2.1 Views of play
Mia comments that from conversations with her health visitor and other parents and books she has read that, at three years, Elodie should be playing in more sophisticated ways – for example, in turn-taking games. As a parent, Mia would be aware that these expectations are based on UK developmental frameworks for monitoring a child’s development of significant skills and milestones. How useful is it to have such idealised developmental expectations for the play of young children? Mia seems to acknowledge the uniqueness of her daughter’s acquisition of skills and, rather than focus on what Elodie is not yet demonstrating in her play (sometimes referred to as taking ‘a deficit view’), describes her preference for music and love of playing her instruments. The danger of strictly applying developmental norms is that parents and professionals can become overly concerned as to what children cannot do, rather than noting and praising what they can do at any point in time.
Mia records how Elodie likes her to participate when she’s playing in her doll’s house. Elodie wants her mother to make suggestions, but, you will have noticed, Mia recognises that Elodie also has ‘her own agenda on the play’ and ‘needs to take control’. If children are regarded as active learners, the seeking of ownership by Elodie is not surprising, of course. Participating in activities with others, engaging in conversations and sharing in play with roles are key concepts in sociocultural theories of play and learning. Barbara Rogoff (2003, p. 287) refers to such mutual learning and meaning-making as a part of the process of ‘guided participation’ through which children learn as they participate with others.
Music and play
There is a sense in which all music-making and participation involves aspects of exploration, experimentation, trial and error and, as Mia suggests, play. For example, think of a composer working on a new manuscript or musicians working together to create an original composition. From what Mia tells us, Elodie seems to be enjoying the textual, rhythmic and melodic features of the songs she is getting to know. Small (1998) referred to such spontaneous musical-making as ‘musicking’ (from the verb to music). Before she slips into sleep, Elodie plays with the melodies, rhythms and the words known to her in her own creative way. Many of the early pioneers of early childhood education (including Froebel and Montessori) recognise the value of music and musical activities for young children (Rowe, 2012).
In the next section, you will read about William and Megan’s experiences – for this family, the home and the local environment are contexts where playing and learning seem to be inextricably linked.