From cutting out to cutting with

A materialist reframing of action and multimodality in children’s play and making

Authored by: Karen E. Wohlwend , Jaye Johnson Thiel

The Routledge International Handbook of Learning with Technology in Early Childhood

Print publication date:  February  2019
Online publication date:  February  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138308169
eBook ISBN: 9781315143040
Adobe ISBN:


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Using examples of early childhood play from our independent research studies, we take a closer look to ask what did we miss? In initial multimodal analysis of these events, how did an implicit human-centered insistence on semiotic affordances and strategic design tame the mobile jumble of children’s play and making? The shift from multimodality to materiality in this retrospective analysis builds on and transitions from Kress’ (1997) ground-breaking work on multimodality in children’s play and making, where he noted that a child cuts around a drawing to bring its image into the world of action. “Cutting out” turns a two-dimensional drawing of a car into a three-dimensional paper toy that can be animated for play. In this chapter, we take a new materialist lens to children’s making that considers the intra-action among all the actants in the toy/player/action assemblage that co-produce a flow of play moves and pretend meanings. When we look for materiality, emergence, and mobility, we can better appreciate play’s haphazard trajectories and recognize the embodied “muchness” of children’s play, we can see how assemblages of bodies, meanings, and actions create knowledge flows from the most ordinary of school supplies: paper.

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