Despite increasing awareness that culture and context shape our understandings and practices, there are still concepts in the early childhood discourse that we take for granted and don’t question as core tenets or principles. For example, we don’t generally interrogate or critique the idea that children learn through play, or the larger notion of ‘child-centered’ practice or curriculum.
In some of the rural contexts of Pakistan where I have worked, the concept of pretend play is often non-existent. In fact, originally my research methodology for interviewing children (for my PhD research) involved puppets with whom the children could play and ‘talk’. Very early on in my fieldwork, I had to change this – because the children I was interviewing were having a hard time grasping the idea of ‘talking to’ an inanimate object. ‘Symbolic play’ did not play a significant role (or any role at all) in their home or school contexts. However, children were learning – through real activities rather than pretend activities. For example, they did not pretend play ‘house’ or play with toy/stuffed animals, but they were actually helping their parents and caregivers with caring for younger siblings, housework, and caring for livestock. Similarly, they did not pretend play ‘shopping’, but they were actually going to the market with or even on behalf of their parents to sell and buy merchandise.