Exploring children's experience of socio-dramatic play through an ethnography of an English Reception class

Stickley, Matilda K. (2018) Exploring children's experience of socio-dramatic play through an ethnography of an English Reception class. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The Early Years in England has seen heavy investment since New Labour came into power in 1997. This distinct educational stage has been highlighted in the media as having the potential to alleviate socio-economic inequalities. The first year of compulsory schooling in England, the Reception year, is the period in which children are inducted into becoming both learners and pupils in a formalised system. It is also the period during which children are considered to be in the high season of imaginative play. Play forms a fundamental part of the Early Years Foundation Stage guidelines, though the nature of what constitutes play is contested by critics and practitioners. With the EYFS framework document stating that all areas of learning must be implemented through planned, purposeful play, tensions arise between freely-chosen, child-led play and adult-led activity. Critics of government interventions have decried the ‘schoolification’ of the Early Years and claim a ‘squeezing out’ of opportunities for freely-chosen play, which they warn has the potential to damage children’s learning dispositions.

This ethnographic case study focuses on the freely-chosen socio-dramatic play of seven children, in the context of their Reception classroom culture. This is based on a socio-cultural theoretical framework and the premise that such play is where rich experience resides; play which is socially, emotionally, and cognitively challenging. Socio-dramatic play comprises children involved in imitative role-play, which lasts longer than ten minutes, uses objects in a make believe context, is between two or more players, and centres on verbal communication (Smilansky, 1968).

Data generation took place over 8 months, employing fieldnotes generated through participant observation, loosely-structured interviews, and researcher reflections. This is set alongside discourse analysis exploring how play and role-play are conceptualised in policy documentation. Microethnographic analyses are made of video data gathered during socio-dramatic play. To put the child’s experience at the centre of the study, artefacts created by children, images, and children’s dialogue are incorporated in the analysis. Findings are presented through a combination of evocative ethnographic prose and a multi-modal analysis of video data.

Through an inductive analytical process, themes emerged from the data highlighting the complex nature of the socially situated play activity. The negotiation of social relationships through play is explored, identifying play as a liminal activity in an identity transition stage through which children are learning how to do school and how to be pupils. Socio-dramatic play is proposed as offering a unique conceptual space in which players can explore expressions of bodily freedom alongside the requirements of the bodily comportment and control which are demanded by school routines. I argue that practitioners should pay attention to the materiality of play: spaces and artefacts which are provided for, and used by, children. Drawing on the analysis, implications for practice are suggested, with reference to techniques by which adults can interact in play in ways which prioritise the child’s emerging needs and interests.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hall, Christine A.
Hood, Philip
Keywords: Education, Ethnography, Early Years, Socio-dramatic play
Subjects: H Social sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 49129
Depositing User: Stickley, Matilda
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2018 14:55
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 17:30
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/49129

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