Privileging and facilitating children’s play and meaning making through a listening framework: the research process

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Informed by the knowledge that play facilitates childr en’s explorations and supports knowledge construction through trial and error and that children develop their creativity through playing, exploring, and interacting with then environment (Canning, 2013), we based all research activities in and through play and employed a listening framework.

Moving away from methods where adults define and determine how nature matters to children (Chawla, 2015), we used a listening framework called ‘the Mosaic Approach’ (Clark & Moss, 2011) to value, listen to, witness, and respond to children’s perspectives and capabilities (Nussbaum, 2011). We were informed

Playwork in the rainforest 23 by existing research insights about the importance of play-based, child-initiated, and creative experiences with nature (Pelo, 2014) and based our project on two core principles of play-based activity. Specifically, our work was based on the fust Playwork Principle (PPSG, 2005), which states, ‘All children and young people need to play’, and the third Playwork Principle (PPSG, 2005), which says, ‘The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process’. Thus, in alignment with Stonehouse (2015), from the outset our focus as playwork practitioners was to keep children and then play at the centre of research processes.

The listening framework - the Mosaic Approach - represents a bringing together of perspectives to create individual and collective images of children’s experiences (Clark & Moss, 2011). The framework values a pedagogy of listening, a pedagogy of relationship, and childr en’s visual and verbal conununication. It positions children as social actors in the research process, experts in then own lives, skillful communicators, and active participants in then own learning (Clark & Moss, 2011). The intent is to make their voices visible and heard and to use their perspectives as catalysts for change (Adams & Ingham, 1998).


We employed a snowball approach to engaging research participants. Snowball sampling involves asking well-situated people for recommendations about potential participants (Patton, 1990). We specifically asked the Director of Environmental Education at MCSR for the names of schools and kindergartens that were local to the Reserve and with whom the it had established a relationship. We used an initial contact on that list and they subsequently recommended further participants. Through this process, we recruited children from a homeschooling group, a kindergarten group from Ananda Maiga River School, and Wildlings Forest School.

In total, 26 children aged four to eight years old (kindergarten-Year 2) participated in the project. Three different groups of children were involved in the research, which engaged the children between August and October 2017.

Two researchers (the authors of this chapter) and four pre-service teachers from the University of the Sunshine Coast supported the project enactment. The preservice teachers were recruited through invitation by one of the researchers who taught in the early childhood programme. The pre-service teachers’ participation was designed to support their own professional learning.

Four volunteer guides from the MCSR also joined with us on the project. They volunteered to engage as co-researchers on hearing about the proposed project within an MCSR volunteers’ meeting. Their participation supported our/their professional learning and the professional development of their fellow guides.


Informed by early childhood and playwork principles, we privileged tools known to give insight into children’s interests and priorities and that feature heavily in research projects using the Mosaic Approach, or child-centred approach (Clark &

Moss, 2011: Reggio Children, 2004). We were focused on tools that had potential for children in terms of supporting their investigations and conununication of what matters to them (Kilvington & Wood, 2018).

A mosaic is made up of many small pieces that are brought together to make sense of the whole. The Mosaic Approach (Clark & Moss, 2011) enables young children to create a living picture of then- lives. It brings together several research tools, both traditional and participatory, in order to explore and listen to young children’s views and experiences. These tools play to young children’s strengths, as they are methods which are active, accessible, and not reliant on the written or spoken word, and they give insight into children’s interests and priorities (Clark & Moss, 2011). The child-centred, reflexive, and responsive research approaches with which we engaged involved children capturing significant moments, experiences, and places in nature using exploratory, creative, and social tools such as digital cameras, drawings, and storytelling.

This early childhood listening framework is useful for researchers and practitioners who seek to understand and respond to children’s perspectives and experiences, as was the case in our research project. It positioned us as facilitators, enablers, and learners. It positioned children as teachers, leaders, and experts. It sought to engage children in freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated interactions in nature (Broun, Long. & Wragg, 2018). We wanted the research to respond to children’s ideas and perspectives and to offer opportunities where children themselves knew their views mattered (Derr, Chawla, Mintzer, Flanders Cushing, & van Vliet, 2013).

Our playing the part of authentic novice and interested adult allowed the children to demonstrate their competence and expertise and enabled them to guide us during the research process. Children were treated as active participants in the research, and, rather than being the objects of our research, they were researchers with us (Christensen & James, 2008).

The chosen methodological tools offered and promoted opportunities for sensory and embodied human-nature interactions. Such open-ended tools and materials supported children’s noticing and being in nature. They also took the focus from adults leading and teaching, with the adult engaged as observer and accompanies The following explains how these research tools and processes were designed to gather children’s perspectives and held ‘play value’ (Newstead, 2004).

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