Understanding practitioners' decision-making to support complexity in children's play in a multi-diverse pre-school setting
University of Sheffield
This collaborative research focuses on how practitioners understand complexity in play to inform their curriculum decision-making and pedagogical approaches in a multi-diverse pre-school setting. This focus aligns with the theoretical underpinning of Froebel’s principles: play is a coherent system leading to diverse and complex manifestations, and is the free, creative expression of human development. We propose that children’s funds of knowledge, interests and working theories are characteristics of this complexity, but are not well understood by practitioners in their curriculum planning and decision-making. Combining Froebel’s theories with funds of knowledge theories can potentially counterbalance the instrumental framing of play in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in England (DfE, 2014).
The EYFS creates tensions for children and practitioners because the normative Learning Goals privilege adult-led play and formal approaches, reduce the potential for complex manifestations of play in multi-diverse communities, and may place children under stress by not recognising their competencies and uniqueness. Children with EAL and SEN are more likely to be assessed as ‘emerging’, which is analogous to a ‘low level of development’, and implies deficit understanding of their diverse play repertoires.
This research aims to understand how practitioners’ curriculum decision-making and planning can be responsive to children’s emergent funds of knowledge, interests and working theories. Using documentary analysis, paired observations with practitioners and families, images, and dialogic research conversations, we will articulate the contemporary theoretical and practical relevance of Froebelian play principles in the context of inclusion and diversities. We aim to conceptualise how diverse languages, cultures and communicative practices are important resources for children, for practitioners’ decision-making, and for play, creativity and learning. The findings and impact activities will inform equity and inclusion by illustrating how practitioners can incorporate diversities and complexity in play, and address deficit constructions of children, particularly those with EAL and SEN.