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Early childhood policies internationally have been informed by evidence that participation in early childhood education makes a positive difference to children’s learning and development. Attempts to understand the purposes and value of play within early childhood policy frameworks have produced various curricular documents across international contexts. This paper employs text analysis linked to Wood’s [2014. The play-pedagogy interface in contemporary debates. In L. Brooker, M. Blaise, & S. Edwards (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of play and learning in early childhood (pp. 145–156). London: Sage.] three modes of play – child-initiated play, adult-guided play, and a technicist version of educational play – to identify where curricula in three different countries in diverse parts of the world currently sit within educational discourse. We provide a brief historical and contextual overview of curriculum policy influences in each country. We then analyse curricular documents in relation to Wood’s modes. We argue that shifts in policy frameworks are moving towards technicist and didactic uses of play. Furthermore, these uses are inconsistent with research that indicates what supports children to learn and thrive in contemporary contexts.
Curriculum policy development and implementation are complex and problematic. The history of ECE curriculum development has been tied to increasing recognition of the importance of providing children with optimum health, welfare and education provisions, alongside economic policies that enable children’s later school success alongside adult workforce participation. This article has presented a text analysis of the word play to identify the ways play is represented in curricular documents in Brazil, New Zealand, and Ontario, and analysed this in terms of Wood’s (2014) three modes of play: Mode A – child-initiated, Mode B – adult guided, and Mode C – technicist educational play. Alongside psychological research there has been a growing research base about the benefits of play for children’s learning and longer-term outcomes. Contemporary theories encourage adults to engage in Mode B-type productive learning relationships and interactions that respect children’s learning intentions and agendas. This research and theory appears to have largely been ignored in favor of research emphasizing brain/cognitive development as countries have developed new iterations of ECE curricular documents that move towards Mode C.
The role and use of play as pedagogy within, or in interpretations of curriculum, occur differently in different cultural contexts. We have identified shifts over time in curriculum and pedagogical practices in our different three historical, economic and cultural contexts. There are some similarities in the way play is being framed within these curriculum policy frameworks but also changes occurring as countries revise these. Elements of Wood’s (2014) three modes are able to be located, but shifts over time appear to struggle to continue to prioritize child-initiated play (mode A) and balance this with adult-initiated play (mode B). In particular, there may be drifts towards mode C as governments take account of selected neuroscience and effectiveness research that suggest academic programs or early intervention are needed to give children a cognitive head start (e.g. Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, 2015; Sylva et al., 2010).