As noted on the LCHC projects page, the Playworld projects explore a historically new form of play, one in which adults and children enter into a common fantasy, often using folk stories recorded in books as a key organizing artifact.  Playworlds are dramaturgical classroom interventions that focus on emotional experience and aesthetic relation to reality through involving children and adults in staged as well as spontaneous pretend play.  Children and adults bring a piece of children's literature to life through scripted and improvisational acting, costume and set design, and multimodal rehearsal and reflection.  Playworlds are grounded in the theories of L. S. Vygotsky of Russia, G. Lindqvist of Sweden and Pentti Hakkarainen of Finland, and are designed to enable adults and children to engage in joint pretense as a means of promoting the emotional, cognitive, and social development of both children and adults. To date Playworld Projects have been established in Finland, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.

United States

Four U.S. playworlds have been staged at LCHC thus far.  One was a pilot study in a pre-school and based on the fairy tales of BabaYaga.  Another, which took place over the course of the 2004-2005 academic year, was based in a mixed kindergarten-first grade classroom and based on C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The third and forth playworlds took place in a mixed second-third grade classroom and were based on Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Another playworld project is being planned for the Spring, 2010. It will take place in a mixed second-third grade classroom.

The 2004-2005 playworld project differed from other playworlds in three major ways: all of the researchers played major roles in the dramatic performance; it was staged at a school on a military base at a time of war, so that many of the children involved had parents who were across seas fighting during the project; and the documentation of the entire playworld was extremely extensive, and detailed, and included the use of many different media.  The combination of these factors produced a playworld in which both adults and children were especially emotionally involved.

            tumnus cage     the lion the witch and the wardrobe   drawing

Evidence from the LCHC playworld that has been analyzed to date demonstrate that participation in a playworld improves children's narrative and literacy skills (Baumer, S., Ferholt, B. & Lecusay, R., 2005) and can lead to the socio-emotional development of both adults and children (Ferholt & Lecusay, 2010). Work-in-progress is focused on the fact that the US playworld provided unique evidence of the synergy between emotion and cognition, a notoriously difficult process to study, but also one recognized to be of central importance to cognitive and social development. Additional written work on the 2004-2005 playworld includes: The Development of Cognition, Emotion, Imagination and Creativity As Made Visible through Adult-Child Joint Play: Perezhivanie through Playworlds (Ferholt, 2009); Adult and Child Development in the Zone of Proximal Development: Socratic Dialogue in a Playworld (Ferholt and Lecusay, 2010); Gunilla Lindqvist’s theory of play and contemporary play theory by Beth Ferholt (in partial fulfillment of qualifying exam);  A multiperspectival approach to the process of representing imagination in work with children: Glimpsing the future to study a playworld by Beth Ferholt (in partial fulfillment of qualifying exam);  A Distributed Cognition Analysis of a Playworld Event by Robert Lecusay (paper presented at the Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco , CA , April 7-11, 2006 ). The primary researchers in the U.S. playworld projects are Sonja Baumer, Beth Ferholt, Robert Lecusay and Lars Rossen.

joey perezhivanie

 Our collaborators on the playworld projects create playworlds, or have created playworld-related projects, in Finland, Japan, Sweden and the former Yugoslavia – their projects are described below.  In November, 2005 we held the first international playworld conference, Cross-cultural Perspectives on Learning and Development Through Art and Play, at LCHC, with funding provided by the Pacific Rim Research Program.  The first resulting international joint publication will be in a special issue of Mind, Culture and Activity, devoted to varying cultural approaches to Playworlds.


Playworld projects in Finland explore the intersection between play, narrative learning and school learning.  The practical concern is with the transition from preschool, where play and story telling dominate children's activity, to formal schooling, where play is abruptly minimized and segregated from learning and where children need to be able to guide their behavior in new ways.  Our Finnish colleagues view a playworld as an "intermediate" form of activity where the interactive and reciprocal processes occurring between children and adults in the playworld promote the development of narrative abilities that can be drawn upon when the children enter school.  Currently the empirical analysis of the playworld data from various Finnish sites focuses primarily on the sense-making process in learning and the development of initiative and subjectivity (agency) in play interaction. 

At the Kajaani Research Consortium there is a Research center for developmental teaching and learning, which was founded in 1999.  Two laboratories carry out research on playworlds: the Play laboratory and the Narrative learning laboratory, the second of which focuses on the transition from play to school learning.  In the Play laboratory there are two age groups (2 – 3 years and 3 – 6 years) in which children’s joint play is developed in age-appropriate playworlds.  In the Narrative learning laboratory research is of the creation of imaginative learning environments in multi-age groups of four to eight or six to seven year old children.  This program focuses on motivational aspects of the transition from play to school learning and makes use of playworlds to develop the children’s potential and readiness for lifelong learning.   Many research themes have been pursued using these playworlds: learning tasks in imaginative situations, teacher’s narrative tools, imaginative learning of literacy, imagination in narrative math learning, teacher’s position in developmental teaching, the mergence of a playworld, children’s learning in everyday life contexts, etc. 

The primary researchers in the Finish playworld projects are Milda Bredikyte, Pentti Hakkarainen, Hilkka Munter, Anna Rainio and Marja – Leena Vuorinen


There are two Playworld projects in Japan. The first takes place at the Ibi Kindergarten in Gifu prefecture; the second in Miharu Kindergarten in Sapporo. The Ibi project differs from the other Playworld projects in its emphasis on artistic activity as the medium for play.  Ibi playworlds include both a one-year regular curriculum and a specially designed summer workshop.  In each yearlong regular implementation a theme is set, such as "Insects and their transformations," the theme of the 2006-2007 Ibi playworld, and children and teachers develop various types of imaginative play and learning activities based on this theme.  In the summer workshops professional artists visit the kindergarten and create a work of art (a painting, a sculpture, a dramatic or musical performance, etc.) collaboratively with the children and their teachers.  The design of the projects is intended to insure that all parties are enriched by their collaboration across professions and generations.

A second Japanese playworld project is the  Kodomo project, located in an after school program in a kindergarten that is connected to College of Arts (Department of Education) at Rikkyo University. The Kodomo project attempts to develop after-school preschool programs around a core play curriculum that challenges a recent tendency of educational policy makes to interpret play as a hindrance to early formal education learning when our evidence indicate quite the opposite.

The primary researchers in the Japanese playworld projects are Kiyotaka Miyazaki, Hiroaki Ishiguro and Yuki Fujino.


 Monica Nilssonan assistant professor at the School of Management at the Blekinge Institute of Technology, is focusing her research on making available full access to the work of Gunilla Lindqvist, some of which has remained untranslated and some of which is incomplete because Lindqvist has been hospitalized with early onset dementia and not capable of working.  Before her illness, Linqvist launched several play world projects that explored intense emotions in different kinds of aesthetical expressions such as drama, play, dance and theater. Recovering the results of this work as resources for current progress is a high priority.
The Former Yugoslavia

The role of play and creativity in human development and in education was intensively studied in the pre-war Yugoslavia during the 1970s and 80s.  As part of these studies, several creative programs based on play, drama and art, were organized for children of all ages. Ana Marjanovic-Shane, a researcher affiliated with LCHC who now is in the U.S., is working to understand playworlds through her study of several playworld-related projects in the former Yugoslavia.

One of the most successful intervention programs for child war refugees started in July and August of 1992.  Summer camp “Let’s Live Together” was designed for children refugees who experienced various traumatic events, to help them “regain their childhood”, i.e. to continue to develop emotionally, intellectually and socially.  The program was based on an assumption that human development is grounded in changing relationships between participants through joint, imaginative activities in which they are induced to establish and develop topics of mutual concern.  If children are given an opportunity to develop close relationships with those who make culturally relevant meanings (artists, actors, musicians, writers, etc), they become participants in re-creating the essence of culture and civilization.  In turn, they themselves grow and develop in this process.

Future Research

The variation across these international playworld sites is great.  Differences in adult involvement in “child-centered” fantasy is a shared topic of interest, but even the brief descriptions above show great variation in theoretically important aspects of the playworld activity.  Our international group of playworld researchers has come to the preliminary conclusion that playworlds represent not only a unique form of activity (play is one of the key, recognized forms of "leading activity" within a cultural-historical framework), but also, to use a metaphor of Vygotsky's, crystallizations of those very psychological processes that play promotes:  imagination, creativity, aesthetic appreciation and subjectivity.  Consequently, Playworlds are a uniquely important medium within which to make visible cultural variations in the dynamics between activity on the one hand, and its constituent psychological processes on the other.

 Furthermore, playworld researchers from each country have observed that participation in Playworlds creates especially intense forms of engagement.  Consequently, Playworlds provide not only for the study of culture, play and its role in both adult and child development, but also for the study of the dynamic and neglected relationship between cognition and emotion in development.  That is, conducted comparatively, Playworlds reveal cross-cultural variation in combined cognitive and emotional development, an area that has been neglected in most cross-cultural research due to the fact that it is not observable through standard psychological experiments. Our next round of research is intended to capitalize upon these insights.