Play Encourage Emergent Literacy (page 2)
Play is prescribed for developmentally appropriate programs in the primary grades as well as in preschool and kindergarten (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006; Neuman et al., 2000; Singer, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006). Teachers and parents frequently quote the statement that “play is the work of children” and pay lip service to the value of play. Yet in practice, play may not be a high priority in educational settings (Bondioli, 2001; Olfman, 2003). Teachers often allow play only after other schoolwork is completed, or they use it as a “break” from the real work of school. Other teachers assign the label “play” to teacher-directed activity. Many parents complain if their children report that what they did in school was play. Current federal legislation (NCLB, 2002) provides funding for the development of early literacy instruction, resulting in an increase in explicit language and literacy instruction in preschool settings. This increase in academically oriented early-childhood settings has resulted in more time spent teaching literacy subskills (Cooper, 2005; Dickinson, 2002; Olfman, 2003). Teachers tell us there is no time for play in schools, especially when children reach elementary school. We join the ranks of the many researchers and educators who are concerned that the links between play and the development of literacy are being overlooked (e.g., Almon, 2003; Morrow & Schickedanz, 2006; Olfman, 2003). These problems are symptoms of widespread misunderstanding of how children learn and the role of play in that learning.
Some educators have speculated that the term play has a bad reputation and should be abandoned. Some classrooms use terms such as choosing time or free choice instead of the P word. Investigating or exploring can also be synonymous with play. Whatever we call it, children’s engagement in freely chosen activities of interest is vitally important to their learning. There is no opposition between play and academics for young children: One is process, and one is content (Bowman, 2005; Rust, 1997). Play is the process for learning much of the content of academics. Play is one important way in which children construct knowledge (Kieff & Casbergue, 2000; Kraus, 2006; Roopnarine & Johnson, 2005; Singer, Singer, Plaskon, & Schweder, 2003). Unfortunately, many educators now think children can learn only what we adults tell them, so we strip them of the opportunity to direct their own learning (Almon, 2003). Yet, play provides for exploration of the environment, experimentation with their ever-changing theories, practice in emerging skills, and peer interaction to stimulate thought about these activities. Parents and educators who understand the value of these activities will defend play as basic to the early-childhood curriculum. In fact, it is “crucial for children’s development and learning” (DeVries, 2001, p. 76). We outline the play–literacy links here to provide support for your use of play in your early-childhood classroom.
Play has a unique role in literacy development (Bowman, 2005; Roskos & Christie, 2000). Play provides a context for practice, content for reading and writing, and a mode of learning as well. We can see play providing a context for practice when Caitlan writes a pretend phone message in the playhouse; we see play providing content for literacy when Demetrius writes about his block construction; we see play as a mode of literacy learning when Anastasia pretends to read the book from yesterday’s story time. Play as a mode of learning is particularly important because it represents an attitude valuable to all intellectual development. The playful attitude encourages intellectual risk taking in formulating new hypotheses and experimenting with them. This attitude views experimentation as pleasurable and encourages further learning.
What do we mean by play? Sometimes what looks like work to an observer feels like play to the participant; sometimes what looks like play can feel like work. What is the distinction? Generally, work is what we must do to attain something of value or avoid something unpleasant, and play is what we choose to do because it is inherently interesting or pleasurable.
We usually consider digging a ditch work, yet we see Dominic having a wonderful time digging a ditch to drain a big puddle on the playground. Because he chose to do this and is enjoying it, digging a ditch becomes play for him. On the other hand, we see a group of children in a kindergarten who appear to be playing with a set of blocks of various colors and shapes. A closer look reveals that this is not play but a lesson in following directions for finding colors and shapes. Their teacher is directing the activity and now requests that they each find a red triangle and add it to their block structures. Several of the children appear restless and have to be reprimanded to pay attention. Because this block play is not self-selected or motivating to these children, it cannot be classified as play (Kagan & Lowenstein, 2004). Play is self-initiated and self-directed.
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