Play, Culture and Learning : Studies of Second-Language and Conceptual Development in Swedish Preschools

Abstract: This dissertation studies how second-language and conceptual development emerge through interactions in Swedish preschool environments. It studies how types of interaction, such as play, can scaffold children toward such developments.The studies view interaction as multimodal and embodied and it is examined how children come to use and develop their second language or understanding of abstract concepts, through a range of communicative means other than language.The data collection has been carried out in two separate periods. The first field-work followed two newcomer children developing a second language and the second field-work was conducted with a group of children during a project about spinning.The results concerning second-language development show how children can engage in play activity even before they share a common language, and that this can be afforded by the character of play activity as based on rules and tacit understanding of relevant cultural patterns. Teachers also engage in so called guided play, that affords scaffolding for children. Play activities in the preschool function as an arena for children to interact, imitate the cultural rules and patterns around them and emergingly use their second language. Moreover, the preschools are structured for children’s participation through their cultural pattern and imitable structures, and that these affordances can be used by children in their play.The results concerning conceptual development builds on the notion that children develop in relation with cultural tools and artefacts and that this is a highly perceptual and embodied process. It is exemplified how preschool’s provide environment and activities that can afford conceptual development, not least through use of digital tools, which also allows teachers to appropriate children’s play worlds to a pedagogical project. The teacher’s scaffolding interactions and use of the affordances of tools and the environment enable children to reason about the concepts in more conceptually conscious ways.The overall conclusions of the thesis point to the importance of non-verbal and environmental resources in children’s development of a second language and abstract concepts. On these grounds, the thesis suggests a novel way to view scaffolding, by including the environmental affordances to this otherwise social process.