Play: Challenging educators’ beliefs about play in the indoor and outdoor environment

Nicole Leggett
Linda Newman

Western discourses of early childhood pedagogy promote a play-based approach to learning, growth and development. However, play is a contested concept. Educators’ understandings can vary from allowing freedom for children to play without interference, through to a range of adult engagement levels. The Australian Early Years Learning Framework adopts a play-based approach to children’s growth and development, though says little about adult roles or intentionality in play. This paper draws from recent research that explored educators’ beliefs and understandings of their roles as intentional teachers within indoor and outdoor learning environments. Findings highlighted differences between role and responsibility perceptions whereby educators shifted roles from teacher to supervisor between contexts. Drawing on Vygotsky’s sociocultural approach that regards play as a social event and the leading source of development, promoting cognitive, emotional and social development in young children (Connery, John-Steiner & Marjanovic-Shane, 2010), we believe that a re-examination of the role of the educator in children’s play requires specific attention. Finally, based on the research, we contest the notion of ‘free play’. This paper suggests that by acknowledging the role of the educator as an intentional teacher both indoors and outdoors, and emphasising the complexity of the educator role, a more robust definition of play that is reflective of contemporary early childhood contexts and curricula can evolve to strengthen educator understanding and practice.


Australasian Journal of Early Childhood—Volume 42 Number 1 March 2017.

Don’t forget, the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood is tax deductible for early childhood professionals.