A Qualitative Study of the Play of Dual Language Learners in an English-Speaking Preschool

  • Stefanie Dominguez
  • Jeffrey Trawick-Smith


Little research has been conducted on the play of children of very low English proficiency within English-speaking preschool classrooms. In the present investigation, we recorded and described the naturalistic free play of four dual language learners (DLLs) and compared their interactions to those of four English-speaking children. Units of interaction were identified, transcribed, named, and categorized. Illustrative transcriptions of individual interactions were selected and probed more deeply. The trustworthiness of the investigation was established by triangulating these qualitative findings with a quantitative measure of children’s social participation in play. Findings indicate that DLLs play and talk with peers less frequently, interact in less sustained and positive ways, and are more reliant on teachers to support their play than their English speaking peers. Implications for scaffolding DLLs’ play in classrooms and for future research are presented.


Preschool Play Dual language learners English language learners Social development 


  1. August, D., McCardle, P., & Shanahan, T. (2014). Developing literacy in English language learners: Findings from a review of the experimental research. School Psychology Review, 43(4), 490–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Banerjee, R., Alsalman, A., & Alqafari, S. (2016). Supporting sociodramatic play in preschools to promote language and literacy skills of English language learners. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(4), 299–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Björk-Willén, P. (2007). Participation in multilingual preschool play: Shadowing and crossing as interactional resources. Journal of Pragmatics, 39(12), 2133–2158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Björk-Willén, P., & Cromdal, J. (2009). When education seeps into ‘free play’: How preschool children accomplish multilingual education. Journal of Pragmatics, 41(8), 1493–1518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chen, X. (2012). Culture, peer interaction, and socioemotional development. Child Development Perspectives, 6(1), 27–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Collins, B. A., O’Connor, E. E., Suárez-Orozco, C., Nieto-Castañon, A., & Toppelberg, C. O. (2014). Dual language profiles of Latino children of immigrants: Stability and change over the early school years. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35(3), 581–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collins, B. A., & Toppelberg, C. O. (2017, April). Children of immigrants: Home language environment and dual language proficiency in relation to socialemotional wDLL-being. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Antonio.Google Scholar
  8. Coplan, R. J., Prakash, K., O’neil, K., & Armer, M. (2004). Do you “want” to play? Distinguishing between conflicted shyness and social disinterest in early childhood. Developmental Psychology, 40(2), 244–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coplan, R. J., & Rubin, K. H. (1998). Exploring and assessing nonsocial play in the preschool: The development and validation of the Preschool Play Behavior Scale. Social Development, 7(1), 72–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coplan, R. J., & Weeks, M. (2009). Shy and soft-spoken: Shyness, pragmatic language, and socio-emotional adjustment in early childhood. Infant and Child Development, 18(3), 238–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cromdal, J. (2001). Can I be with?: Negotiating play entry in a bilingual school. Journal of Pragmatics, 33(4), 515–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DaSilva Iddings, A. C., & Jang, E. Y. (2008). The mediational role of classroom practices during the silent period: A new-immigrant student learning the English language in a mainstream classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 42, 567–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fantuzzo, J., Sekino, Y., & Cohen, H. L. (2004). An examination of the contributions of interactive peer play to salient classroom competencies for urban head start children. Psychology in the Schools, 41(3), 323–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grünigen, R., Perren, S., Nägele, C., & Alsaker, F. D. (2010). Immigrant children’s peer acceptance and victimization in kindergarten: The role of local language competence. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28(3), 679–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Halle, T. G., Whittaker, J. V., Zepeda, M., Rothenberg, L., Anderson, R., Daneri, P., Wessel, J., & Buysse, V. (2014). The social–emotional development of dual language learners: Looking back at existing research and moving forward with purpose. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(4), 734–749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hestenes, L. L., & Carroll, D. E. (2000). The play interactions of young children with and without disabilities: Individual and environmental influences. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(2), 229–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hoff, E. (2013). Interpreting the early language trajectories of children from low-SES and language minority homes: Implications for closing achievement gaps. Developmental Psychology, 49(1), 4–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kinzler, K. D., Shutts, K., DeJesus, J., & Spelke, E. S. (2009). Accent trumps race in guiding children’s social preferences. Social Cognition, 27(4), 623–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kirova, A. (2010). Children’s representations of cultural scripts in play: Facilitating transition from home to preschool in an intercultural early learning program for refugee children. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education, 4(2), 74–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kontos, S. (1999). Preschool teachers’ talk, roles, and activity settings during free play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(3), 363–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lengua, L. J., Honorado, E., & Bush, N. R. (2007). Contextual risk and parenting as predictors of effortful control and social competence in preschool children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28(1), 40–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Lindsey, E. W. (2002). Preschool children’s friendships and peer acceptance: Links to social competence. Child Study Journal, 32(3), 145–156.Google Scholar
  24. Lindsey, E. W., & Colwell, M. J. (2003). Preschoolers’ emotional competence: Links to pretend and physical play. Child Study Journal, 33(1), 39–53.Google Scholar
  25. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2016). Early child care and children’s development prior to school entry: Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. American Educational Research Journal, 39, 133–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Palermo, F., & Mikulski, A. M. (2014). The role of positive peer interactions and English exposure in Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ English vocabulary and letter-word skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(4), 625–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Paradis, J., & Kirova, A. (2014). English second-language learners in preschool: Profile effects in their English abilities and the role of home language environment. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38(4), 342–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Piker, R. A. (2013). Understanding influences of play on second language learning: A microethnographic view in one Head Start preschool classroom. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 11(2), 184–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rubin, K. H. (1989). The play observation scale. Unpublished coding manual. Waterloo: Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.Google Scholar
  30. Tabors, P. O. (2008). One child, two languages: A guide for early childhood educators of children learning English as a second language. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  31. Trawick-Smith, J. (1994). Interactions in the classroom: Facilitating play in the early years. Columbus, OH: Merrill.Google Scholar
  32. Trawick-Smith, J. (1998). A qualitative analysis of metaplay in the preschool years. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 13(3), 433–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Trawick-Smith, J. (2010). Drawing back the lens on play: A frame analysis of young children’s play in Puerto Rico. Early Education and Development, 21, 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Trawick-Smith, J., & Dzuirgot, T. (2010). “Good-fit” teacher-child play interactions and subsequent autonomous play in preschool. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26, 110–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tykkyläinen, T., & Laakso, M. (2010). Five-year-old girls negotiating pretend play: Proposals with the Finnish particle jooko. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(1), 242–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Guided play: Where curricular goals meet a playful pedagogy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(2), 104–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Xu, Y. (2010). Children’s social play sequence: Parten’s classic theory revisited. Early Child Development and Care, 180(4), 489–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Early Childhood Education, CECE 216Eastern Connecticut State UniversityWillimanticUSA

Personalised recommendations