Piaget and Vygotsky’s play theories: the profile of twenty-first-century evidence

Nikolay Veraksa, Yeshe Colliver, Vera Sukhikh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Young children’s play has been the object of hundreds of educational and psychological studies over the last half-century, an interest predominantly owed to two theories about its importance for learning: those of Jean Piaget (1896–1980) and Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896–1934) (Siraj-Blatchford et al., in Education and Child Psychology, 26(2):77–89, 2002; Thomas et al., in Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 36(4):69–75, 2011). While countless papers have examined the differences in the theories, none have sought to examine each in relation to the profile of the recently proliferating high-quality, experimental, and longitudinal research on the topic, including adult-led play as well as child-initiated, child-led play. To do so, we examine the theories in detail and how they have been applied in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings and curricula. From this analysis, we find limited evidence for the efficacy of play to lead to academic learning outcomes, but higher quality evidence mounting that “soft skills,” such as social, emotional, and intrapersonal abilities, are associated with free play in homes and ECEC settings. In light of Vygotsky’s emphasis on the role of the more knowledgeable other in learning through play, we also examine the growing evidence that adult-led play can achieve “hard” skills such as reading and mathematical skills. We examine this profile of evidence in relation to the two theories and suggest that historical assumptions about what play is, informed strongly by Piaget’s theory, can be reconfigured to include the adults and peers in play research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPiaget and Vygotsky in XXI century
Subtitle of host publicationdiscourse in early childhood education
EditorsNikolay Veraksa, Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9783031057472
ISBN (Print)9783031057465
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameEarly Childhood Research and Education: An Inter-theoretical Focus
ISSN (Print)2946-6091
ISSN (Electronic)2946-6105


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