Chasing joy – we know good play is contagious, researchers want to know why
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is at a crossroads. Various forces including COVID-19, the evolution of the vocational training landscape, and the persistent struggle for wage-based recognition for early childhood professionals has led to workforce shortages at levels previously unseen, just as demand for ECEC peaks.
Responding to what they see as a crisis, researchers from the University of Sydney are seeking the input of the sector for their work which examines educator perceptions of joy and the contiguous value of play when working with young children.
“We want to bring the focus back to the joy that is such an essential part of the field,” Dr Olivia Karaolis explained, “and its relationship or expression in play and how it underpins their practice.”
Dr Karaolis is working alongside Dr Cathy Little, who is the Executive Director of Initial Teacher Education at the University, with both researchers finding joy in their work by supporting the professional development of educators and by being in the presence of young children.
As well as bringing a focus back to the innate joy involved in children’s play, the duo is keen to understand and learn more about the challenges to this joy, particularly how some educators can find joy in the humblest of moments yet for others, such experiences remain elusive.
For many educators, their primary reason for joining the ECEC workforce was the joy of teaching and being with young children, however recent studies have identified many factors that have placed this joy at risk, including the high attrition rate of staff, associated poor working conditions, and the lack of professional recognition.
“Yet this is not the sum of the profession, nor does it capture all that ECEC educators think about their practice,” Dr Karaolis shared.
Play, which is the foundation of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), is recognised as the primary way children learn, but playful adults also experience greater sense of wellbeing. Such findings lead researchers to speculate that their findings will point to a need for all people, big and small, to play more in order to find joy.
The overarching intention of the research, which the pair hope to turn into both a book and a range of professional development opportunities, is not to “solve” problems within the sector, but to return a collective focus to joy, to find and connect with the joy in the day-to-day experience.
“The book is not a reaction to the factors above, it is an opportunity to question, reflect on and connect with what is of value and joyful to us all,” Dr Karaolis said.
“Early childhood educator and storyteller, Vivian Gussen Paley writes about the importance of play, its connection to joy and the impact of its absence on children and their teachers,” she continued.
“We want to ‘listen’ to the voices of educators, just as they listen to children through their drawing, music, dance, stories, singing and play.”
To participate in the research, please complete the survey found here, which should take around 15 minutes to complete. Readers are advised that submission of the survey indicates consent to participate in the study.
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