Why Is Play Important? Cognitive Development, Language Development, Literacy Development (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Literacy Development

A growing body of evidence shows how children’s play contributes explicitly to their literacy development. We know that children’s literacy development—their reading and writing abilities—occurs from infancy along with their oral language development. By the time they come to school, they already possess a well-developed spoken language in their native language (Christie, Enz, & Vukelich, 2003). We also know that children learn to read and write in meaningful, functional social settings that involve both social and cognitive abilities (Morrow, 2001). Elementary children become proficient readers when they view reading as an enjoyable way of learning and an important means of communication. Proficient readers demonstrate some of the same characteristics of good players; they are strategic, engaged, fluent, and independent (Bromley, 1998).

Children at play can reveal the following literacy understandings:
  1. Interest in stories, knowledge of story elements, and story comprehension. Evan and Anna demonstrated an interest in stories (choosing to retell Ask Mr. Bear), displayed knowledge of story elements (character, plot, setting, goal, and conflict), and exhibited story comprehension in their pretend dramatization of preparing for a birthday. Children’s first attempts at reading and writing often occur during dramatic play as they read environmental print, make shopping lists, or play school. Most beginning readers rely on their oral language to gain meaning from books as they internalize the structure and meaning of language. More proficient readers have a more complex and developed concept of the interrelatedness of story elements. Dramatic play develops improved story comprehension and an increased understanding of story elements (Christie et al., 2003).
  2. Understanding fantasy in books. In dramatic play, children enter the play world “as if” they were another character or thing. The ability to transform oneself in play enables children to enter the world often created in books featuring talking animals (such as Ask Mr. Bear or Charlotte’s Web [White, 1952]) or to write stories in which they create hypothetical characters. Elementary children’s ability to play with reality is necessary to understand science fiction as well as other types of fantasy books (Bromley, 1998; Christie et al., 2003).
  3. Use of symbols to represent their world. As children reinvent or construct their own versions of stories, they naturally come to understand their world and make it their own by representing their understandings symbolically. Younger children’s language, role enactment, or use of props provide evidence of children’s competence in representing what they know (Johnson, Christie, et al., 1999; Owocki, 1999). Similarly, older children’s story retellings, writing, wordplay, and the Internet provide evidence of their competence in representing the literacy behaviors they know. It is important for classroom teachers to understand the many ways children’s play, games, and inventions contribute to their language and literacy development. is a checklist for documenting children’s literacy development through play.
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