A study of Chinese children’s play and concept learning in three parallel activities: implications for teachers’ pedagogies

Yuwen Ma, PhD candidate, Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Email:

Play has been widely recognized as an instrument for young children’s learning in China, but few studies have explored Chinese children’s play and learning experiences in different preschool activities. This paper aims to map children’s play and concept learning in three parallel preschool activities and therefore give teachers pedagogical insights. The concept of “degree of freedom” and “motives” are used to analyze children’s play and concept learning in child-initiated free play (teachers are absent), child-initiated play (teachers participate in), and teacher-directed group learning activities in a Chinese preschool. Digital video observation and semi-structured interviews are used in this study. The findings show that children cannot orient their play motives to learning and maintain the degree of freedom simultaneously in all three activities. This paper argues that a new pedagogy is needed for teachers to maintain the cultural value for group teaching, whilst understanding children’s motives and permitting children’s degree of freedom.

Play, learning, motives, degree of freedom, China

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