Chat with us, powered by LiveChat What are your thoughts on including digital technology in early childhood classrooms? Do you think it is important to build on young children's interest in popular culture narrati - Writeedu

What are your thoughts on including digital technology in early childhood classrooms? Do you think it is important to build on young children’s interest in popular culture narrati


  • What are your thoughts on including digital technology in early childhood classrooms?
  • Do you think it is important to build on young children's interest in popular culture narratives in early childhood settings? If your answer is 'yes', then what would this look like? How would you work with your students to decide what popular culture characters and narratives should be included?
  • If you believe that popular culture should be kept out of the classroom, what is your rationale? How does this account for including students' out-of-school interests and 'voices' in the early childhood context?
  • When you were a young child, did your preschool teacher, daycare worker, or kindergarten teacher have toys or other props related to your popular culture interests in the classroom? If your answer is 'yes', how did you feel about this? If your answer is 'no', do you think you would have embraced the opportunity to play specific toys, or perhaps, read books centered on the familiar storylines of your favourite characters during your school day?

Required Reading: PDF AttachedOptional Reading:

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 2017, Vol. 18(2) 114 –126

© The Author(s) 2017 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/1463949117714075

Transforming early childhood educators’ conceptions of “dark play” and popular culture

Carolyn Bjartveit University of Calgary, Canada

E Lisa Panayotidis University of Calgary, Canada

Abstract In an online graduate-level early childhood education course, the authors sought to playfully disrupt and transform educators’ conceptions of children’s “dark play,” as provoked by contemporary popular culture. Embracing the imaginative potential of darkness and liminality, the course participants problematized and expanded their thinking concerning what constitutes children’s play scripts focused on themes of fear, power, and violence. Cognizant that some educators are reluctant and even refuse to allow children opportunities to engage in play centered on troubling social issues, the educators co-authored a fantastical tale, inspired by the Disney animation film Frozen, and included course topics, classroom observations, and their own childhood memories of “dark play.” Vivian Paley’s ideas about the connections between storytelling and play provided a creative impetus to the fictional narrative-imagining exercise, as did Hans-Georg Gadamer’s notion of Spiel. Eliciting the literature of children’s play experiences through fictional story-writing, and “play” as a contemporary aspect of creative thinking, the educators entered imaginary worlds of their own making. Unlike a traditional online graduate course format that often incorporates textual readings, posts, and responses, the authors strived to foster a virtual space in which the educators buttressed theories about play and imagination in a deeply felt, experiential, and playful manner. In creating an imaginary story based on the film, the participants gained a different understanding of the nature of play, and came to recognize how popular-culture play themes can provoke and strengthen children’s imaginative and abstract thinking, problem-solving skills, and emotional development. Likewise, this narrative experience showed the potential and role of “dark play” in initiating new ways of thinking and talking with children about the complex issues of the modern world.

Corresponding author: Carolyn Bjartveit, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada. Email: [email protected]

714075CIE0010.1177/1463949117714075Contemporary Issues in Early ChildhoodBjartveit and Panayotidis research-article2017


Bjartveit and Panayotidis 115

Keywords Creative writing, digital learning, early childhood teacher education, theories of play


In this article, we tell a story about a story—a living, breathing narrative—that adult students wrote in a six-week online post-secondary early childhood education (ECE) course which called them into “dark play.” In the evocative research project described below, we critically examined concep- tions of play and literary representations of narrative imagining in a virtual classroom. This study is part of our broader research program, aimed at understanding how ECE professionals play together and imagine in online environments (Bjartveit and Panayotidis, 2014a; Panayotidis and Bjartveit, 2016).

The 16 students enrolled in the class were working in various early years education and child- care settings, and were taking the course as part of a graduate-level ECE certificate program of studies. Their intent was to upgrade and deepen their knowledge about pedagogical theories and practical skills, while working with young children in multiple professional fields and contexts.

In order to connect the students more viscerally to conceptions about “dark play” and fantasy in children’s own lives, we conceived of an imaginative co-creation—a fluid and spiraling literary narrative—that was co-authored by the class participants. Drawing on the literature of children’s play experiences through fictional story-writing, and play as a contemporary aspect of creative thinking, the students entered fantastical worlds of their own making, forging online spaces in which they buttressed theories about play and imagination in a deeply felt, experiential, and engag- ing manner. Their learning was illustrated through a collaborative form of writing and reverberated through an inventive narrative, critical reflections and supplementary visuals, and artifacts that they posted each week in an online class forum. The students’ tale demonstrated a greater discipli- nary, pedagogical, and social understanding of children’s imaginative thinking and the benefits of “dark play”—for child development and early years learning—in a different way. By playing with/ in play, the class participants came to view themselves and their practices through a sociocultural lens. Edmiston (2008: 9) has noted that “[w]hen we play … we enter the ‘if’ dimension to find ourselves on pathways to imagined worlds which for a time can be experienced as more real than everyday life.” Gallas (1994: 2) emphasized that “[u]seful stories, for teachers, are those that ring true, stories that are evocative of their own lives in the classroom.” This play experience, we argue, revealed manifold aspects of interpretive-based instruction, the work of language as a cultural artifact of our individual and collective sense of self, and, significantly, the pedagogical potential of graduate play in an online learning environment. Ultimately, the class participants gained a deeper understanding of the nature of play and the value of “dark play” by exploring the uses of popular-culture narratives and multimedia during the process of teaching and learning.

Through a fictional narrative-writing experience—passing a story between players in a game- like way—the students explored troubling issues associated with children’s play. They questioned the restrictions that adults often place on play (Hewes et al., 2016). They described their personal childhood memories and critically reflected on their observations of play in ECE settings. The students wove dark threads into the colorful narrative tapestry—themes about fear, surveillance, power, and violence. By layering popular culture and dark themes, they disrupted and challenged certain taboos on children’s play scripts. As they developed the story plots and characters, the stu- dents’ complex ideas about children’s play were realized.

Gafouri (2005: 17) defined “play” as children’s primary means of engaging in the world, which provides them “with a situation through which they can explore the world as it is or the

116 Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 18(2)

world as they imagine it.” Our understanding of “play” aligns with Sandberg and Samuelsson (2003: 3), who, rather than defining the term, “state that children express play in many ways and adults interpret what play is in many different ways.” Play, we add, is always contextual and contingent, subject to time and space, histories and cultures, intergenerational and political.

But how do we understand “dark play” and what forms of play might be considered “dark”? Etymologically defined, the term “dark” refers to the “absence of light.” The Old English defini- tion is “obscure, gloomy; sad, cheerless; sinister, wicked,” and the Old High German sources include “to hide, conceal.”1 Uncovering truth shines light into darkness and reveals what was once concealed: “Aletheia, the Greek word for ‘the event of concealment and unconcealment’ … occurs when something opens which was once closed” (Caputo, 1987, quoted in Moules, 2002: 6). Through this study, we have uncovered some truths about “dark” play by observing how the stu- dents created and used sad and sinister stories to test their emotions and exercise critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Discovering how adult learners engage in “dark play” has also raised new questions and ideas about how narrative story-writing and pop-culture themes can support literacy and learning in pre-kindergarten–12 classrooms.

Johnson et al. (1987) pointed out that adults sometimes feel hostile towards play because it is spirited behavior, purposeless and free. The social and cultural construction of childhood and early education is built on a foundation of protection and surveillance:

This innocence requires that access to additional knowledge be withheld or controlled with only “safe” knowledge being allowed. Psychological surveillance (Walkerdine, 1984) is justified for the protection of the innocent child. Younger human beings are no longer agents in their own world, but those who must be limited and regulated. (Cannella, 2002: 35)

Normative western ideals about “good” parenting and teaching (Ailwood, 2007) influence some adults to shield and overprotect children. By monitoring children’s activities, controlling play scripts, and limiting their time to play, adults can deprive children of valuable learning opportuni- ties. We contest that exploring “dark play” themes initiates new ways of thinking and talking with children about complex topics such as gender, class, and race. Through dialogue and observations, educators might further investigate how “darkness” is challenged or negotiated by children, and come to understand if the same “dark” aspects are shared by children and adults alike.

The scholar Brian Sutton-Smith (1983) wrote about “cruel play”—what Schechner referred to as “dark play,” arguing that the “Western concept of play, no matter how controlling … rest[s] on a bedrock of ‘dreams’ and ‘illusions’” (Schechner, 1988, quoted in Sutton-Smith, 2001: 58). We disagree with Scott Eberle (2014: 228), who stressed that “play has no dark side.” “Dark play” is imbedded in play, and we envision it as a liminal space between real and fantastical worlds where imaginations run wild and children can test their emotions. The ensuing excitement and tensions associated with “dark play” can be productive in provoking children’s critical, inventive thinking and problem-solving as they explore complex topics and social issues.

In order to understand and theorize the nature of play, we drew on the hermeneutical approach of Hans-Georg Gadamer (2004) and his notion of Spiel— “the mode of being of play” (103). For Gadamer, the back-and-forth movement of Spiel and language come together to reveal and inter- pret lived experience. Gadamer described play as having a spirit of its own:

The movement of playing has no goal that brings it to an end; rather, it renews itself in constant repetition. The movement backward and forward is obviously so central to the definition of play that it makes no difference who or what performs this movement. (104)

Bjartveit and Panayotidis 117

Expanding on Gadamer’s ideas, we explored how imaginative play (Spiel) can support our under- standing of our day-to-day worlds through storied frameworks. Given that our participants worked with children, we drew on children’s imaginative play scripts and narratives, particularly the work of Vivian Paley (1981, 2001, 2004), who recorded young learners’ dramatic storytelling in the kindergarten classroom. Scholars (Kearney, 2002; King, 2003; Loy, 2010) who write about the symbolic and functional work of storytelling in sociocultural, historical, and political contexts have also offered us ways to think about storytelling as a form of imaginative play. For example, Rodari suggested that children

must be encouraged to … reproduce their own language and meanings through stories that will enable them to narrate their own lives. … [T]he imagination has rules of its own that must be respected if children are to respond and seek more knowledge about language and imagination. (Rodari, 1996: xix)

As the educational philosopher Gert Biesta (2014) acknowledges, teaching as transcendence is a “gift or … an act of gift giving” (43). He argues that “to be taught” rather than to “learn from” “is to be open to receiving the gift of teaching … being able to give such interruptions a place in one’s understanding and one’s being” (57). So, while we are telling you a story about a story, we are nimbly attending to layered stories about creativity, humanity, history, culture, and life experiences in classrooms, forged through the close relations of teachers to their students, and pedagogies of hope and aspiration in the always risky enterprise of education (Bjartveit and Panayotidis, 2014b).

The lure and allure of imaginative play

Luring students to play online and fueling their allurement was an important feature of this course. To “lure,” a 14th-century French term, is to “entice” and “attract.” Germanic and Old English ety- mologies see “lure” as a “call,” a “bait,” or an “invite.”2 Following Biesta (2014), we see teaching as enticement and attraction. We are drawn to the idea of a “call” or “invitation.” We are not only invited to play, but also called into play by play. As Gadamer (2004: 105) has elucidated, “[t]he primacy of play over the consciousness of the player” is fundamental to “playing.” Significantly, “allure” points to wonder and magic. To be lost in play is to be “captivated” or, as Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi (1992) would suggest, to be in the flow—a space where time stands still and where the lure of play is paramount.

As children, we ourselves were fascinated by and invented our own “dark play” scripts. Bjartveit recalled:

When I think back to my childhood years in eastern Canada, enacting ghost stories is clearly etched in my memory. My fascination with spirits and hauntings was fueled by classic tales, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” [Irving, 1819]—a story I played out in schoolyards and parks. In the 1970s, I lived in the residential community of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Montreal’s West End. An ally near my house―a place I called Scary Lane―was where I unleashed my wild dreams and told my friends the frightening tales that I had read. The children living in the neighborhood never walked through Scary Lane after dark, especially on Halloween night. I convinced them that the headless horseman would ride down the lane and search for children to catch and murder. I remember the dares and wagers I made with my playmates and our excitement (and terror) on Halloween night when we tested our emotions and bravely crossed the lane. My enchantment with ghosts sparked an interest in geographical imagination and haunted places. In my mind, the back ally was a terrible and magical place. Through telling and performing stories, I became an adventurer and time traveler. Popular series of adventure books from that time, like the Nancy Drew mystery stories, written under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, did not spark my curiosity and wonder like old fairy tales.

118 Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 18(2)

Panayotidis, meanwhile, growing up a world away, was enthralled with tales of the ancient cultures and mythical gods that bordered the Mediterranean—whether stories of the Babylonians, the Athenians, or the Persians. For Panayotidis, parents and teachers playing out imaginary wars with rough-fashioned paper swords, helmets, armor, and shields, amidst wild torturous cries, were not conceived as “dark play,” but a form of heritage and imaginative historical re-enactment. Such play was supported by the Greek elementary school curriculum and children’s literature. One signifi- cant series of books which prompted Panayotidis’s imaginative play was “I Was There” (“Ήμουν kiEo”). Set amidst these ancient cultures, it follows the time-traveling adventures of a young boy named Alki. He meets other children, who explain to Alki their cultural traditions, rituals, and histories. Through its reading, the reader experiences and then enacts escapades from Alki’s exploits in these now lost worlds. The traditional story hook “Once upon a time” is replaced by “I was there.”

With this spirit of play, at the beginning of the semester, Bjartveit invited the students to create a fictional narrative based on the Disney animation film Frozen (2013). Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen,”3 the story is about a princess named Elsa who is cursed with emitting ice from her fingers and freezing everyone and everything in her surroundings. Afraid of her own powers and wanting to protect her sister, Anna, from the spell, she flees the kingdom, but is eventually reunited with her family. According to Jennifer Marsh (2014a: 270), the plot “is unusual in that there is no stock villain and the handsome prince, who initially appears as if he will help Anna to rescue Elsa, turns out to be a bad character.” Media writer Maria Konnikova (2014) has suggested that, for some viewers, the film “was about emotional repression; for others, about gender and identity; for others still, about broader social acceptance and depression.” To disrupt the traditional polarization between good and beauty (in the case of the no-good prince) is a fundamental that relates to this dark play. During the first week of the course, Bjartveit posted the following invitation to the students on the online discussion board:

I invite you to enter the imaginary world—the graduate program in fantasy play—and dream and imagine with me. Weave your own ideas and questions about play into a story. You will receive the piece once during the six-week course. Read the narrative, add a short section and send it back to me within two days. I will then pass the story on to the next player. Include ideas, quotes, images, and video clips related to the weekly course topic and readings, as well as your own lived experiences. Feel free to change the storyline and plot. This exercise will provide a different way to take up and understand some of the topics and issues about play that we are discussing in class. Each Friday, I will post the story in the online discussion forum. Continue to read the tale as it unfolds and post your ideas and questions about the story—your comments will assist the next player.

So, how did the students take up this invitation to construct a fictional story? Each student was asked to write one section of the tale during the course. Although the activity was non-graded and participation was voluntary, everyone in the class contributed ideas and wrote a section of the narrative. Upon completing their piece, the students returned the story to Bjartveit, who then sent it to a different participant. At the end of each week, she posted the narrative online for everyone to read and respond to. In addition to the writing activity, the students were asked to answer specific questions and complete weekly tasks related to various play topics posted on the online discussion board. Not wanting to create a “textbook” course where the class participants would read the assigned articles and post their responses to tasks and questions, we provided opportunities for the students to explore and engage with the course content and topics through experiential play. Our collaboration on the project involved reading the narrative sections that the students posted online and, through ongoing critical dialogue, interpreting how the storyline

Bjartveit and Panayotidis 119

reflected the students’ understanding of the course’s content—historical, theoretical, practical, and sociocultural perspectives on children’s play.

The story-writing activity itself was inspired by Bjartveit’s childhood memory of the Telephone Game—a favorite icebreaker activity where secret messages are passed from person to person around the circle, and the words and meanings change. Similarly, we wondered what would happen if we randomly passed a make-believe story from student to student, and invited each person to write a section of the narrative. Although she was intrigued by the idea of this story-writing game, Bjartveit was not sure how to begin the tale and what play-related topics to choose. She posted the following introduction, which included her own questions and angst concerning restrictions she had observed adults place on children’s play in some ECE settings:

In many of the childcare centers that I visited last year, children were creating play scripts and artwork about the Disney movie Frozen. Although some educators facilitated the children’s dramatic play and provided costumes and props, other teachers discouraged children from talking about the film. One school had a sign posted on the playroom wall: “This is a Frozen-free zone!” An exasperated teacher commented that she hoped Disney would produce another movie soon as adults are tired of children’s obsessive preoccupation with the film. The theme song, “Let it go,” had become the mantra of some educators. I thought about the lost possibilities for imaginative play and wondered how children would work around the restrictions placed on them. In “letting go” of my own inhibitions—stepping out of my comfort zone—I imagined what the movie characters―Princesses Elsa, Princess Anna and the snowman Olav―might say about adults limiting children’s play. In describing her own fantastical narratives, Vivian Paley (2004) wrote, “imaginary characters were no different from those that entered the children’s play … We would talk and listen to them and tell their stories at will. They did not mask reality; they helped us interpret and explain our feelings about reality” (p. 29). If storytelling connects to and sparks play (Paley, 2004, p. 41), I wonder what we might come to understand about the nature of play and children’s play experiences through a fictional story-writing exercise. Furthermore, how do adults play and learn together in an online graduate course?

Bjartveit initiated the narrative activity with mixed emotions. She was excited, because she had invested time and effort in writing an introduction to the story and was curious about the students’ reactions, but this was mixed with reservations about how the participants would respond to her invitation. She had to remind herself that play is risky for the students and the instructor. Most recently, Biesta (2014) has noted the importance of risk-taking, which is required in all educational contexts. Notions of “creativity,” “risk,” and “virtuosity,” he has noted, are inherent to all educa- tional enterprises, including contexts, processes, policies, and, of course, university post-secondary classrooms. Choosing a class activity with unpredictable learning possibilities forced us to step out of our comfort zone. We were concerned that some students would not be interested in fictional narrative-writing, or want to invest their time in a voluntary, ungraded activity. We were relieved when, after explaining the imaginative play activity to the class, a student responded with excite- ment and said that she was looking forward to participating. Although many writers initially expressed positive comments in their emails about the story-writing activity, very few individuals posted ideas related to the story on the discussion board. Bjartveit did not know how to read the silence and found it difficult to step back and not intervene when she herself wanted to play. She was tempted to ask critical questions and provoke dialogue, but resisted, knowing that her actions might interrupt or influence the next writers’ ideas. A student named Dee expressed her qualms about the story-writing activity:4

I was nervous writing my section because I wanted to do “right” by the person who had written the previous section and had wished I had an opportunity to ask where they thought the story was going. I

120 Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 18(2)

analyzed it, worried about timelines and … about how everyone would perceive the section I wrote. Would I write the “wrong” thing? (It was interesting for me to reflect that this worry I had was the same one we discussed in regards to students who want more guidance and are less willing to take risks). (Post, 12 August 2015)

During the second week of the course, we placed the narrative, including the new sections, on the discussion board, and invited the class to post their ideas and questions about the tale. Many stu- dents commented on the images and story setting. Student Jennifer posted:

What beautiful imagery … while keeping true to being an investigation into the modern image of play it is now starting to feel like a story … I feel like there is room for some kind of play “super hero” to come in or maybe a fantastic spell. (Post, 11 July 2015)

Another student created a video to illustrate the narrative; she played with an electronic tool and demonstrated how it worked to her classmates. This provoked discussions and questions about class projects with young children that include writing and illustrating stories online. Although some writers initially expressed concern about participating in the class activity, they were reawak- ened to the magic of imagination by immersing themselves in play.

Fantasy, realism, and dark tales There was a time when play was king and early childhood was its domain. Fantasy was practiced leisurely and openly in a language unique to the kingdom. (Paley, 2004: 4).

Fantasy stories, in literature, films, and popular culture, spark children’s curiosity and draw them into imaginary worlds—“virtual playgrounds and beyond” (Marsh, 2014b: 410). By inventing dark play scripts, children exercise problem-solving skills and critical thinking, and learn to cope with real-world experiences. Educator Kieran Egan wrote:

[CS] Lewis says that the acceptance of fantasy creates “a special kind of longing.” It is not a longing that the real world should be different, but a longing to be able to go through the mirror or the back of the wardrobe to worlds that enlarge and enrich our imaginative experience. Our bodies have pragmatic experiences, our minds have imaginative experiences; both are educationally important. (Egan, n.d.)

The artist and author Maurice Sendak (1963, 1970, 1981, 1993) included dark themes in his con- troversial children’s books. His masterful stories and aesthetic illustrations represent children’s deepest thoughts, fears, and secrets. According to Margalit Fox (2012), a writer for The New York Times, Sendak “wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.” In the book Outside Over There (Sendak, 1981), the main character, Ida, is angry about having to care for her young sister and distressed mother while her “sailor papa” is at sea. She faces her secret fears about evil and death when she is forced to rescue her sister from the grips of goblin kidnappers. The illustrations represent nature’s reaction to the powerful binaries represented in the story: bright sunflowers whither; sunny skies darken; and calm seas rage in sync with the dark narrative. Sendak recognized children’s ability to order their complex world by using binary opposites. Representations of good/evil, love/hate, life/death, security/fear, and freedom/oppression are woven into his texts— illustrations and themes about childhood fears, responsibilities, and dark secrets. However, Sendak has collapsed these binary opposites through his vivid descriptions and aesthetic representations of the deep and inner world of children’s thoughts, fears, and secrets. Despite the current culture of

Bjartveit and Panayotidis 121

fear and sometimes obsessive desire to protect children from life’s dark truths, reading Sendak’s stories to children might help them discover and face their inner “self” and develop important cop- ing strategies. Egan (1986, 1997) explained how binary oppositions in children’s stories serve to structure meaning. By mediating between opposites through imaginary play texts, children come to understand phenomena in the world:

Hot and cold yield warm, wet and dry yield damp, and life and death yield—well, ghosts, for one thing. Ghosts are to life and death as warm is to hot and cold or damp is to wet and dry. How about human and animal? Yeti, mermaids, Sasquatch. And how about nature and culture? (Egan, 1997: 46)

According to Marsh and Bishop (2014: 148), players also explore and respond to the cultural and social contexts that surround them: “Through their games, rhymes and playground rituals, children examine cultural and social values and practices, seeking to reinforce normative dis- courses but also to question them.” Through writing the imaginary tale, the graduate students challenged some of the current issues around dark play and interrupted dominant discourses, including western childcare practices related to surveillance and overprotectionism, often instigated by strict health and safety regulations.

Excerpts from the students’ narrative

The students’ tale is set in the Frozen films

Our website has a team of professional writers who can help you write any of your homework. They will write your papers from scratch. We also have a team of editors just to make sure all papers are of HIGH QUALITY & PLAGIARISM FREE. To make an Order you only need to click Ask A Question and we will direct you to our Order Page at WriteEdu. Then fill Our Order Form with all your assignment instructions. Select your deadline and pay for your paper. You will get it few hours before your set deadline.

Fill in all the assignment paper details that are required in the order form with the standard information being the page count, deadline, academic level and type of paper. It is advisable to have this information at hand so that you can quickly fill in the necessary information needed in the form for the essay writer to be immediately assigned to your writing project. Make payment for the custom essay order to enable us to assign a suitable writer to your order. Payments are made through Paypal on a secured billing page. Finally, sit back and relax.

Do you need an answer to this or any other questions?

Do you need help with this question?

Get assignment help from Paper Writing Website and forget about your problems.

WriteEdu provides custom & cheap essay writing 100% original, plagiarism free essays, assignments & dissertations.

With an exceptional team of professional academic experts in a wide range of subjects, we can guarantee you an unrivaled quality of custom-written papers.

Chat with us today! We are always waiting to answer all your questions.

Click here to Place your Order Now