When I began work in the nursery and reception classes I discussed with teachers the possibility that I might be well placed to observe children playing at schools, and that such observation would allow of insight into those children's perceptions of what teachers and their classes typically do, what they say, and how they respond. Teachers encouraged me to be on the alert for play of this sort; it was not at all uncommon - and I would find, they assured me, that in the context of such makebelieve, teachers were regularly represented as old-fashioned, authoritarian figures. In fact I observed no play at all of this sort for some considerable time. Of course this does not mean it did not occur at all, but it certainly did not occur constantly and regularly. I had no evidence, among the children I worked with, of any compelling wish to enact a representation of their experience. Make-believe play of other kinds they engaged in every day. They played at buses, at mothers and fathers, at variations of cops and robbers, at hospitals. The detail of their make-believe was heavily dependent on the provision of toys and equipment that suggested particular activities and places. The Wendy house, with its range of scaled-down furnishings and equipment, was standard provision, and it was regularly the scene of make-believe family life. Where a toy steering wheel and gearbox were at hand, together with a ticket collector's punch and peaked cap, a game of buses was a regular favourite. In general terms, however, the makebelieve I observed among the youngest children was neither so spontaneous, nor so inventive as I had expected. It was not the case that the youngest children relied on language for the creation of imagined settings and circumstances, and pressed into the service of imagination whatever objects were available. Their games shifted, with dreamlike suddenness, from one set of imagined circumstances to another. I had
the sense of watching the imaginative function of language among these 4-year olds at an early and undeveloped stage, where it was possible for them to indicate, but not to sustain or to develop, a fiction. What Luria and Yudovich (1968) observed of the delayed language development of the 5-year-old twins they studied applied aptly to these normally developing but younger children; they seemed
unable to detach the word from the action, to master orienting, planning activity, to formulate the aims of the activity with the aid of speech, and so to subordinate their further activity to this verbal formulation, (p. 121)
Given that children in nursery classes had little wish to represent to themselves the situation of the classroom, those a year older, in the first year of full-time compulsory schooling, might do so. If 'schools' was an occasional rather than a regular game, and much time might elapse without opportunity of observing it, then perhaps the children might be persuaded by the same means as had so effectively promoted play at buses, that is to say by the provision of appropriate toys? There would be some loss of spontaneity, but not a total loss.