Bridging a cultural divide between play and learning

parental ethnotheories of young children’s play and their instantiation in contemporary China

Xunyi Lin, Hui Li, Weipeng Yang*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Research Findings: The current study explored the ethnotheories of 6 Chinese families regarding their young children’s play in Shanghai, the most Westernized metropolis in China. A triangulation of multiple data sources was established through in-depth interviews, home visit observations, and 1-week recordings of child’s daily play activities. The empirical evidence revealed that the 6 families practiced eduplay (Rao & Li, 2009) with their young children, a Chinese version of play-based learning or a compromise between contemporary Western notions of child-centered play and the Chinese tradition of adult-directed academic training. Albeit with individual differences and varieties, parents’ ethnotheories were instantiated in the child’s daily settings for the provision of toys, the use of time in play and learning, and parents’ roles in the child’s play. However, some contextual constraints and barriers prevented the parents from fully putting the imported progressive educational beliefs into action. Practice or Policy: The changing and varying parental ethnotheories of play may reflect a paradigm shift in the early childhood education system, which has been jointly shaped by traditional Chinese beliefs and contemporary Western notions of appropriate practice. More implications of these findings are discussed against the backdrop of sociocultural changes in contemporary Chinese society.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)82-97
    Number of pages16
    JournalEarly Education and Development
    Issue number1
    Early online date12 Sep 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

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