2022.第50卷第2期(Vol. 50 No. 2).pp. 79–96



Appropriate Positioning of Child Autonomy and Adult-didactic Instruction in Early Childhood Education Practice: Symbolic Theory Perspective

成子娟(Zijuan CHENG)





This article reviewed early childhood curriculum guidelines from the U.S., England, Australia, Singapore, and other countries, as well as research findings of worldwide childhood education projects. Obviously, a focus of global concern in recent years has been the emphasis that play should promote children’s academic learning and school preparation. Free play, however, has also been under attack. The early childhood education practice swung between the two extremes of “giving children more free play — autonomy” or “enhancing adult’s role — didactic instruction.” The “guided/directed play” advocated by different countries has helped balance the tendencies of the two extremes. Still, at the same time, “child autonomy” and “adult-didactic instruction” are considered as opposing and undesirable. This article used an in-depth analysis of the literature on the related theories. From the perspectives derived from “symbolic representation,” “cultural tool,” or “symbols,” the article analyzed some typical practices in preschool education, suggesting that when the children-led play takes place at a low level, teachers play multiple roles, including giving didactic instruction and guidance. Adult-didactic instruction becomes prominent when children’s perceptual experience has to be interpreted meaningfully or when they are learning academic knowledge. Therefore, there are different explanations from symbolic theory for the two extremes. “Child autonomy” and “adult-didactic instruction” are compatible and complement each other.

Keywords: symbolic theory; child autonomy; adult-didactic instruction