Date of Submission
This research thesis examines the establishment of Supported Playgroups in Schools (SPinS). The aim of the project was to examine SPinS as an under-researched area of early childhood education, involving parents, children and schools promoting children’s access to play. Children’s access to play is important because play in the early years is known to increase children’s later learning outcomes (Roberts, 2010). A sociocultural approach to this study was used to understand ways in which parents learn. This thesis explores parents’ participation in SPinS and the influence of this participation on parents’ perspectives of children’s play.
The research was framed by one research question: What influence does participation in a SPinS have on parent perspectives of children’s play at home and in a playgroup setting? A key focus of the study understood the provision of SPinS to support parents to engage with their children during a play-based program, and how parent engagement in children’s play was transferred to the home.
In Australia, many families attend playgroups in their local communities for the purpose of play and social engagement (Playgroup Victoria, 2012). These playgroups are self- managed and run by the parents attending. A key role of supported playgroups is to engage families in the community who do not attend community groups. These groups are funded by the State Government and employ a trained playgroup coordinator. The key focus is usually to deliver a service that supports the parent role and promotes children’s learning through play. This project reports on a new initiative of providing supported playgroups in local primary schools to establish and extend on partnerships between early years services, community organisations and parents. Research on supported playgroups is limited and much of the work in Australia has been conducted by only a few researchers (Matthews, 2009; McArthur et al, 2010 and Jackson, 2011b). The research conducted so far has been on supported playgroups, but not supported playgroups located in schools. Existing research suggests that parent support is a major component to improving educational outcomes of children by promoting quality Home Learning Environments and play-activities in the home (Sylva et al., 2014). Support for parents is achieved by providing access to “high quality learning environments that encourage parents to engage in conversations about children, children’s play and children’s development (Jackson, 2010, 2012).
The research reported in this thesis therefore focussed on the influence participation in a Supported Playgroup in a School (SPinS) had on parents’ perspectives of children’s play at home and in the playgroup. This was to expand on existing research regarding supported playgroups and to also better understand if SPinS could be used as a parent support or intervention approach for promoting children’s play at home. To conduct the research informing this thesis I used a sociocultural framework that informed social interactions were vital to support learning through guided participation. Rogoff, Matusov and White (1996) investigated a model of learning where learning is described as a process of transformation of participation in sociocultural activities within communities rather than the transmission of knowledge. The focus of learning was parents’ perspectives on play in the home and the playgroup during their participation in SPinS.
A sociocultural theoretical perspective explored the perspectives about play parents derived from their participation in SPinS and how they applied these perspectives in the home and at playgroup. A qualitative research design using a single case study methodology was employed in this research. This approach was well suited to the chosen epistemology because it allowed direct interaction with the participants and represented their views and perspectives. Focus groups were conducted at each of the primary school sites during a SPinS session. The participants were parents attending the SPinS with their children living in the local area. Purposive sampling was chosen for this study because it involved understanding the opinions of a predefined group or target population that was easily accessible. The data analysis was conducted using an inductive approach. This was because there was not pre-determined, well established research in the area of investigation. The purpose of inductive analysis is to allow research findings to be generated from significant themes in the raw data. This allows for the development of a model or theory for explaining the structure of experiences. (Thomas, 2003).
The results suggested participation in SPinS positively influenced parents’ perspectives of play at home and in the playgroup. These perspectives included how they viewed play at home and at the playgroup. A third finding considered the importance of the social connections established by parents during their participation in the SPinS. This finding was consistent with existing research that shows that supported playgroups provide opportunities for families with children under five years old to learn new parenting skills, as well as building social networks (Jackson, 2011a). The primary outcomes reported by Hancock et al., (2011) suggest that playgroup participation improves children’s developmental outcomes, particularly disadvantaged children.
The findings were used to propose a new model for educators to understand how parents learn about children’s play through supported playgroups. This new model was called The Cycle of Intent Engagement (Lambert, 2015). The Cycle of Intent Engagement Model (Lambert, 2015) was created from Rogoff’s (2003) theories on transformation of participation to show how parents’ perspectives of play were influenced by their participation in the SPinS. The Cycle of Intent Engagement Model (Lambert, 2015) focuses on empowering change through collaborative engagement.
This investigation identified the necessity for further research into the way parents engage in their children’s play during SPinS and at home. Findings from this study may be used to inform early childhood professionals, families, schools and governments by expanding their awareness of the benefits associated with supporting families to participate in supported playgroups in the community, especially local primary schools.
Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
Faculty of Education and Arts
Lambert, P. (2015). Supported playgroups in schools and parent perspectives on children’s play (Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University). Retrieved from http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses/590