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The setting offered many different opportunities for learning, both formal (instructional) and informal (adult-led or child-initiated), but most of these opportunities fell outside Khiernssa’s cultural repertoire. She learned to ‘play’ by spending long days in the home corner with a couple of friends, nursing dollies and soft toys; and she leapt at the invitation to ‘work’ (in her family’s terms) by writing letters or her name, and copying pictures from books. Her teachers’ carefully planned strategies for experi- ential learning made little sense to her, as this observation of an adult-led ‘science’ activity demonstrates:

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Brooker, Liz, and Suzy Edwards. Challenging Play, McGraw-Hill Education, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ubc/detail.action?docID=771397. Created from ubc on 2022-10-21 05:48:59.

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Learning about the effects of heat on food

Becky (the nursery nurse) calls together a group of five Bangladeshi children, including Khiernssa. All have some Eng- lish but none is proficient. She allocates them to chairs round a table on which an electric toaster stands.

Becky: OK, then – are you all looking this way? What are we going to be doing?

Abu Bokkar: Toast [he has observed other groups undertaking this activity].

Becky: That’s right! We’re going to be … what have we got here? What’s this?

All: Bread … bread … Becky: Bread, and now are you all going to feel what it’s

like …?

She passes two slices of bread around the table; the children hold the slice when it reaches them, uncertainly; put their palm flat against the slice, imitating Becky; pass it on, hastily.

Becky: So what’s it like? [silence] Is it cold? Is it a little bit soft, all soft …?

All: Bit soft [nodding]. Becky: So now what we’re going to do is … Abu Bokkar: Toast! Becky: What we’re going to, we’re going to put it in here, in

the toaster …

She inserts slices; switches on; looks around the room; checks clipboard with lists; the children look at each other, look around the room; start to pinch and poke each other; giggle; eventually the toast pops up.

Becky: So now … now what’s it like?

[Holds toast slices in air prior to circulating.]

Abu Bokkar: Toast! Becky: But what’s it like? Is it going to be … is it going to

be …

[Mimes touching toast and starting at the heat.]

Abu Bokkar: Toast! Becky: But what’s it …? Abdul Rahman: HOT!

50 ENGAGING PLAY

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Brooker, Liz, and Suzy Edwards. Challenging Play, McGraw-Hill Education, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ubc/detail.action?docID=771397. Created from ubc on 2022-10-21 05:48:59.

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LEARNING TO PLAY, OR PLAYING TO LEARN? 51

Becky: Well done, Abdul, you knew it was going to be … [turns to other children] what’s it going to be? Do you want to feel it?

All: Toast … hot …

Becky passes the slices round. The children cautiously touch them. Shortly after this they are dismissed, and Becky makes notes on her list to record their learning.

The children’s potential for learning from this activity was evidently ham- pered by their confusion as to how and why they were intended to partici- pate, as well as by their inability to access the conceptual framework that underpinned it, or the language in which this was presented. As a ‘cultural activity’ it also appeared to mystify many of the English-speaking children (for whom eating the toast would have made more sense). In Rogoff’s terms, the children’s participation, in a literal sense, was undertaken without any shared understanding of the task or its aims; without intersubjectivity.

The most challenging examples of the ‘play pedagogy’ in this setting occurred when the staff made the greatest effort to be playful and ‘child- friendly’: setting up an area as a ‘monster pit’ in which children were intended to scare and excite each other, or a ‘jungle’ in which they could roar and play with furry tiger toys; outings to a park or playground where children were encouraged to swing high, spin fast and race down hills. Khiernssa and her girlfriends viewed such activities with a mixture of fear and disdain, yet they were at the heart of the setting’s playful pedagogy, a visible demonstration of a belief in childhood as a time for fun and excitement, and children as motivated by novelty and challenge. The classroom’s learning activities at no point resembled those of Khiernssa’s home, and in consequence her parents’ own instructional efforts remained largely invisible and unacknowledged.

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