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Children’s perspectives on play
Children’s perspectives on play

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1.2 What are children’s play preferences?

Natalie Canning’s doctoral study looked in detail at the child-initiated play of seven children (four boys and three girls, aged four years old), all of whom were living in central England and attending a range of early years settings. Her case studies of the children included video recordings of the children’s social play in their early years settings and in their homes, conversations with the children and interviews with practitioners and parents. Her central research question was: In what ways can child-initiated social play empower children? The video and interview data were examined under three themes:

  • children’s choices and their decisions
  • the context of children’s play
  • the interactions between children.

Canning (2015) noted, in her video data, that there never seemed to be a moment when children ran out of ideas for play. For example, the children creatively thought of den-making in the woods, rolling a large pipe in a field, sliding down a pole and establishing a running circuit in a garden.

In addition to her own observations and discussions with parents, Canning (2015) sought to understand how the seven children regarded their play: she asked them about their likes and dislikes about play, and supported this with still photographs printed from the video footage of them playing. In their responses, the word ‘fun’ was often used, confirming a long-recognised essential play ingredient for children and, indeed, for adults too. In early years settings (and schools), the art of making things fun for children would seem to be central to stimulating their interest and involvement in learning. Although seemingly obvious to many, this probably cannot be said too often.

Canning (2015) acknowledges that, with such young children, it is not easy to elicit their thoughts and comments about play. However, it was important that she endeavoured to do this in her research design, thus showing the children the respect they deserve as people. She concludes that by using video recordings to observe and re-observe children at play, practitioners can gain a deeper understanding of children’s play and how they are empowered through different play situations.

Key points

  • It is a right of children to be consulted and their views on play (or anything else) to be taken into account by adults.
  • Taking young children’s perspectives seriously can involve listening to the many ways they communicate their ideas and responses.
  • Using video/digital photos to observe children at play can be another way to listen to and understand children’s views.
  • Play can be seen as important not only for children but adults too. Play doesn’t stop after childhood; it enters into adult activities in many ways.