The Context Of Learning In The Early Years: The Structure And Organisation Of Play

Year: 2015

Author: Stirrup, Julie, Evans, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In countries across the globe, concerns over the impact of poor quality early years education (EYE) on future educational attainment along with increasing health concerns focused on obesity and sedentary lifestyles have together precipitated renewed interest amongst politicians and academics in the early years education of children. Within the UK much of this interest has focused on curriculum reform, focused on child – centred learning through play and providing free childcare places for children as young as two.

In this policy reform, play is generally perceived as the pedagogical mode through which learning takes place, however, how play and therefore learning is to be organised and made available, is not specified in policy literature. Research on early years has strongly suggested that play is an important element of high quality provision for young children in particular for preparing children for formal schooling. Therefore, the ways in which play is organised and structured and the amount of time and resource practitioners allocate to it, are in and of themselves important ‘message systems.

Drawing on data from a three year long ethnographic study of EYE, this paper focuses on how learning was structured and organised through play in three EYE settings in England. The work of British sociologist Basil Bernstein is utilised to explore the structure, organisation and time allocated to the various forms of play which featured in these settings and analyse their potential social and educational consequences. The concepts classification, frame, visible and invisible pedagogies underpin the analyses as they help address the intersections between social relations inside early years settings and outside them e.g. in the family and home. With reference to the structure and organisation of learning, it is argued that different forms of play are afforded very different values across the three settings, influenced by the assumptions practitioners’ make about children and their families, knowledge and resources for learning. The effect of such processes is the reproduction of social hierarchies inside EYE settings, reflecting those longstanding out-with them in wider society.