It’s really not a surprise when you think about it, but there is a lot of learning that happens when children play. Playing stimulates curiosity and expands thinking, and when children play together, they learn from each other. There is a growing body of research around play and its importance to early childhood development, particularly with regard to language and literacy development. Through play, while children learn to make sense of their world, problem-solve, communicate, compromise, and express their thoughts and feelings. Early childhood educators know how important this is and create rich opportunities for children to play in their centers and in schools.
A critical cognitive connection between play and literacy is rooted in the premise that representational abilities acquired in pretend transformations (“this stands for that”) transfer to other symbolic forms, such as written language. At our school, many of the materials that we put out for children are open-ended and allow children to assign meaning to them. A paper towel tube, for instance, might be used as a telephone, a fishing pole, a telescope or a cooking tool. Boxes or large hollow blocks might make a car, a farm stand or a desk. Play areas are also stocked with reading and writing materials for children to use as they choose. A pizza parlor in dramatic play might be equipped with wall signs (“Place Your Order Here”), menus, pizza boxes, employee name tags, discount coupons, a pencil and notepad for taking orders. These are the foundational literacy skills that support children to become life-long readers and writers. Think of play is not a break from learning, but rather learning itself!