Crossing the borders of play and learning: ethnic Asian-Chinese perspectives on the value and purpose of a play-based early childhood curriculum

Huang, Ming-Hua (Rita)
Gibbons, Andrew
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Master of Education
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Auckland University of Technology

“Learning through play” is an important component of Western early childhood education, and plays a key role in the play-based curriculum in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, 1996; White, O’Malley, Toso, Rockel, Stover, & Ellis, 2007). However, this concept is challenged in New Zealand by Ethnic Asian-Chinese (EAC) immigrant families, who question the educational value of play for young children (Guo, 2006; Li, 2001a; Liao, 2007; Wu, 2003, 2009). For the early childhood education sector in New Zealand, this tension is compounded by the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996), because it affirms both the valuing of play and the valuing of diverse cultural perspectives. Further research and discussion of EAC immigrant parental perspectives on play in early childhood education will be essential to addressing this tension.

The objective of this research is to investigate EAC parental perspectives on the value and purpose of a play-based early childhood curriculum and to explore the implications for early childhood teachers in order to support the building of effective partnership with immigrant families in New Zealand.

This research involved eight EAC immigrant parents who had or currently have at least one child attending a play-based early childhood setting in New Zealand. A qualitative approach was employed to allow EAC parents’ experiences, values and beliefs of a play-based curriculum to be explored and examined in detail. Factors that EAC parents perceive as being most important for children to learn at a play-based early childhood curriculum were explored through interviews with the volunteer participants.

Findings from the study revealed that although EAC parents may view learning as distinct from play, they agree that children should have an opportunity to play and expect their children to learn through play. The results of the study contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural background of EAC parents and how they perceive children’s learning and play. Practical suggestions for pedagogy and future research were also identified.

Play , Learning through play , Chinese education philosophy , Working with Chinese parents , Early childhood curriculum , Cultural diversity
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