Dr Elizabeth Wood - Free choice and free play in early childhood education

Date / Time: 12 June 2012 4-5.30pm
Venue: TT.1.05, Faculty of Education

Elizabeth Wood
Elizabeth Wood

Dr Elizabeth Wood is Professor of Education at the University of Exeter. Elizabeth has recently been appointed to a Chair in Education at the University of Sheffield, commencing in October 2012.  Her expertise lies in early childhood and primary education, specifically the role of play in learning and development; play, curriculum and pedagogy; teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and practices. Her recent research for ‘Education International’ focused on issues of equity and diversity in the policies of teachers’ unions and she is currently developing her work on critical policy analysis within early childhood education.

This presentation will challenge the established discourse of free choice and free play in early childhood education, and develop post-structural approaches to theorising children’s agency in the context of institutional and relational power structures. It is widely accepted that planning a curriculum based on children’s needs, interests and patterns of learning promotes agency, self-regulation and control. However, contemporary research extends this discourse through critical examination of the ways in which children enact different forms of agency in free play. Children’s choices are situated within shifting power structures and relationships, involving conflict, negotiation, resistance and subversion. These concepts are illustrated by the findings from a small-scale research study using naturalistic, interpretive methods for documenting children’s choices of play activities, focusing on ten children in an Early Years Foundation Stage setting in England. Combining contemporary socio-cultural and post-structural theories, the findings indicate that free choice and free play activities create opportunities for exercising and affirming group and individual agency, but may do so in ways that involve inclusion and exclusion. The study raises critical questions about how children make and manage their choices, and examines the implications for policy and practice in light of restrictive versions of ‘educational play’. 

For further information about this event please contact Sally Peters.

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Those who couldn't make it to the session can see the PowerPoint and listen to the audio recording of the presentation. The audio files are in two parts below: