The role of play in children's learning
The role of play in children's learning

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

The role of play in children's learning

1.2 Curriculum guidance/frameworks and play

In the first activity you will explore what curriculum frameworks say about play.

Activity 1

Timing: 0 hours 30 minutes

Aim: to clarify the extent to which the importance of play is acknowledged in curriculum documents.

Read the introduction and introductory sections to the curriculum guidance or framework that is most relevant to the setting in which you work. Are there any references to the value of play? If play is mentioned, make a note of the reasons given for the importance of play. Would you want to add anything to these reasons? If so, what would you add and why?

Does the curriculum guidance/framework provide any suggestions about the role of adults in children's play? If so, make a note of what suggestions are made. To what extent do you agree with these suggestions?

Guidance for older children may not refer specifically to play, but there might be a mention of related ideas, such as exploration, fun and enjoyment.

If no mention is made of play, or a related term is used, why do you think this is?


In completing Activity 1 you may have been surprised by your findings. You may have thought, for example, that the curriculum guidance/framework would emphasise the importance of play more than it did. Perhaps you were surprised by the emphasis on play in the introduction to the curriculum guidance/framework, since, to your knowledge, the rest of the document does not seem to value play.

As early years and primary practitioners working in settings in the UK, most of us tend to believe that play is important. The dominant discourse about young children's learning and development stresses the need for young children and babies to play. In the UK, we may define play as something that children do, while ‘work’ – other than school work – is something that adults do. This view is not universal. Different cultures have different views of childhood and the role of play in childhood.

In rural Bolivia, for example, three to six year olds engage in domestic, agricultural and farming work. They collect firewood, pick vegetables and feed the ducks and chickens and, in completing these tasks, they are making a valuable contribution to the family's work. As they grow older, children take on more physically arduous and responsible tasks, such as making family meals, ploughing and killing animals for eating. Children in Bolivia are, however, still able to find opportunities to play during the day (Maybin and Woodhead, 2003). This gradual involvement in the working life of adults and communities was described as ‘guided participation’ by Barbara Rogoff (Rogoff et al., 1993).

You do not need to travel as far afield as Bolivia to come across homes and communities in which it is expected that children will both play and participate in the ‘real’, or adult, world. The extent to which children are protected from physical risks in different cultures and societies is diverse, depending on the environment in which they are living.

In some societies and cultures, play is an important element in the protection model of children, a model which presents ‘well-cared’ for children as those who are cocooned from the day-to-day life and anxieties of the adult world:

in modern Western society play has become marginalized and locked itself in a world of its own. It has grown into a highly differentiated and separate activity – an activity that separates children from the real, adult world. It has become one of the expressions for the banishment of children to the margins of society. Play has become an expression of a kind of activity that has no place in real society; something easy that children engage in while waiting for entrance into society.

(Strandell, 2000, p.147)

This particular concept of play arises from a particular view of ‘the child’, a view that sees children as different from adults: they are innocent in the sense that they are untouched by the cares of the adult world; they have the right to be protected; they have a degree of autonomy, but the extent to which they participate in the ‘real’ world is circumscribed, and lacking responsibility is almost synonymous with childhood. It is apparent, then, that attitudes towards children's play are socially, culturally and politically determined. This being the case, we need to be conscious that theories about the value of children's play will vary through time and place, and will be influenced by the dominant discourses about childhood, education and child development.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371