Play, peer relationships, and academic learning: Exploring the views of teachers and children

by Russo, H. Lindsey, Ed.D., TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, 2009, 238 pages; 3388719


The primary purposes of this qualitative case study were to explore and describe the relationships that develop when preschool children are engaged in play and to examine the connections among peer relationships, socialization, academic learning, and play through the lenses and voices of the children and teachers chosen as participants. The study was conducted with a group of 4- and 5-year old children over a period of 4 months. In response to a climate of increasingly academic expectations experienced by many early childhood educators, the research questions aimed to address if and how the relationships formed during play related to academic learning. Entry into the classroom was achieved using a recursive entry strategy. Data, collected in two phases, included field notes, videotapes, audiotapes, researcher journal, and informal interviews and conversations with the children and teachers. Using a recursive method of data analysis, categories such as group acceptance and rejection, play entry strategies, and role within play episodes began to emerge. These categories were broken down further building a picture of how learning was supported within the children's play.

Changes in the curriculum to meet increasingly academic demands had a clear influence upon many different aspects of the classroom environment. While the teachers claimed to value the inclusion of play in the curriculum they separated play and learning into different elements and their roles became that of director rather than facilitator.

The children constructed an important peer culture. This strong, supportive environment became the foundation for the development of those social skills that scaffolded academic learning. Labels like "work" and "play" were of no concern to the children if the activity was enjoyable. Even when an activity was fun it immediately became "work" if an adult intervened. They often identified peers with very specific skills, invited them to join the group in order to increase the complexity and duration of a play episode. As they engaged in play episodes of their own creation, they expanded their learning and skill acquisition across many developmental domains.

AdviserCelia Genishi
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsEarly childhood education
Publication Number3388719

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