Space create very interesting dramatic play

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Space create very interesting dramatic play

During outside play, Educator Brandi was walking around the playground and heard singing coming from the maze. As she approached the maze, there was Mia and Maddee (from Preschool.) She then found Ava and Jade both laying on the ground in different spots. She asked Ava and Jade why they were laying on the ground and they responded by telling Brandi that they had died during battle. Mia then told Brandi that she was singing because it was their funeral. The girls were very involved in their dramatic play.

Hakkarainen et al (2013) say successful narrative play happens when all players (children and adults) develop shared ideas and construct a plot (storyline) together. It must:

  1. Have a social/collective character
  2. Be imaginative
  3. Be creative
  4. Be developed over time
  5. Be challenging
  6. Have a narrative structure

Use the six steps above to make a plan for a Playworld with Mia, Maddee, Ava and Jade . Remember we need to be:

  • emotionally involved in the play
  • facilitate critical turns in the play eg introducing new characters and events, or introducing a critical incident so the play continues to develop
  • take a role in the imaginary play eg a character in the storyline.

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Family camping trips create play spaces for 18 month old children

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Family camping trips create a dramatic playworld

Here is an example of a Playworld that can start on the spot with under 2’s.

  1. Have a social/collective character
  2. Be imaginative
  3. Be creative
  4. Be developed over time
  5. Be challenging
  6. Have a narrative structure

1. Have a social/collective character.
Samuel used the bark pieces in the outdoor environment to construct with, making them into one big pile. Mel the Educator asked Samuel “what is it?” Samuel said “fire.” Mel asked “like the fire you made with Daddy on your camping trip?” Samuel replied “yes” and nodded his head as he continued to build the fire.

2 and 3. Be imaginative and creative.
Planning the Playworld environment on the spot
Mel the Educator extended on Samuel’s interest inside. Mel set up a campsite with pots, pan and a fire made from cellophane. Samuel was intrigued by this as he gathered around. Matt the Educator placed the pan onto the fire and asked Samuel, “What can we cook?” Samuel replied “eggs.” Matt then asked him “where can we get the eggs?” Samuel walked over to the home corner, returning with an egg and placing it into the pan.

Samuel’s friends Archie, Harriet and Ignatius showed interest as they also began to gather items from the home corner and place them into the pan on the fire (actively contributing to the experience.) Matt then exclaimed “our food is ready.” Samuel walked back to the home corner where he grabbed the plates in a basket. Harriet and Archie enjoyed sharing Samuel’s family culture as they were watching and learning. Matt saw the opportunity to use the family culture of camping as a Playworld experience.  They continued to engage in pretend play freely recreating this camping experience.

Then Matt said, “Can you hear that? It’s the doorbell. I wonder who is at the door?” The children looked around, then Harriet went to the door reaching at the handle.

“Oh, the dinosaur family have come for lunch. Please let them in Harriet” said Matt.

The play was now extended by the Adult (Matt) who added a challenge of introducing and feeding the dinosaur family.

Samuel and Archie brought the dinosaurs over and placed them on the table. “What will they eat Samuel?” asked Matt. Archie proceeded to place the plates and food for the dinosaurs to eat while Ava and Samuel went back to the fire to get the dinosaur family some food.

See how planning the play environment occurs on the spot. The narrative structure identified was: We need to eat.

This play experience lasted for about 40 minutes because the educator asks questions, created challenges and played a role/character in the Playworld.

These questions and challenges can be simple things like:

  • The doorbell rings and it’s the dinosaur family
  • What are they going to eat?
  • I need some tomato sauce. Can you find me some?
  • What are we going to do with all the dirty dishes?
  • I’m feeling cold. How could we get warmer?
  • Oh no the fire is too big. What will we do now?

 Another example

This morning Vivienne put the baby doll in a high chair. Aas Miss Sheryn entered the room Vivienne approached her and asked “you put it down for me.” The high chairs were then lowered creating ease of access for the children.

Vivienne, James and Ben each had a doll in a high chair and were using various pieces of the home corner food to ‘feed them’. The educator extended the children’s thinking by asking “when Miss Alicia and Miss Frances feed the babies, what do they use?”

James: Cup

Vivienne: Spoon, we need a spoon

James and Miss Sheryn began looking in the boxes for some spoons but were unable to locate any. The educator then modelled problem solving by asking, “if we can’t find them what could we do?”

Vivienne pointed to the door saying, “get some out there.”

Following this suggestion Miss Sheryn asked Miss Mel for some spoons.

Vivienne, James, Ben, Alex, Abbie, Charlotte and Gabriella all had spoons and bowls and proceeded to feed their babies.

As the play progressed the children moved the highchairs into the centre of the room.

Miss Sheryn: What‟s your baby eating?

Vivienne: umm banana

Ben: It’s hot.

James: It’s some food.

Charlotte: sandwich.

The babies’ bottles were then placed on a table by the educator in an attempt to again extend upon the children’s thinking. We challenged our physical skills as we learnt how to put them together.

When asked what you put in babies’ bottles Gabriella announced “MILKSHAKE” which the other children eagerly agreed with.

Demonstrating another level of complexity in understanding the children began took the bottles to the home corner sink to ‘fill them up’.

We were able to further the experience by extending dolls’ play into outdoor play as well. The children’s complete engagement in this experience also allowed for a progressive morning tea to be attempted in the room today.


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How do educators enter children’s Playworlds

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Educators entering children’s Playworlds

‘Playworlds’ describes a play pedagogy used by teachers in Sweden Finland, the United States and Japan to create imaginary worlds with children. It was first developed by Swede Gunilla Lindqvist in 1995. Playworlds involves the children and teacher/adults collectively bringing a piece of children’s literature (eg fairy tales/stories) to life through scripted and spontaneous acting, and costume and set design.

Hakkarainen et al. (2013) say for Playworlds to work well teachers/adults must:

  • be emotionally involved in the play
  • facilitate critical turns in the play eg introducing new characters and events, or introducing a critical incident so the play continues to develop
  • take a role in the imaginary play eg a character in the storyline.

Playworlds enables adults to connect with children and provide guidance without imposing authority, fear or hierarchy. Because teachers have a role in the imaginary play, they can assist children to act out/work through complex problems and situations.

What do we need to do to enter children’s imaginary play?

We need to be able to narrate or tell a story. Children store all their experiences as narratives eg if we do this, then that happens, or first we do this, and then maybe we’ll get this outcome. A narrative has been described as the smallest cell of human thinking – put lots of narratives together and you construct complex thinking and outcomes. Young children get involved in narratives very early, during routines carried out with caregivers  -there is a beginning, conflict (what happens) and the resolution  eg  now we’re going to change your nappy, let’s take off the old one, now you’ll feel better with a nice, dry bottom, there we go, all done.”

Children’s imaginary play is where those narratives get developed. How we interact with children in these narratives/play has huge implications for their learning outcomes, because we can make the play more complex, more exciting, and we can help children to learn about a range of issues that come up including ethical and social matters. In Vygotsky’s language, educators/adults are interacting with children in their ‘zones of proximal development’ – assisting children to reach their potential level of development.

Hakkarainen et al (2013) say successful narrative play happens when all players (children and adult) develop shared ideas and construct a plot (storyline) together. It must:

  1. Have a social/collective character
  2. Be imaginative
  3. Be creative
  4. Be developed over time
  5. Be challenging
  6. Have a narrative structure

Even very young children have the ability to engage in this type of play as long as the storylines and support offered are appropriate.

From their research and experiments, Hakkarainen et al identified seven characteristics of adult involvement in imaginary play, but it is important how each of these are used. If adults are not fully involved in the play, or do not follow children’s ideas, the play activity will be unsuccessful. Successful play outcomes happen when adults/educators implement play that is spontaneous, improvised and creative, challenging, motivating, full of dramatic tension and based on children’s ideas at all times. Adults also need to be emotionally involved in the play and deeply embedded in their character role.  See the table below:

Characteristic Successful Unsuccessful
Shared theme A motivating theme comes from children and adults help develop this eg play involving danger The idea comes from children but adults do not share, support or follow the theme
Active participation Adults actively participate in imaginary roles and enter children’s play Adults did not fully engage in roles and play – they still use the ‘classroom/ teacher’ model to guide actions
Emotional involvement Adults have deep emotional involvement in play Adults have no emotional involvement in play
Use of dialogue Adults have spontaneous conversations/dialogues with children and co-construct play There are many dialogues but not in roles or related to the play
Dramatic tension in play Dramatic tension is created through roles (eg knights, dragons, robbers) and events (eg searching for a dragon, robber etc) No dramatic tension except for very short periods where children may take initiative and try to develop ideas
Coherent and fascinating plot Important for motivating adult involvement Adults do not help to develop an engaging plot
Management of the ‘critical turns’ in play Adults anticipate when play becomes boring and introduce a new character, event etc Adults do not manage ‘critical turns’ and let all play themes come to a dead end

Don’t think from all this that imaginary play has to be complicated. It’s okay to construct simple story lines during play with children as long as you make sure it is successful. Whether the play is simple or more complex, developing play through adult involvement and role play has the potential to move the activity to a higher level.  Skilful adult participation helps to incorporate children’s ideas and themes into one creative project. The more experienced children become, the easier they can construct long-lasting play activities on their own.  Entering children’s imaginary play also wakes up adults’ own imagination, and switches adult thinking from rational to narrative.

With so many fantastic outcomes for children and educators, it’s time to try something new. Observe your children and try to catch their play idea, then step into children’s play and get involved. Remember – you are trying something new. It may take time for children to accept you as a play partner, or to become competent creating stories with children, but don’t give up. There’s too much to lose.

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Should educators be involved in children’s play?

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Should educators be involved in children’s play?

EYLF and MTOP make it clear educators should be involved in children’s play – for example, being responsive allows educators to “enter children’s play .. stimulate their thinking and enrich their learning and “…educators take on many roles in play with children and use a range of strategies to support learning” p 15/p14.
A recent study looked at five different ways Australian educators are involved in play. Sometimes it’s about where educators are in relation to children, and sometimes it’s about educators’ actions:

  1. Educator positioned close to (eg sitting near) children
    eg during story time educator helps children to re-create story of Goldilocks and the three bears by prompting role play.
  2. Educator involved in play but seeks different outcomes to children
    eg children seated around a tub of water pretending to be pirates. There is a boat, some containers and a Lego pirate. The teacher introduces a block of ice and asks how the ice could be melted. Sam says the pirate’s hat is too big. The teacher smiles and returns to the problem of the melting ice. She is trying to teach scientific ideas – to “smuggle content knowledge into the play.” Learning from this rich, imaginary situation with the pirate was completely ignored by the teacher.
  3. Educator supervises children’s play but does not get involved
    eg Educator sets up and resources for play and then observes. Educator may quiz children about content of play, but does not follow up or become part of the imaginary play.
  4. Educator has sustained, shared conversations with children during play
    eg using the pirate example above, “what do you think it’s like to live like a pirate? Would you have lots of treasure? Where would that come from? How do you think people would have felt when the pirates took their treasure (empathy)? What’s it like sailing on the sea?” etc
  5. Educator is involved in children’s imaginary play
    eg Educator takes on role of a character in the children’s play (eg pirate).

Source: M Fleer 2015 Pedagogical positioning in play – teachers being inside and outside of children’s imaginary play

Reflect on which scenario(s) you think are the most common in ECEC services? What do you generally do? Now reflect on which scenario you think has the best outcomes for children.


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What does the EYLF say about play?

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Below are the ways  the EYLF uses the word play.

  1. PLAY & Learning
  2. EYLF has a specific emphasis on PLAY-based learning and recognises the importance of communication and language (including early literacy and numeracy) and social and emotional development
  3. PLAY-based learning: a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people, objects and representations
  4. PLAY allows for the expression of personality and uniqueness
  5. PLAY enhances dispositions such as curiosity and creativity
  6. PLAY enables children to make connections between prior experiences and new learning
  7. PLAY assists children to develop relationships and concepts
  8. PLAY stimulates a sense of wellbeing
  9. Partnerships also involve educators, families and support professionals working together to explore the learning potential in every day events, routines and PLAY so that children with additional needs are provided with daily opportunities to learn from active participation and engagement in these experiences in the home and in early childhood or specialist settings
  10. Educators plan and implement learning through PLAY
  11. Educators are also responsive to children’s ideas and PLAY, which form an important basis for curriculum decision-making
  12. Responsiveness enables educators to respectfully enter children’s PLAY and ongoing projects, stimulate their thinking and enrich their learning
  13. PLAY provides opportunities for children to learn as they discover, create, improvise and imagine
  14. When children PLAY with other children they create social groups, test out ideas, challenge each other’s thinking and build new understandings
  15. PLAY provides a supportive environment where children can ask questions, solve problems and engage in critical thinking. PLAY can expand children’s thinking and enhance their desire to know and to learn
  16. PLAY can promote positive dispositions towards learning
  17. Children’s immersion in their PLAY illustrates how PLAY enables them to simply enjoy being
  18. Early childhood educators take on many roles in PLAY with children and use a range of strategies to support learning
  19. They actively support the inclusion of all children in PLAY, help children to recognise when PLAY is unfair and offer constructive ways to build a caring, fair and inclusive learning community
  20. As children are developing their sense of identity, they explore different aspects of it (physical, social, emotional, spiritual, cognitive), through their PLAY and their relationships
  21. Children feel safe, secure, and supported
  22. Children confidently explore and engage with social and physical environments through relationships and PLAY
  23. Children initiate and join in PLAY
  24. Children explore aspects of identity through role PLAY
  25. Educators provide opportunities for children to engage independently with tasks and PLAY
  26. Children explore different identities and points of view in dramatic PLAY
  27. Children and Educators engage in and contribute to shared PLAY experiences
  28. Educators organise learning environments in ways that promote small group interactions and PLAY experiences
  29. Educators model explicit communication strategies to support children to initiate interactions and join in PLAY and social experiences in ways that sustain productive relationships with other children
  30. Children cooperate with others and negotiate roles and relationships in PLAY episodes and group experiences
  31. Children understand different ways of contributing through PLAY and projects
  32. Children are PLAYful and respond positively to others, reaching out for company and friendship
  33. Educators ensure that children have the skills to participate and contribute to group PLAY and projects
  34. Children use PLAY to investigate, project and explore new ideas
  35. Routines provide opportunities for children to learn about health and safety. Good nutrition is essential to healthy living and enables children to be active participants in PLAY
  36. Educators challenge and support children to engage in and persevere at tasks and PLAY
  37. Educators show enthusiasm for participating in physical PLAY and negotiate PLAY spaces to ensure the safety and wellbeing of themselves and others
  38. Educators draw on family and community experiences and expertise to include familiar games and physical activities in PLAY
  39. Educators use PLAY to investigate, imagine and explore ideas
  40. Children initiate and contribute to PLAY
  41. Educators join in children’s PLAY and model reasoning, predicting and reflecting processes and language
  42. Children use the processes of PLAY, reflection and investigation to solve problems
  43. Educators think carefully about how children are grouped for PLAY, considering possibilities for peer scaffolding
  44. Educators explore ideas and theories using imagination, creativity and PLAY
  45. Educators engage in enjoyable interactions with babies as they make and PLAY with sounds
  46. Educators use language and representations from PLAY, music and art to share and project meaning
  47. Children contribute their ideas and experiences in PLAY, small and large group discussions
  48. Children exchange ideas, feelings and understandings using language and representations in PLAY
  49. Educators engage in enjoyable interactions with babies as they make and PLAY with sounds
  50. Children exchange ideas, feelings and understandings using language and representations in PLAY
  51. Children take on roles of literacy and numeracy users in their PLAY
  52. Educators engage children in PLAY with words and sounds
  53. Educators join in children’s PLAY and engage children in conversations about the meanings of images and print
  54. Children use language and engage in PLAY to imagine and create roles, scripts and ideas
  55. Educators join in children’s PLAY and co-construct materials such as signs that extend the PLAY and enhance literacy learning
  56. Children use symbols in PLAY to represent and make meaning
  57. Children identify the uses of technologies in everyday life and use real or imaginary technologies as props in their PLAY
  58. Educators integrate technologies into children’s PLAY experiences and projects

Reflect on the ways the EYLF uses PLAY and how you are currently seeing PLAY in your centre.


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Views of play since late 1800s

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Views of play since late 1800s

Late 1800s

Play was thought to be character building and to strengthen good moral character but children were not thought to learn anything eg Play is aimless and it gets rid of surplus energy (Spencer) 1873.

Early 1900s

Play allows a child to practice adult behaviours. Children are more interested in the process rather than the products of play. Play changes as the child develops (Groos) 1901.

Play used as a way to gain insights into a child’s phobia. Role play used to eliminate the phobia (Freud) 1909.

Mid 1900s

Each child goes through the same stages of development and play in the same order. Stages of play: sensorimotor stage with six sub-stages (birth to 2 years), preoperational/ symbolic stage (2–7 years). Play includes solitary, social, imaginary and object play (Piaget) 1962

This was implemented through Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) where observations of young children were recorded and analysed in accordance with social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language domains – “ages and stages.”

Late 1900s

Frobel popularised the idea that the types of activities children engage in are crucial to their learning.  He developed kindergartens and toys/activities e.g. blocks, puzzles, construction kits, collage trolleys, child-sized home corner or dramatic area, child-sized tables and chairs, trestles and planks, slides, jumping mattresses.

Early 2000s

This period saw the emergence of EYLF and post-developmental theories of play. Play complexity is related primarily to children’s experiences and activities rather than their age.


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