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Varied Perspectives on Play and Learning: Theory and Research in Early Years Education

reviewed by Roz Stooke - January 13, 2016

coverTitle: Varied Perspectives on Play and Learning: Theory and Research in Early Years Education
Author(s): Ole Frederik Lillemyr, Sue Dockett, and Bob Perry
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623964164, Pages: 235, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

Maria Montessori claimed that play is the work of the child over a hundred years ago. We associate play with freedom from work rather than with work itself—play is what we do after work, and what we do when we want to avoid work. Whereas work is usually goal directed, we may play for no apparent purpose. Most importantly, although we can defer play, we can never delegate it to someone else—nobody can play for us.

Young children appear to be natural experts at play whereas adults sometimes forget how. Literacy researchers Dyson and Genishi (2014) observe that “without permission and without toys” (p. 229) young children routinely create play spaces within even the most academic early childhood curriculum—this is no small achievement. Play virtually disappeared from some primary curricula after thirty years of draconian educational reforms, and has recently been “rebranded and modified into a purposeful activity” (Petrov, 2014, p. 34). Play pedagogies are being promoted—and some would say regulated—in early childhood and primary classrooms. It is no surprise that play is a renewed focus in many research articles, position papers, and books.

Ole Fredrik Lillemyr, Sue Dockett, and Bob Perry’s Varied Perspectives on Play and Learning: Theory and Research in Early Years Education is an edited collection of articles about play and learning from 13 countries spanning 4 continents. The collection presents a variety of perspectives on the topic of play and learning, and describes “a wide range of methodological approaches, including document analysis, observation interviews, surveys, teacher dialogue, and critical reflection” (p. 4) as the title suggests. Each chapter identifies implications for practice and discusses an active role for the educator in play-based curricula. The editors summarize the book’s central idea in the following passage from Chapter One:

Play has generated and continues to generate a great deal of scholarly work in the arenas of research, policy and practice. The diversity of this work is one of its strengths–bringing together multiple perspectives, lenses, approaches and understandings. While different theoretical frameworks, policy agendas, and practical imperatives lead in different directions, “a common theme is that early childhood educators need to reconceptualise their roles in play and their provision for play” (Wood, 2007, p. 316). (p. 3)

Varied Perspectives on Play and Learning is an ambitious book. This book’s international scope and broad grasp of contemporary issues makes it a valuable contribution to the current conversation on play pedagogies although it is less comprehensive than volumes such as the SAGE Handbook of Play and Learning in Early Childhood (Brooker, Blaise, & Edwards, 2014). Chapters Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen critically examine ways in which play pedagogies are being theorized and interpreted in practice settings where cultural values are not well aligned with westernized, child-centered approaches to early childhood education. One chapter even goes so far as to advocate for risky play as a strategy for children to learn to manage risk. The contributing authors’ efforts to situate their studies in a specific curriculum or cultural milieu, and grounding their work in real-life settings, is a major strength of the book.

The collection is not divided into sections but instead chapters are loosely grouped around broad topics. Chapters Two, Three, Four, and Five notably draw directly from Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory to deconstruct the perceived tension between child-initiated play and teacher-directed academic instruction. These chapter authors clarify that teachers can have an active, supportive, and non-intrusive role in play-based learning. Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight consider concepts associated with a rights-based discourse on childhood through explorations of play in infant and toddler settings. In Chapter Six, Sheila Degotardi argues that play can be an ideal context in which caregivers support the emerging agency of very young children long before they can express their opinions verbally. In Chapter Seven, Ingrid Engdahl explores ethical issues that arise when educators set out to understand toddlers’ experiences from their perspectives. In Chapter Eight, Norwegian researchers Kristin Fugelsnes, Monika Röthle, and Eva Johansson explore ways in which children and their adult caregivers express, communicate, and negotiate values while engaged in play events.

Several internationally recognized researchers authored think pieces that add depth to the collection. In Chapter Eleven, Sue Rogers warns readers that governments’ increased interest and intervention in early childhood curricula and the resulting pedagogization of play, may be “altering the meanings that children derive from play” (p. 160). In Chapter Nine, Anthony D. Pellegrini advocates for precise language when describing children’s behavior and reminds educators that behavioral categories such as object play should be based on “direct observation embedded in sound theory and hypotheses that are, in turn, subjected to deductive tests” (p. 128).

Varied Perspectives on Play and Learning will be a valuable resource for early childhood researchers and teacher educators. It is text-dense and therefore an unlikely choice for a preservice textbook where students are already heavily burdened with teaching assignments but is well suited for graduate and professional programs. The contributing authors provide ample contextual information about their settings and clear overviews of any adopted theories. More importantly, they convey an optimistic message about the possibilities for play pedagogies yet acknowledge the many contradictions and tensions embedded in the field. Missing from the book is a summary of the ideas about play that the editors and contributing authors aim to disrupt. In Chapter One, the editors introduce the reader to a host of contemporary ideas about play and argue for a reconceptualization of play pedagogies. However, the reader must assemble an understanding of traditional ideas and practices from comments scattered throughout the book. Although the editors rightly remind readers that no consensus exists on the nature of play and its relationship to young children’s learning, I was sometimes left wondering about the nature of the phenomenon being discussed. For example, do Pellegrini’s criteria for distinguishing play from other kinds of activity apply to all chapters? To what extent do scholars and researchers share the understanding of pedagogization presented by Rogers? For these reasons I am inclined to view Varied Perspectives on Play and Learning as a fine collection of articles rather than a fully integrated book.




Dyson, A. H. & Genishi, C. (2014). Play as the precursor for literacy development. In L. Brooker, M. Blaise, & S. Edwards (Eds.). The Sage handbook of play and learning in early childhood (pp. 228–239). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.


Petrov, P. (2014). The emergence of cultural narratives rationalizing play and childhood. Early Childhood Education, 42(1), 32–38.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 13, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19334, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 8:57:15 PM

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About the Author
  • Roz Stooke
    Western University, Ontario
    E-mail Author
    ROZ STOOKE teaches courses in Curriculum Studies, Literacy, and Early Childhood Education at Western University, Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses on ways in which the work of educating and caring for young children is shared by diversely situated practitioners and parents and most recently on ways in which diversely situated practitioners understand and implement mandated practices such as documentation and play-based learning. Her most recent publication is Negotiating Spaces for Literacy Learning: Multimodality and Governmentality (Bloomsbury, 2015) co-edited with Mary Hamilton, Rachel Heydon, and Kathy Hibbert.
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