Cultural Mediation of Teacher participation in Children’s Play

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Research Rationale, Aims and Questions


We have presented the evidence of the learning and developmental benefits of pedagogically arranged adult-child joint pretend play. With regard to this we would like to clarify that the goal oriented way of thinking may be easily adopted in preschool culture because of the goals in the Swedish preschool curriculum amongst other things. It is however the fact that evidence point to the multi developmental aspects, stimulated in pretend play (in meaning making dialog between children and adults together) when no predetermined goals are formulated, which is of interest. We have also reviewed the evidence that preschool teachers in Sweden tend not to engage in pretend play with children. Furthermore, in view of state requirements that preschool teachers base their work on scientific knowledge and proven experience it is important to understand how currently preschool teachers think about, arrange for and participate in or not, pretend play with children. If there are ways to work and arrange situations so that children learn and develop in ways that are more beneficial to them, it is of importance to investigate this further in order for the preschool activities to develop and improve.


To develop knowledge that contributes to understanding the relationship between pretend play and children’s’ learning and development, as well as the development of preschool didactics and pedagogical activities based on this knowledge.

Research questions

1.Do teachers engage in pretend play with children in preschool? If so, how?
2.How do teachers understand the developmental and pedagogical role of adult participation in children’s pretend play? What does their application of this understanding look like in practice?


We conducted a case study of teacher’s engagement in pretend play with children at a local municipal preschool. The study combined semi-structured interviews with individual teachers and field observations of children’s activities in the preschool. We drew on concepts from CHAT to design and interpret this study.
Case studies are applied in order to study an individual, a group of individuals or activity from a holistic approach. Gathering comprehensive information is very important, which means that the researcher need to use different methods when gathering the data. Field studies are often mentioned synonymously, as case studies are often carried out in the natural environment of the people concerned (Patel & Tebelius, 1987).

Field site

We conducted our research at a municipal preschool. The preschool has six units, with 113 children attending, and 22 preschool teachers, two preschool teacher’s assistant, and one additional staff member.
We chose to conduct our study at the preschool where we both conducted our seven-week teaching practicum as the base. Our decision to conduct our research at this school was based on considerations related to the quality of our research. We reasoned that our prior experiences at the school gave us insight in to the day to day work of the school that someone without experiences would lack. Furthermore, we had developed a rapport with our supervisors and teachers, which facilitated our research entrée.


Eight preschool teachers participated in the study. Seven of them were female age from 27-62. Three of the female teachers had worked between three to six years and the other four teachers had worked between 12 – 39 years in the profession. The male preschool teacher was 52 years old and had worked 24 years in the profession.
Twelve children participated in the study; six children age one to two in one department and six children age three to six in another department.

Semi-Structured interviews

We chose to carry out semi-structured interviews in order to document the preschool teacher’s thoughts and perspectives concerning play in preschool, and in particular, the teacher participation in preschool play. The teachers were interviewed individually. The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed.
To assist us during the interviews, we compiled an interview guide with prompts and questions designed to help us gather information to address our research questions (see Appendix 1). The guiding topics for our interviews were: The types of play teachers see take place at the preschool, opinions about the different types of play, thoughts about play for learning versus play as learning1 and thoughts about play competence. We also had two goals concerning play included in the preschool curriculum that we planned to have a discussion about. Teachers thoughts on play competence were of interest because of the study of Lillvist et al (2012) in which an account for teacher’s views on this topic area are given. We reasoned that asking teachers about play competence could function as a valuable source to compare against to increase the understanding of preschool teacher’s thoughts on play. To prepare the teachers for the interviews we also sent them an email prior to us meeting them (see Appendix 2.). In the preparatory email we asked them to write down two examples about play (that that they had experienced) prior to the interviews and send their text to us. This was done in order to stimulate their thinking about the topic and to help us get into conversations with them with their answers as a starting point during the interviews.

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Field observations

Field observations were conducted in order to get a general sense of the kinds of play that took place at the school over the course of the day and to gauge the frequency and nature of teacher participation in this play. Observations were conducted in two departments:
Two days (Day one: 8:30-12:00, day two 8:30-11:15) in one department for children age 1-2, and a single day long observation (8:30-16:00) in one department for children age 3-
5.We choose to involve ourselves (participant observation) with the children when we observed them so that our presence would not appear strange. Observation field notes were recorded within 48 hours of the observations.
Every effort was made to conduct observations in those units where research participant teachers did their work. We got consent, and we were able to do observations at the department for children age 3-5 and we got consent and we interviewed three preschool teachers from this department. We did observation at one department for 1-2 year olds and we interviewed one preschool teacher from this department. In addition to this we also interviewed three preschool teachers from the other department for 1-2 year olds.

Analysis Methods

Our analysis process involved repeated readings of the interview transcripts and field notes. When we conducted these readings we looked at the texts from the perspective both of our research aims and questions, and from the CHAT concepts of activity systems and mediation (see Section 2.4 above). Specifically, we thought about the preschool teachers as actors in the activity system of their preschool. Through our readings of the texts we identified themes related to teacher participation in play, and examined the relationship between these themes and the different mediational means of the preschool activity system.

Trustworthiness and Ethics

A small scale qualitative study which involved three units, the current research intended to provide an in-depth characterization of the teachers’ views with respect to the developmental and pedagogical role of adult participation in children’s pretend play and if and how they engage in play. The research was therefore carried out in the specific context in which they work. No generalizations about adult child pretend play can thus be made based on interviews and observations drawn from our words.
We followed the ethical protocols outlined by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, 2011). Informed consent was obtained from the participating teachers and from the parents of the children who were part of our observations. We were careful to inform all the participants’ that their identity would never be revealed. It was made clear to the preschool teachers and children that they could drop out of the study at any time.



We begin by addressing our first research question: Do teachers engage in pretend play with children in preschool? If so, how? The interviews and the observations showed that the preschool teachers, in line with the findings of previous research, tended not to participate in imaginary play with children and that when they did, their level of engagement varied. The teachers reported that on occasion they engaged in pretend play with the children. During our observation days at the preschool teachers did not engaged in imaginary play with the children. Based on what they reported in their interviews, when the teachers did participate in imaginary play with the children, they appeared to take a passive role (e.g. as a kind of “prop” character, or helping with “stage management”). Importantly, we documented differences between what the teachers wished they could do and what they actually did when it came to engaging in pretend play with children. The opinion that the reality of the working day at the preschool can throw over the plans and intentions that were there originally seemed to be important. We also observed differences among the teachers with respect to seeing potential for a greater involvement in children’s play vs. seeing greater practical difficulties in arranging for play with the children. We understand that there are demands in the profession that complicate the work of a preschool teacher however we interpret this difference as a difference in attitudes (compare seeing a cup as half full or half empty).
We identified three general topic areas through which the teachers organized their thoughts and discussion with respect to the nature of preschool teacher’s participation in children´s play. It is through these topic areas that we are able to address our second set of research questions: How do teachers understand the developmental and pedagogical role of adult participation in children’s pretend play? What does their application of this understanding look like in practice? The three topic areas we identified were:
5.1 Beliefs and perspective on adult participation in children’s play
5.2 Teacher Play Competence
5.3 Organizational constraints

1 Introduction
2 Background
2.1 Pretend play and learning in early childhood
2.2 Benefits of adult-child joint play: General Considerations
2.3 Adult participation in Pretend Play: The perspective from Sweden
2.4 Adult-child Joint Pretend play in Swedish Preschools today: A culturalHistorical Analysis
3 Research Rationale, Aims and Questions
3.1 Rationale
3.2 Aim
3.3 Research questions
4 Methods
4.1 Field site
4.2 Participants
4.3 Semi-Structured interviews
4.4 Field observations
4.5 Analysis Methods
4.6 Trustworthiness and Ethics
5 Results
5.1 Beliefs and perspectives on adult participation in children’s play
5.2 Teachers perspectives on their own Play competence
5.3 Organizational Constraints: Relation between administrative responsibilities and possibilities for organizing play
6 Discussion: Cultural Mediation of Teacher participation in Children’s Play
6.1 Beliefs & Perspectives on Adult Participation: Cultural Mediation of Teachers Philosophies of Play Participation
6.2 Play competence: Cultural Mediation of Teachers understandings of The relationship between play and learning
6.3 Organizational Constraints: Mediation of possibilities for participating in Play
7 Conclusion: Implications and Future research
”But it’s not always so easy to join the play because one should be here and one should be there”

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