We celebrate fatherhood in the month of June, and lately, I find myself reminiscing about my first and most favorite friend to play with, my Daddy. I'll never forget his amazing piggyback rides or learning that bad throws cost runs in baseball; or that on rainy days he'd spend hours, with me, playing checkers, dominoes, or just doing a puzzle. Though, I didn't always win, I didn't care, I was having fun with my Dad and he was having fun with me. ECRR (Every Child Ready to Read) highlights PLAY as one of their 5 practices designed to promote early literacy in young children.
How does playing with children help them get ready to read? The Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLeL) states that:
Play can be a powerful boost to early literacy learning! The critical component of play that builds children’s literacy skills is oral language. This includes talking about their play, describing what they are doing, negotiating roles, and discussing props.
When children act stories they know, either as a play or with props or puppets, they practice sequencing events. They also are exploring and investigating story structure. Putting events in sequence and understanding how stories work are both skills that help children understand the new stories that they read.
As children play, they can be encouraged to talk about their scenarios and describe their actions and props. (“I’m stirring the eggs because I’m cooking pancakes for dinner.” “This stick is the magic wand and I’m going to turn you into a butterfly.”) This gives them a chance to practice using the vocabulary words they are learning. If a word in a book is one children have spoken themselves (instead of just hearing it), they are more likely to be able to recognize it on the page. They also can learn new words when an adult introduces new ideas into the play. “What would you like for dessert? Would you like cake, or a sundae? A sundae is ice cream in a bowl with chocolate sauce and sprinkles on top.”
Print Motivation & Print Awareness
Play times can also be an opportunity to show children that print is used in a wide variety of ways. Delivery drivers use maps, chefs use recipes, shoppers use lists. The more children see lists, notepads, signs, letters, and other props with printed words on them, the more they learn that print is something that is all around them, not just in books. The more different kinds of texts children are exposed to, the more likely it is they will find a type of text or a purpose for reading that they can connect with and be motivated by.
Parents can also follow their child's interests and play preferences by bringing home books about the topics their children are interested in and like to act out. If a child has a favorite toy horse and likes to play vet, bringing home non-fiction about different breeds of horse or stories about vets can introduce both new ideas for future play as well as keep children intrigued about books in general.
A milestone in children’s imaginative development is symbolic play, when they can use one prop or object to represent something else, as when a building block held to the ear becomes a cell phone. Dramatic play allows for many of these substitutions! Understanding that one object can stand for another object is a basic realization that leads to the more complicated understanding that a shape on the page can stand for a letter of the alphabet, and a word on the page can stand for a spoken word.
In addition, children learn through all their senses, so the kinesthetic exploration of shapes and letter forms via puzzles, play dough, sensory tables, and body movements all help children build their letter knowledge. Sorting games and matching activities directly involve shape recognition and prepare children to recognize small differences in letters.
Singing isn’t the only way to build phonological awareness skills; chanting games (“Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?”), clapping games (“Miss Mary Mack,” call-and-response rhythm games), and rhyming games (“Down By the Bay,” “Willoughby Wallaby Woo”) all contribute to this awareness as well, by highlighting the rhythms and sounds of oral language, and involving the whole body.
If you are looking for something new to do check out, The Great Outdoors: 25 Outside Activities from Family Fun magazine.
So, get outside this weekend, dig out that old catchers mitt and make some lasting memories. Your kids will love you for it!