How do children co-create play interaction? Cultural frameworks for collaboration

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Ella Paldam


Aarhus University


DKK 1,250,000




Reintegration Fellowships


The aim of the project is to explore how preschool children draw on cultural frameworks when they co-create play interactions in their everyday lives. It is a core assumption in childhood research that young children understand the world differently from adults. Yet, research on real life peer interaction from children's own perspective is surprisingly scarce. Children's everyday lives take place in a number of different contexts, i.e. homes, preschools, after-school activities, and homes of friends and family, each of which make up micro-cultures with their own norms, rules, and practices. If children perceive their environment in a fundamentally different and more playful way, how do they use local and global cultural narratives when they navigate social play and cultural collaboration?


In recent years, researchers across disciplines have turned their attention to the phylogenetic and ontogenetic advantages of play. Education researchers argue for the merits of a playful approach to learning, archaeologists show the macrohistorical significance of play for cultural innovations, and developmental psychologists argue that play is key in our cognitive development. Lab-experiments show that young children are particularly good at challenging their own understanding of the world, which enables them to learn about their environment remarkably efficiently. A phase of heightened cognitive flexibility appears to be crucial for our enculturation: yet we still lack a basic understanding of the micro-mechanisms of play and shared creativity in real-life socio-cultural interaction.


The project uses video ethnographic methods and Interaction Analysis to explore how children make sense of cultural similarities and differences across contexts when they co-create everyday play interactions. To set up a design that taps into young children's worlds from their own perspective, the project approaches play through two objectives: a) to identify how early childhood cognitive flexibility manifests in collaborative styles and strategies, and b) to map out how children co-create cultural frameworks in negotiating rules, roles, and narrative elements of play universes. Through 100 days of field research in a Danish public preschool, the project aims to identify the micro-mechanisms of children's play and shared creativity in their everyday lives across different contexts.

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