Learning Through Play Further Reading

We hope you find these suggestions for further reading helpful.  We have provided links where appropriate, but in many cases a subscription will be required to access a particular research article.  Where an article is available without charge on another website, we have included a link to that for your information.  In the case of subscription articles, we do not recommend any particular provider and suggest that you use the information provided below to help you identify the most appropriate research source for you.

Göncü, A. and S. Gaskins. (2007) Play and development: evolutionary, sociocultural and functional perspectives. Abingdon: Taylor and Francis.

Play and Development explores three lines of research concerning this topic: examining these assumptions from an ethological perspective, exploring the view of research that shows play to be socially and culturally constructed, and looking at varied applications of play in the different contexts of childhood. Children’s play is a universal human activity, exploring the view of research that shows play to be socially and culturally constructed, and looking at various applications of play in the different contexts of childhood. With chapters from leading play scholars this book offers some interesting perspectives and raises challenging questions. My personally favourite chapter contrasts cultural beliefs and attitudes about pretend play in Euro-American families and in Taiwanese, in a Kpelle tribal group (in Liberia in Western Africa) and in Yucatan Maya cultures in Mexico.

Broadhead, P., Howard, J. and Wood, E. (2010) Play and Learning in the Early Years. London: Sage Publications.

This book makes a key contribution to understanding children’s meanings and purposes, and to reconceptualising pedagogy in ways that will enhance the potential for learning through play, within and beyond early childhood.

The publication’s contributors examine current theoretical perspectives on play, alongside examples of recent and innovative play research from a range of disciplinary and methodological perspectives. With contributions from leading play scholars, it brings together theory, research, policy and practice in relation to play and learning in early years settings. The emphasis is on the relationship between play and learning, and play and pedagogy, and the need to understand these dimensions more substantially in order to teach with confidence.

Wood, E. (2014) Free choice and free play in early childhood education: troubling the discourse, International Journal of Early Years Education, 22:1, 4-18.

Liz Woods is a well-known play scholar and in this paper focuses on the play experiences of 10 children in an Early Years Foundation Stage setting in England. The findings indicate that children’s choices are situated within shifting power structures and relationships, involving conflict, negotiation, resistance and subversion. Woods argues that child-centred education makes universal assumptions about young children’s abilities to engage in free choice and free play activities, and that to benefit from the unique opportunities that play allows for their learning and development, socialisation, and imaginative capabilities. 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 curriculum frameworks. It concludes by emphasising that if practitioners focus only on assessing the forms of knowledge, skills and understanding that are inscribed in curriculum frameworks, they will achieve fixed and partial meanings and interpretations of children’s free play activities.

Rogers, S. (Ed.) (2011) Rethinking Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Bringing together a collection of chapters from international experts in the field of early childhood education, Rethinking Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education seeks to explore how play in the Early Years is valued as a means of learning. The book discusses how play is presented, transformed by institutional and pedagogical discourses and ultimately experienced by children. Adopting cultural, conceptual and contextual approaches to play and pedagogy across its chapters, this book addresses contemporary emerging issues surrounding play and pedagogy. With international appeal and relevance, this book will be of interest to students taking undergraduate, Masters and doctoral courses in early childhood education, childhood and education studies as well as academic teachers and researchers, policy-makers and international agencies working with young children

Pellegrini, A. and Smith, P. (Eds.) (2005) The Nature of Play: Great Apes and Humans. London: The Guilford Press.

This uniquely volume brings together leading experts in developmental psychology and animal behavior to provide a new perspective on the nature and functions of play. In an introductory chapter, Bateson describes how youthful exploration and games contribute to both individual development and group survival–not only in humans, but in other species as well. Parallel chapters then examine social play, object play, and pretend play in humans and great apes, providing a broader context for understanding why human children behave the way they do. While much of the knowledge on human play comes from industrialised Western societies, the book also features important chapters on hunter-gatherer and pastoral cultures. Throughout, a rich array of black-and-white photographs and other illustrations enliven this authoritative work.

Harris, P. (2000) The Work of the Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell Publications.

In this publication Paul Harris shows that children’s ability to imagine hypothetical and counterfactual possibilities makes a continuing contribution to their cognitive and emotional development. In particular, he reveals how children’s ability to entertain such possibilities is critical for making causal and moral judgments. Incorporating a unique, cross-cutting approach, this book focuses on pretend play, role play,  and make-believe, demonstrating how children’s imagination makes a continuing contribution to their cognitive and emotional development.

Collier, D. (2015) ‘‘I’m just trying to be tough, okay’’: Masculine performances of everyday practices. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 15(2), 203–226.

Investigating possibilities for multi-modal creativity and identity play through some everyday, outside school cultural resources this study examines one child’s transformation and production of multi-modal texts. Kyle, a boy in elementary school, fluidly engaged in playful re-working of identities and resources from everyday culture, such as professional wrestling and rap music. The findings point to Kyle and his family’s understanding and experiences of professional wrestling in contradictory ways as both taboo and appealing. Kyle’s deep knowledge of the genre of professional wrestling reformed as text allowed him to use it in playful ways, this playful and improvised approach to wrestling and other masculine identities, made available through Kyle’s culture that can be explained as a form of masculine melodrama.

Whitehead, D. with Basilio, MM., Kuvalja, M. and Verma, M, April 2012.  The Importance of PlayUniversity of Cambridge

As the evidence mounts of the relationship of play with intellectual achievement and emotional well-being, its value is increasingly recognised by researchers and within the policy arena. This report focuses on the value of children’s play at a particularly important time, as modern European societies face increasing challenges, including those that are economic, social and environmental. At the same time, the opportunities and support for children’s play are themselves under threat, from increasing urbanisation, from increasing stress in family life, and from changes in educational system

Goswami, U. (2015) Children’s Cognitive Development and Learning: Full Research Report. Cambridge: Cambridge Primary Review, CPRT Research Survey 3.

The latest update of this important study will have resonance for all those working and engaged in research in the early years phases. It is written by Usha Goswami, an eminent neuroscientist and Director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at Cambridge University. It is one of a series of research reports commissioned by the Cambridge primary Review trust.

Goswami, U. (2015) Children’s Cognitive Development and Learning: Report Briefing. Cambridge: Cambridge Primary Review, Research Briefing 3

This document provides a summary of Goswami’s full report.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1933/1966) Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Online Version:Psychology and Marxism Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2002

Van Oers, B. Is it play? (2013) Towards a reconceptualisation of role play from an activity theory perspective. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 21(2), 185-196).

This article is available to download for a fee at www.tandfonline.com
For more articles by Bert van Oers, please visit his website at www.bertvanoers.nl

Van Oers, B. Is it play? (2013) Towards a reconceptualisation of role play from an activity theory perspective. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 21(2), 185-196).

This article is available to download for a fee at www.tandfonline.com
For more articles by Bert van Oers, please visit his website at www.bertvanoers.nl

Brooker, L. and S. Edwards.  (Eds.) (2010) Engaging Play. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

This insightful and engaging collection brings together the perspectives of leading and emerging scholars in early childhood education and play from within Europe, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America. Each of these scholars considers, from their own theoretical standpoint, the ways that young children’s play contributes to their learning and development. The chapters cover a variety of contexts and theoretical positions, demonstrating that the process of ‘engaging’ with the theory and practice of play can take many forms. A range of theoretical viewpoints of play are considered and related to the experiences of today’s families, children and educators across different educational settings. The numerous contributors are likely to include many whose names you recognise and some new ones!


We are building a bank of resources to support your early years research project.  Links to suggested further reading in each of the key research hubs can be found below.  Or contact us and let us know how we can make this website more relevant to you and your practice.

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