Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

From Bogey Mountains to Funny Houses: Children's Desires for Play Environment

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

From Bogey Mountains to Funny Houses: Children's Desires for Play Environment

Article excerpt


THE AIM OF THE CORE curriculum in Finnish preprimary education (National Board of Education, 2000) is to improve children's capacity for learning when they are taught new facts and new skills through play. The term 'preschool', as used in Finland, refers to voluntary but formal preparatory education in primary school or day care centres. Children should experience a vast array of play opportunities in schools, and the play environment should be designed to maximise play (Johnson et al., 2005). This is based on the importance of play in overall development: play is seen as a crucial part of children's physical, cognitive, emotional and social development, and it also encourages creativity and learning (Kieff & Casberque, 2000; Meadows, 1992; Vygotsky, 1978; Wood & Attfield, 2005).

Play covers a broad category of activities--social games, pretence games, playing with toys, and unspecified indoor and outdoor play--and it can be stimulated in different contexts (Pellegrini, 1988, 2005; Wood & Attfield, 2005). Play is also seen as a tool in producing and reproducing culture (Corsaro, 2003, 2005). This view adapts the sociocultural perspective of children's activities and thus attempts to overcome the dualism of the child and the environment by blending them together (Johnson et al., 2005).

Today's children in the industrialised countries are getting short-changed in respect of opportunities to play, and they do not spend much time playing out-of-doors (Scarlett et al., 2005). Although there are numerous criteria for play environments (Wardle, 2003), they are mainly set by adults and municipal authorities; children's authentic perspective is somewhat missing. To find out what outdoor environments should afford, we let the children's voice to be heard. In this study, we look for the children's perspective and an answer to the following research question: 'In what kinds of environments do preschool children want to play?' A sub-question follows: 'In what kinds of environments do boys and girls want to play?' We examine the outdoor play environment and the play interests of girls and boys in the context of pre-primary education.

Gender play

Gender is defined as a cultural construction that comes into being by doing, and it is considered as the way of interacting (Butler 1990; Thorne 1993), in our case in collaboration through play and games. Children themselves are active in reinforcing and weakening gender borders (Corsaro, 2003). Schoolyards and playgrounds are places where those processes are particularly intriguing. Children learn gender as a social category: the culture that is 'natural' for one's own gender. They know clearly that they belong either to the group of males or to the group of females and that their identity is bound into this membership (Maccoby, 1988). The membership is important, but not sufficient. Through joint activities children have possibilities to learn of and from the opposite gender.

Generally, boys and girls seem to play separately because of different play styles (Dunn, 2004). In the school context, children are used to playing separately; girls with girls and boys with boys (Dunn, 2004; Maccoby, 1988; Thorne, 1993). The crowded and public nature of schools and the continual presence of power and evaluation make the separation of genders more probable (Thorne, 1993). Adults working with children see boys and girls qualitatively dissimilar (Martino et al., 2004), and educators are almost always unaware of the biased behaviour they exhibit (Lee-Thomas et al., 2005; Sanders, 2003). These findings lead to gendered cultures, although the whole process is more multifaceted. That is why it is important to conduct research in which children's views are highlighted and gendered interests examined.

Research methodology

The empirical data consists of drawings by children aged from six to seven and of discussions with them. …

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