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Tanzanian and Canadian children's valued school experiences: A cross case comparison


Time for outdoor play at school is highly valued by young children in different cultural and geographical contexts

The aim of this study was to acquire young students’ perspectives on their school experiences in different, international settings, with the idea of potentially informing early childhood approaches to teaching and learning. The approach used was based on the understanding that young children are knowledgeable about their own experiences and lives and that the multimodal forms of communication they use are equally significant.

The researcher used observations, semi-structured interviews, and conversations with 45 children in preschools in Tanzania and Canada to collect and analyze data for this study. The children (age 4-6) created multimodal texts representing what they valued at school. Their multimodal forms of communication included speech, writing, images, and gesture to represent or make meaning in the world. The researcher spent four months in the Canadian research site, interacting with the children as she assisted in the classroom, participated in local field trips, and spent time outside with the children during recess. The outdoor area for the Canadian children included a school playground and a forest. The researcher spent less time in the Tanzanian research site, but spent two weeks with the children prior to asking them about their valued meaning-making practices at school. Outdoor time for children at the Tanzanian site occurred before the start of the formal school day, during a 15-minute physical activity break, and at the end of the day as the children waited for their families. Their outdoor time was limited to a large playground adjacent to the school.

An analysis of children’s narratives from both sites indicated that their outdoor experiences at school – which included child-initiated play and collaborative games — were highly valued and promoted a strong sense of autonomy. The value children placed on their unstructured time outdoors related to both the physical and social components of the outdoor environment, which provided opportunities for risk-taking and collaborative interactions with friends. Children’s narratives about what mattered to them at school were also culturally specific and linked to their local environments and families. This was especially evident in the narratives of the Tanzanian children.

This study indicates that young children in different cultural and geographical contexts draw on play as a way to exercise agency, share their lives with others, and construct their identities. This research highlights the importance of providing a space for children to play at school and of giving children opportunities to use multimodal methods to communicate what is meaningful to them.


Streelasky, J., (2017). Tanzanian and Canadian children's valued school experiences: A cross case comparison. International Journal of Early Years, 25(3), 274-291.


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