How do educators engage in toddlers’ play to support the construction of collective knowledge?

How do adults enter toddlers’ play in institutional practice? How does an educator position themselves in play with toddlers to support their imagination and learning in a shared play space? This paper finds the educators’ involvement and peer interaction are significant for learning and social construction of collective knowledge.

What the research tells us
We use Vygotsky’s cultural–historical concepts of the social situation of development and play to form the research foundation. The research methodology includes visual narrative methodology and reflective interviews to explore toddlers’ everyday play. One play episode of an educator entering shared collective play with toddlers is examined and analysed.

Discussion of case example: ‘Noisy neighbours’
The case example is a videoed play scenario with toddlers whose ages range from 18 months to three years old. Focus child Luci is two years, seven months old and is playing with educator Juan and three peers. Our example focuses on Juan, Luci and her peer, Emily (2 years, 10 months old) as they create a play scenario, which we name ‘Noisy neighbours’. In a small corner space that holds a small bed and a screen, the play scenario unfolds around an experience familiar to toddlers: bedtime and getting to sleep.

1. Community, every day and imaginary knowledge of toddlers
The imitation of social roles of mummy and baby in bed at home with a soft bunny and being read to, is the imagined play situation that enhanced toddlers’ self-awareness of patterns in everyday life. Juan is aware and capable of using the links between toddlers’ daily themes to create and sustain a collectively imagined play scenario. Juan provides space for toddlers Luci and Emily to offer their own spontaneous responses within an imaginary situation they all enter.

2. Educator building knowledge production that accounts for ‘flow of time’
Educator Juan, when interviewed after seeing the ‘noisy neighbours’ video clip, refers to ‘flow’ of the play experience, suggesting that he holds a notion of spontaneous temporality. Juan and both toddlers, Luci and Emily, share knowledge of the extended play narrative where noisy neighbours can bother babies’ sleeping. The toddlers show collective interest in a playful moment of making noise and being noisy neighbours.

3. Collective knowledge production through imagination is led by toddlers and responded to by an educator
One important finding was how educator Juan identified the play scenario created with toddlers and allowed them freedom to imagine, create and initiate different ideas with available artifacts. In the example of collective knowledge production, Juan is respectful, caring and affective. He follows the toddlers’ imaginary situations and at the same time frames their play, with a view that this is the time to create relational knowledge about how to play.

Findings imply educators of toddlers need to have greater awareness of the importance of entering toddlers’ play by being responsive to their expressive activity and ideas, in order to create a shared space for development of collective knowledge. In addition, the educators’ own knowledge of toddlers’ home and community life context was critical in collective knowledge creation. Juan’s knowledge became Luci’s knowledge, and at the same time Luci’s knowledge gave Juan opportunities to enrich and widen collective knowledge of participating toddlers.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How might educators take an active role in entering young toddlers’ play to create space for collective knowledge construction?
  2. Why do we need to critically reflect on educators’ pedagogical positioning in young toddlers’ play?

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Liang Li'
Dr Liang Li is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. Research interests are family studies, cultural–historical studies, visual methodology, play and pedagogy, babies’ and toddlers’ development and education, teacher education and children’s heritage language development.

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