An affordance perspective on infant play in home settings: a 'just-right environment'

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Lynch, Helen
Hayes, Nóirín
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Children learn to be in the world through doing: typically in the form of play, incorporating social connection and interactions. However, not all play is social and not all learning involves people: the physical environment is an essential element that is often taken for granted and under-valued in this whole process. The physical environment is more than just a setting for social play – it also influences play significantly and, therefore, needs to be considered as a core factor in determining good practice in play provision. Few studies have focused on the role of the physical environment in influencing play and learning in early childhood care and education (ECCE) settings and even fewer in home settings. Learning environments have been identified as priority for researching infants’ lives from the National Children’s Strategy and from the knowledge that environments have been a relatively under-explored aspect in early childhood research (CECDE, 2007). Curricular and quality frameworks such as Aistear (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2009) and Síolta (CECDE, 2006) have been developed for the early childhood sector. However, while these are intended to target early childhood learning, it is difficult to ascertain to what extent these guidelines can influence home settings. Furthermore, although home learning environments have been the focus of UK research (e.g. Melhuish, 2010; Melhuish, Phan, Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford, & Taggart, 2008) this is an emergent area of concern in Ireland. Home settings in early childhood contexts include the child’s own home, and other homes where the child may be minded. In Ireland’s national longitudinal study Growing Up in Ireland, statistics show that 73% of families organise informal childcare for their preschool-aged children with relatives or non-relatives in their homes, rather than in centre-based settings (McGinnity, Murray & McNally, 2013). Home settings, consequently, are the primary context for early childhood learning and of significant importance for research. In 2007, the Centre for Early Childhood Care and Education (CECDE) Ireland issued a national call for research to be conducted on learning environments of children in early childhood. It was through this opportunity that my own research journey began. My interest in home settings has come from my background as a children’s occupational therapist. When children fail to thrive, and have struggles to develop, the occupational therapist’s job is to determine the effects on their well-being and development, and the impact on their daily lives. Through evaluating self-regulation, sensory, motor and perceptual development, assessing activity and participation, and task-environment analysis, occupation therapists work to maximise the fit between the infant and the environment to best support learning and development. This requires a close connection with the infant’s family and home setting to determine most accurately, the range and choices of tasks within the environment. For example, for families living in a first-floor apartment with no garden, the potential for the child to learn to ride a bike may be more limited than a family living in a rural setting with a lot of open space around the house. So it becomes an issue of affordances, In addition, knowing about the family matters – it is through the shared family environment that children are enabled to play and learn. This includes family routines, habits, values, attitudes and play activities and preferences. Knowing about the home setting is therefore a vital consideration for effective practice.
Infant play , Home settings
Lynch, H. and Hayes, N. (2015) 'An affordance perspective on infant play in home settings: a 'just-right environment'', ChildLinks, 2015(2), pp. 17-22. Available at: (Accessed: 7 September 2022)