Early Childhood Education

A Play on Words – introduction

Children of the 21st century face many challenges in the future. Global warming, systemic poverty, educating women, potential wars, evolving technologies and communication are but a few of the challenges facing this generation. These challenges require a responsive global community of collaborative problem-solvers and critical thinkers to guide and lead as life long learners (Prensky, 2001; OECD, 2009; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016a; Silva, 2009). Leaders in education including, the Canadian Association of Deans of Education (2013) continue to support educators of young learners in the quest to solve problems as they develop strong communication skills and collaborative practices. These tools support young children as they develop in a community of learners. I wish to investigate how play contributes to young children’s learning and to build a potential framework for future blog postings.

To gain a deeper understanding of my question, I will briefly review the foundational theory of philosopher, John Dewey (1896) and his contributions to social constructivism. Social interactions within a natural and socio-cultural environment (Neubert, 2009) provide “opportunities for learning through active experimentation, observation, construction, testing and discussion, and artistic expression in cooperation with other learners” (p. 31). Howe and Berv (2000) provide a historical, Western view of constructivist epistemologies: empiricism and rationalism.

“The mind passively receives experience and is active in knowledge construction only post hoc, as it were, only in the sense of ordering what is already given in experience. In rationalism, by contrast, the mind contributes to the construction of knowledge” (Howe & Berv, 2000, p. 20).

Kant and Wittgenstein attempted to make sense of the tension between empiricism and rationalism (Howe & Berv, 2000). Conceptual schemes are neither empirical or rational in their pure sense (Howe & Berv, 2000) but propose “knowledge is made rather than found” (Bredo, 2000, p. 131). Language supports our understandings about the world. Language is positioned within “cultural, historical and social dimensions” (Howe & Berv, 2000, p. 23). Gergen (Schwandt, 2000) puts forth the concept of social interactions as giving meaning to language. Contemporary theorists such as Vygotsky (1986) and Piaget (1970) are associated with constructivism as a theory of knowledge construction routed in socio-cultural dimensions. Vygotsky theorizes that language is socially constructed through social interactions of the community and culture (Liu & Matthews, 2005) while Piaget believes “development precedes learning” (Jafari Amineh, 2015, p. 9). When children role play, they develop vocabulary through noticing the acts of others and objects and naming those acts and objects. They may demonstrate these behaviours through imitation. Language is a communication system and cultural tool to navigate the world. Learning is a process of constructing meaning from our experiences. Children and adults play an active role in the co-construction of knowledge through their playful interactions with one another. Liu and Matthews (2005) contend social constructivism learning theory conceptualizes the epistemology of how learners construct understanding through social interactions and language.

Children develop relationships and conceptual understandings through playful interactions and experiences (OME, 2016b; Roskos & Christe, 2001; O’Connor & Stagnitti, 2011; Banerjee, Alsalman & Alqafari, 2016). Within the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) context of research and pedagogy, educators interact with children as they co-construct meaningful learning experiences in play. Play lets people access opportunities to learn and contributes to a sense of belonging to a community through the relationships and communication systems we have with one another.

My questions include: How does play contribute to early learning? How do relationships in a play-based environment support learning? How is play represented in the official curriculum texts in Ontario?

I conceptualize the problem area for my work as how educators and children develop language through play in Kindergarten learning environments using the Ontario Kindergarten Program (OME, 2016b). This is a complex issue as educators in schools take on the challenge of supporting young children.



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