Childhood Remembered: Reflections on the Role of Play for Holistic Education in Armenia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and Wales
Play remains a topic for discussion, debate, and research within the education community. Zigler and Bishop-Josef (2004) provide an historical overview of early childhood; one of their main findings is play is under siege in many educational circles. The authors indicate, through time, there is a move away from play-oriented learning activities to a narrow focus on academics. Outside of the United States, and in many other countries, shifts occurred toward education focusing on academic skills that “deepen the damage and [make] more permanent the ‘achievement’ gap” between many children (Meier, 2009, p. 12). In opposition to this trend, advocates continue to call for more play-oriented and holistic approaches to learning, arguing the play vs. academics debate with academic support for and against the role of play in early childhood (Miller, 2008). Although this work provides important contributions to the field, prior research often gives little voice to teachers’ perceptions about play, especially from varied and diverse cultural backgrounds.
In this article, we argue for a broader view of education in line with Plato’s observation (gender not withstanding) that “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life” (Jowett, 1874, p. 249). The current approach draws on the recommendation that we move beyond the typical developmental research view to use an interpretivist analysis that considers history, culture, and context (Swadener & Kessler, 1991). We begin with a short overview of the potential and traditional developmental and academic benefits of play. Our argument then focuses on a less common consideration of the holistic benefit of play: We explore teachers’ cultural reflections about the nature and worth of play through the authors’ personal accounts of playful childhood in Armenia, Great Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United States of America. Finally, we provide recommendations for the value of play as part of a whole child education.
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