Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Anna Stetsenko

Committee Members

Bruce Homer

Konstantinos Alexakos

Ana Marjanovic-Shane

Beth Ferholt

Subject Categories

Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Early Childhood Education


Vygotsky, Bakhtin, Transformative stance, Sociocultural, CHAT, Agency


The recent national focus on universal early childhood education programs has drawn attention to the challenges of organizing learning contexts and practices in which children can thrive as learners and community members. Preparing children for school and improving the quality of early childhood education face limits, however, when the role of play is dismissed or reduced to merely instrumental activity. Framed in Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory, Bakhtin’s dialogic approach, and Stetsenko’s transformative activist stance, I reframe play as a process of authoring that fuels children’s passion for being agentive actors in the world and their own lives. This approach addresses how children are positioning themselves in trying out different play roles in the world they themselves co-create with others. This process entails the initiation of intentions, agency, and the negotiation of differences, all cumulating in a stance children take in co-authoring their lives and their worlds.

This qualitative study was conducted in a naturalistic setting where dimensions of interaction, authoring processes, and positionality were observed and analyzed through an ethnographic lens focused on authoring themes. Data included naturalistic observations, field notes and video-recordings with 14 children ages 3 to 5 engaging in extended episodes of free-play time over a twelve-week period.

Four themes emerged from the qualitative analysis of the data: (1) initiating/setting intention in which children began a play scenario and showed the desire and intention to pursue a play role; (2) negotiating/making decision in which children constructed boundaries and negotiated their stance and space with others, that is, how children began to differentiate self-other relationships; (3) acknowledging/showing attention in which children established a standpoint and position collaboratively yet from an individually unique stance; (4) claiming/exercising authority in which children showed an active dialogic understanding of a shared goal, and exercised authority by claiming a space or position. The patterns of interaction among these four themes reveal the complex journey children take in the process of authoring their identity.

This study suggests that play creates the space of authoring in which children can exercise agency in co-creating their world and themselves, where they can re-experience and negotiate their possible selves within possible worlds in relation to others. This research contributes to both theoretical and educational re-conceptualizations of play as an important developmental portal through which children develop agency.