Communities of play for disadvantaged children

Children playing outside.
An important element of the research project is understanding the children’s play activities.
Independent Research Fund Denmark has granted 5.3 million Danish kroner to a new research project examining how play can strengthen the inclusion of socially-disadvantaged children. The project also taps into VIA’s work on social sustainability and UN sustainability development goals 4, 8 and 10. 

Communities of play are the focal point of a new research project that VIA University College is a part of. The project is entitled “Can I join in” and it has received 5.3 million Danish kroner from Independent Research Fund Denmark to research how play can be used as an educational tool to create inclusion in schools.

The project’s research partners are VIA University College, the Design School Kolding, Aarhus University and researchers from Cambridge and Eindhoven. Helle Marie Skovbjerg, professor of play and design at Design School Kolding is project manager. The project’s starting point is children between the ages of 6 and 9, who have difficulty finding a community of play on their own.

Play is important

Hanne Hede Jørgensen, lecturer on the early childhood and preschool educational programme in Aarhus, is to write a PhD as part of the project. She says that being able to play is crucial in relation to being part of the children’s community.

“We know from previous research that many of the children who start in school today don’t have the same skills as we did before. At the same time, we also know that children who are good at playing, thrive better and find learning easier than children who have difficulty playing. Therefore, we will investigate how we can support children’s skills and play so as to strengthen the inclusion of vulnerable children,” says Hanne Hede Jørgensen.

Better understanding of play activities

An important element of the research project is understanding the children’s play activities. Jens-Ole Jensen, senior associate professor on VIA’s early childhood and preschool educational programme in Aarhus, is part of the research project and says VIA will play a particular role here.

“VIA is going to participate in the qualitative research in particular, where we will describe various play activities in depth. We are going to try to understand how different play activities can be used most appropriately and how the early childhood and preschool teachers themselves can participate in the activities,” says Jens-Ole Jensen.

The study of play activities will focus particularly on the children’s free play versus play activities guided by teachers or other adults. The research is to show the significance of preschool teachers leading or participating in the play.

One of the aims of the project is the development of a toolbox of new ways of making play activities that invite children to participate in communities of play and strengthen that inclusion. This will be done through a number of play workshops with teachers and pupils at two selected schools.

New frameworks for children’s play

According to Jens-Ole Jensen, new frameworks for playing have emerged in recent years. This is due to, for instance, the new school reform, an increase in the discourse on learning and that schools now have to include more vulnerable children than before. Thus investigating new ways of playing is quite relevant.

“Children now spend a longer time in school and one effect of this is that there is less room for free play. At the same time, we are increasingly beginning to think about learning in play at an early age, which places additional demands on what play is supposed to be able to do. The increasing desire for inclusion means that communities of play need to be more accommodating, too. That requires a little extra help from adults,” says Jens-Ole Jensen