Adult support and participation in children’s play is pivotal for furthering equality and children’s involvement and agency in early learning settings. However, adults often do not know how to participate in children’s play without negatively influencing the nature of the playing and the overall freedom of play. Further, research indicates that it is increasingly difficult to ensure long-term play activities in preschools due to the rising expectations of efficiency (see, i.e., Paananen & Rainio, 2019). This research project focuses on studying, developing, and creating sustained forms of adult-child joint play, as well as adults’ participation in children’s play, in early education and care and primary school settings, from a cultural-historical and Vygotskian perspective.
Special focus is placed on forms of adult-child joint play called playworlds. Playworlds can be described as a form of adult-child joint play in which adults and children enter into a common fantasy that is designed to support the development of both adults and children. Adult-child joint play is typically structured around a piece of literature, or a work of art. Adults and children work together to ‘bring the literature to life’ through drama and play. Playworlds are based on Vygotsky’s theories of the development of creativity and imagination through play, and were first developed and introduced by the Swedish play researcher Gunilla Lindqvist (see i.e., Lindqvist, 1995; Nilsson, 2009). In Finland, the playworlds were first studied by Pentti Hakkarainen’s research laboratory in Oulu, named Silmu.
The playworld projects in Helsinki are led by Dr. Anna Pauliina Rainio who is a co-leader and co-founder of the international network of playworld researchers (Playworld of Creative Research, PWCR) established in 2004 at the University of California San Diego LCHC research laboratory. The central collaborators are Dr. Beth Ferholt, Dr. Robert Lecusay, Dr. Monica Nilsson, and Professor Miyazaki Kiyotaka.
A central starting point in our international work on playworlds has been to dismantle the dichotomy between children’s ‘free’ and creative play versus adult-guided pedagogical play and to critically examine the ways through which adults and children co-create and interact, and what potential benefits as well as challenges this entails. We have contributed to developing the theory on dialectical contradictions between freedom and control prevalent within early and primary school education, and how these contradictions can be processed through adult-child joint play (see i.e., Rainio, 2008; Rainio, 2010; Rainio & Hilppö, 2017). We are also developing the concept of ambivalence for understanding the ways in which adult-child joint play can enable heterogeneous ways of participation (see i.e., Rainio & Marjanovic-Shane, 2013; Ferholt & Rainio, 2016; Rainio et al., 2021).