Playing social justice: How do early childhood teachers enact the right to play through resistance and subversion?




Keywords: Right to play; social justice; early childhood education and care; resistance and subversion


In this paper we narrate how two teachers enact playful pedagogies by resisting the single story of formalised learning discourses in early childhood education and care. Playful learning is well established in international literature and children have the right to play. Yet in contemporary outcomes-driven policy, adult-led formalised teaching has become normalised at the expense of child-initiated play. Play is thus marginalised; positioned as a privilege rather than as a right and dependent on views of children as capable holders of rights. Here, we position play in relation to democracy, equity and social justice by storying how teachers’ circumvent scrutiny to facilitate the right to play and we argue this as a fruitful sub-context for resistance. From this perspective, teachers’ resistances do not just enable play, they embody and enact representative and democratic justice. Firstly, teachers story representative forms of social justice as ‘being the right thing’ in making play happen.  Secondly, teachers enact democratic forms of social justice through resistance actions of ‘doing the right thing’ that entangle an emotional vulnerability to scrutiny. Adopting alternative resistance positions shifts play beyond a privilege and creates transformational spaces for social justice where time, space and materiality have a role to play. We call on teachers and educators to deepen their critical awareness of the narrowness of a single story of learning and the rich relationships between rights and play agendas. We assert that teachers’ resistances can enable playful pedagogies and act as hopeful storytelling of social justice as serious play.    


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Author Biographies

Jo Albin-Clark, Edge Hill University

Dr Jo Albin-Clark is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Edge Hill University. Following a teaching career in nursery and primary schools, Jo has undertaken a number of roles in teaching, advising and research in early childhood education. She completed a doctorate at the University of Sheffield in 2019 exploring documentation practices through posthuman and feminist materialist theories in early childhood education. Her research interests include observation and documentation practices and methodological collaboration and research creation through posthuman lenses. Throughout her work, teachers’ embodied experiences of resistances to dominant discourses have been a central thread.

Nathan Archer, Leeds Beckett University

Dr Nathan Archer is the Director of the International Montessori Institute at Leeds Beckett University. Following initial training as a Montessori teacher, Nathan has undertaken a number of roles in practice, policy and research in early childhood education. He completed a PhD at University of Sheffield in 2020 exploring the activism of early childhood educators.His research interests include issues of social justice in early childhood education, workforce reform policies and the professional identities of early educators.

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