My children and I just left the town library where we got an armful of new books and listened to a funny book Dragons Love Tacos By Adam Rubin during story time. On the way home, we stopped by the park to have a play-date with some friends. As the Moms were visiting, the kids were running around playing in the park. If you stopped to listen more closely to their play, you could hear that it was more than play, it was the development of early literacy coming alive in the children’s minds. Over in the sand area the children were pretending to make spicy salsa that they were going to feed to the dragons, then they moved to the stage and pretended to have a taco party with all of their friends, and as the play was winding down they headed to the swings to see how high they could fly.
Leave them alone! Unstructured play is key to learning and literacy
Play is an active form of learning that unites the mind, body, and spirit. Until at least the age of nine, children’s learning occurs best when the whole self is involved. Play reduces the tension that often comes with having to achieve or needing to learn. In play, adults do not interfere and children relax. Children express and work out emotional aspects of everyday experiences through unstructured play. Children permitted to play freely with peers develop skills for seeing things through another person’s point of view– cooperating, helping, sharing, and solving problems. When children can interact, and play with the world around them they are developing literacy skills without even knowing it.
Other Suggestions for Literacy Development
As parents, there are many things we can do to support the development of literacy through play as our children grow.
In the early years
- Smile and make eye contact with your baby, peek a boo is always a favorite.
- Have a running dialogue with your baby about what you are doing. They might not understand the words now but hearing language and inflection in your voice are all beginning stages of literacy development.
- Sing songs to your baby (either your favorite or lullabies).
In the Preschool years
- Read aloud to children every day from a variety of different books, poems and information books. Provide meaningful conversations about the books, (ask what they think the book will be about, predict what will happen next, ask what their favorite part was).
- Make real life connections to books you have read. If you read a book about pancakes, make pancakes with your kids. Remind them about the book, and show them the connection between the pancakes in the book and the real pancakes.
- Play games with print when out in town. “How many letter L’s can we find, like in your name Lauren?”
- Focus on what children know and are curious about rather than specific skills such as letter recognition.
- Go to the library to check out new books and take your children to story time.
In the school age years
- Continue to read to your children every day. Even children who know how to read enjoy having stories read to them.
- Write a story with your child. Children love to make up their own story and have you write it down. Illustrate the story together and then read it as one of your bedtime books.
- Use puppets to tell stories is also a fun play experience for your children. You can be one puppet and your child can be another. Using different voices for the puppets keeps your child interested and engaged.
- Make sure your children see you reading, this helps your children see you value reading and make it a part of your day.
Play should be the focus of our children’s life. We often talk about play as a relief from serious learning; but for children play is the work of childhood where serious learning happens!
Thanks to Cheryl Moore for this article. Cheryl is a the co owner of the Tree House Children’s Center and Executive Director of Boost, a preschool social program. Cheryl is passionate about working with children and their families and believes that working together we can give the children the tools they need to be successful in life.
Here is a good link for further reading on play and literacy: