Play and community playgroups : Caregiver motives and early childhood societal values

PhD Thesis

Thomas, Melanie Joy. (2021). Play and community playgroups : Caregiver motives and early childhood societal values [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education
AuthorsThomas, Melanie Joy
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis investigates how the institution of playgroup is co-constituted by societal values and individual motives for play within families attending a community playgroup. Playgroups provide an informal place for children and their caregivers to come together and engage in a range of play activities. Participation in playgroup has been identified as one way of increasing children’s access to play-based learning experiences in early childhood as play is the primary activity provided to children at playgroup and caregivers attend with their children. Despite an increase in interest in both early childhood and play, little is known about caregivers’ experiences of community playgroup.

The qualitative research of this thesis is situated within cultural-historical theory, specifically drawing on the work of Hedegaard (2009) to understand caregivers’ perspectives of their motives for and societal values about play and the institution of playgroup. Hedegaard (2009) contends that both the values from society and an individual’s motives influence a person’s participation within the institutions that they engage in. Caregiver motives and societal values are investigated in the research in relation to a caregiver’s participation within the institutions of home and playgroup.

A mosaic approach (Clark, 2010a) was used in this research to gain insight into the institution of playgroup with the participating caregivers. A mosaic approach involves multiple methods of data collection, is participatory research and engages the participant and the researcher in reflection on meanings. The multiple data collection methods undertaken in this research included caregiver photographic documentation, researcher autoethnography, semi-structured interviews, a co-constructed play map, play map interviews and a researcher reflective journal. The research involved seven participants from two community playgroups in Melbourne, Australia.

The findings of the research showed that the institution of playgroup is co-constituted by societal values and caregiver motives. The research found that while the core of community playgroup from an institutional perspective recognises outdoors, socialisation and inclusivity, community playgroups are also idiosyncratic and adaptable. This finding reflects both the shared societal values for early childhood as well as the unique individual motives of the caregivers that attend playgroup. These findings provide new insights into understandings of community playgroup and offer opportunity to further explore the provision of community playgroup to caregivers and their children.

Keywordscommunity playgroup; mosaic approach; early childhood; play; children; caregivers; cultural-historical theory
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Page range1-305
Final version
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online20 Jun 2022
Publication process dates
CompletedNov 2021
Deposited20 Jun 2022
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