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Welcome to the international Children's Mathematics Network

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Which is it to be?

      Play is widely acknowledged as a significant activity and context for young children, although there is

no agreement on what is meant by the word 'play' (Bodrova, et al., 2003). Of greater concern is that policy-makers and curriculum writers increasingly interpret 'play' to suit their own views of early childhood education, and the outcomes they would like to see, and with the increasing 'schoolification' of early childhood education, children's opportunities to immerse themselves in play is often marginalised.

     A plethora of descriptive terms has become popular in recent years, including adult planned play, adult-led play, structured play, guided play, playful learning, play-based learning and purposeful play. Woods (2022), refers to these as 'eduplay' [or educational play], that is in sharp contrast to 'play for its own sake' (p. 15).

    Out position is the latter, 'play for its own sake', sometimes referred to as child-initiated or child-led play that is spontaneous and free, and underpinning the play that we have observed, is Vygotsky's socio-cultural theory that regards play as pretend play. All the examples of play on our website - and in our publications - are of children engaged in rich, meaningful and exciting pretend play in which they draw on their experiences, interests and 'funds of knowledge' (Moll et al., 1992), and freely communicate their mathematical thinking - through their Mathematical Graphics and speech. 


See our Blog: Carruthers, E. & Worthington, M. (2022). BLOG: Playful, play and children’s mathematics? Education Journal 486, 14. May 2022 (scroll down).


And (see below), from: "The Guardian view on child's play: help kids to be themselves: Editorial." 22/04/21.


One could come up with the many definitions of the word “play”, but it would be hard to beat Michael Rosen's assertion, in his Book of Play, that it is an opportunity “to invent, improvise, adapt, be creative with the world around you and with the world inside your own head”. At its centre is pleasure and joy. Play, importantly, does not come with specific learning objectives, but can teach children, incidentally, how to negotiate, lead, be in a team, care for each other, stick up for themselves – to understand fairness and unfairness. It allows children to order their world and to realise that the order they have inherited is open to change.”      


Pretend play and Children's Mathematical Graphics.


More references:

    Bodrova, E., Leong, D, J., and Yudina, E. (2023). Play is a play, is a play, is a play... or is it? Challenges in designing, implementing and evaluating play-based interventions. Frontiers in Psychology 14: 1034633. 


     Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzales, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.


     Rosen, M. (2020).  Book of Play. Why play really matters, and 101 ways to get more of it in your life. Welcome. 


      Wood, E. (2022). Play and learning in early childhood education: Tensions and challenges. Child Studies, (1), 15-26.


      Worthington, M., & Van Oers, B. (2016). Pretend play and the cultural foundations of mathematics. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 24(1). 51-66.