhance children’s self-regulation may be among the most effective educational interventions. Interest is reflected in developments in the field of assessment, including by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and in government policy in, inter alia, England. Play, particularly pretense, problem-solving, and talk (both private speech and dialogue) are advocated as rich, naturalistic contexts for the development, support, and meaningful assessment of young children’s self-regulation. Some specific approaches to assessment are identified, notably observation and stimulated recall, in the form of reflective dialogues, including the use of video. Decontextualized assessment is suggested as a potentially less effective approach in capturing the full depth and range of young children’s self-regulatory competence.

Article

Education, broadly defined, is cultural transmission. It is the process or set of processes by which each new generation of human beings acquires and builds upon the skills, knowledge, beliefs, values, and lore of the culture into which they are born. Through all but the most recent speck of human history, education was always the responsibility of those being educated. Children come into the world biologically prepared to educate themselves through observing the culture around them and incorporating what they see into their play. Research in hunter-gatherer cultures shows that children in those cultures became educated through their own self-directed exploration and play. In modern cultures, self-directed education is pursued by children in families that adopt the homeschooling approach commonly called “unschooling” and by children enrolled in democratic schools, where they are in charge of their own education. Follow-up studies of “graduates” of unschooling and democratic schooling reveal that this approach to education can be highly effective, in today’s word, if children are provided with an adequate environment for self-education—an environment in which they can interact freely with others across a broad range of ages, can experience first-hand what is most valued in the culture, and can play with, and thereby experiment with, the primary tools of the culture.

Article

Alex Kostogriz and Nikolay Veresov

The concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) emerged in the cultural-historical theory of Vygotsky as a result of the broader quest for a new psychology and forms of education in the post-revolutionary Soviet Union. The project of unprecedented socioeconomic transformations created a political demand for education that would build intellectual, physical, and moral capabilities of the new generation of young people. Cultural-historical psychology, at that point in time, emerged as a result of such a demand, investigating the development of psychological functions and the role of education and upbringing in mediating this process. This meant an advancement of the study of mental activity as embedded in social and cultural practices where any intellectual function appears, first, on the social plane and then on the psychological plane of the child. The concept of the ZPD was formed as a result of this genetic law of psychological development that laid a methodological foundation of the new psychology. In terms of developing this foundation, Vygotsky was among the first psychologists to apply the principles of dialectics, searching for a fundamentally new approach to the analysis and explanation of psychological phenomena, especially their causal-dynamic nature. The concept of the ZPD is illustrative of Vygotsky’s dialectical method insofar as it represents the development of the child as a unity of contradictory relations between her actual level of development and the potential level that the child can achieve in collaboration with others. Initially, Vygotsky introduced the ZPD as a diagnostic principle of defining the child’s abilities to collaborate with others in order to determine the area of evolving and future intellectual functions, rather than evaluating the outcomes of the child’s past development. By prioritizing the role of collaboration in the development of intellectual functions, Vygotsky’s ZPD bridged the world of psychological development and the world of education. The ZPD, from this perspective, opens up the internal relation between development and education, with the process of education leading the development of intellectual functions. Education creates opportunities for children to build their future capabilities, wakening up, as it were, those processes that could not be possible without their participation in intersubjective encounters or dialogical classroom events. The ZPD, in a pedagogical sense, is a social space of learning and communication in which children can build their consciousness, understandings, self-regulation, and agency. Yet, this is also a space where children’s differences and particularities are most visible. Depending on how diversity is recognized, the process of education can either stimulate or repress intellectual development.