Vygotsky and play
: A critical exploration of theory into practice

  • Andrea Doherty

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study describes a critical exploration of theory into practice. Two principles of Vygotskian cultural historical theory: mixed age play and enhanced home- school links, already integrated into practice in Zolotoi Kluchick (Golden Key) programme schools in Russia, were adapted and implemented in an early years setting (3-6years) in Northern Ireland. These principles were implemented, evaluated and modified, in a cyclic process, involving the school community throughout. Over one school year, six teachers, 15 classroom assistants, 106 children, five sets of parents, and the researcher, formed a pedagogical collective to explore the process of implementation, and resultant impact of the Integrated Play Programme (IPP).

The study explores critically the translation of Vygotskian theory into practice, and provides proof of concept for the IPP.

A constructivist methodology was employed, which viewed collaboration within the school community as vital to its success. Vygotskian theory was foundational in the developmental methodology where new research methods emerged throughout the research. Findings and conclusions drawn from this study were drawn primarily from participant perspectives. Vygotskian concepts of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), social situation of development (SSD), internalisation, and cultural mediation guided analysis, evaluation, and reflection.

Findings revealed that the translation process was not straightforward, and required modifications to the original principles. The concept of‘family’ appeared to connect home and school, and emerged as the major factor in modifying the implementation process. A ‘family pedagogy’ was developed, where mixed-age play groups were known as ‘school families’. Children’s discussion of their ‘school family’ at home generated curiosity and interest from parents and carers, providing dialogical and cultural tools to bridge children’s home and school learning.

The study highlights the value of using play as the basis for this family pedagogy and, aligned with Vygotskian theory, presents play as the predominant developmental activity for young children.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorColette Murphy (Supervisor) & Karen Kerr (Supervisor)

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