Children's Empowerment in Play

Canning, Natalie (2016). Children's Empowerment in Play. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis identifies and explores how child-initiated, social play supports a process of empowerment for young children. It is underpinned by a sociocultural framework and interpretive approach. It argues that opportunities and experiences in early years settings are socially constructed by the ideas and practices which are generated through cultural influences over time. A case study methodology for the research involved a sample of pre-school children, parents and early years practitioners. Observational video data of child-initiated, social play in a range of English early years contexts, including home environments, were gathered. Semi-structured interviews and video stimulated reviews of selected video sequences were also conducted with parents and early years practitioners. Children were explicitly located at the centre of the research and talk with children about their play preferences was a core element in the study. The video data were subjected to systematic content analysis using operational codes developed based on an analysis of the literature surrounding children’s play. From the analysis, three super-themes, Participation, Voice and Ownership, and five sub-themes, Motivation, Coordination, Imagination, Problem Solving and Empathy, formed the organising structure of a conceptual framework. This was developed for identifying children’s empowerment in play along with a supporting definition of empowerment. The conceptual framework represents a novel ethnographic approach to the study of young children’s empowerment in play. It offers a new way of thinking about children’s play and the way in which it can be observed in early years practice. This thesis argues for a focus on children’s empowerment in play as a new way of planning and reflecting upon pedagogic practice. The conceptual framework and definition offer a detailed way in which children’s empowerment in play can be understood and analysed so that this can extend and develop early years practitioner’s thinking, values and beliefs.

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