Children’s empowerment, play and informal learning in two after school provisions.

Smith, Hannah Henry (2010) Children’s empowerment, play and informal learning in two after school provisions. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores current ideas about children and childhood in Britain through an examination of empowerment, play and learning as identified by policies, professional playworkers, and adult and child service users in two State run after school provisions in a London borough. Conducted in two quite different physical and social environments, the primary research involved an ethnographic study during the academic year 2007 to 2008, based on participant observation and interviews with managers, playworkers, parents and children at both sites. The research found strong connections between playworkers’ attitudes to children’s play, learning and empowerment, and their descriptions of their own priorities and responsibilities. That play and activity were occurring in supervised, closed access, paid-for settings meant that free play and regulation of behaviour were held in constant dynamic tension. Perceptions of playworker’s jobs as both controlling children’s behaviour and facilitating their play highlighted ambiguities inherent in these contexts and produced tensions felt by playworkers and children. Though masquerading as mechanisms for each child’s individual development and fulfilment, play, informal learning and empowerment were imbued with strategic endeavours to steer children’s experiences in particular directions. Furthermore, these ideas and their related practices were understood and implemented differently in the two after school settings. The research focus evolved to look at the impacts of social constructions of children and childhood on playworkers’ practices and children’s experiences. Far from being fixed concepts whose meanings were consistent over time and contexts, ideas about play, learning, empowerment, children and childhood all referred, in fact, to fundamentally dynamic social processes that this thesis reveals and explores. Two key aspects of the complex meanings attached to children and their childhoods emerged. Firstly, the child and childhood are ‘relational’ concepts (Aries 1962) or ‘conceptions’ (Wyness 2000), fluid in their meanings yet constant in their social significance. Secondly, social constructions of childhood can only adequately be understood in their real life social, economic and political contexts (Hendrick 1997a: 35). Reflecting both recent and more conventional ideas, playworkers presented contrasting constructions of the children as victims and products of their social circumstances with predictable futures, or as rights bearers and social agents with a say in their current and future possibilities. The ways in which playworkers controlled or facilitated the children were tied in with these ideas and a matrix of intersecting influences impacting on their confidence, trust and skills - as individuals and as teams - in allowing children to direct their own play activities and to deal with issues. This thesis contributes to gaps in current knowledge and understanding about notions of the child and childhood operating in playwork settings and the effects of these on practices and experiences in these contexts.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

Thesis submitted to Middlesex University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Research Areas:Theses
School of Health and Education > Psychology
ID Code:6700
Deposited On:11 Nov 2010 12:05
Last Modified:20 Jul 2014 16:42

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