Play time is an essential part of literacy

Family Literacy Week runs Jan. 22-28

Submitted by Colleen Nelson,

Vancouver Island Regional Library

Caregivers play an important role in supporting the development of their child’s early literacy skills.

Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they learn to read and write. There are five daily activities that families can do together to help children grow their literacy skills: reading, writing, talking, singing and playing.

Play is an essential part of literacy skill growth and one of the best ways children can develop those skills. Playing is also fun and having fun with early literacy skills motivates children. Fun makes kids more excited to learn, and it also helps parents be more excited to teach. It is important for early literacy activities to be fun and engaging for everybody involved.

Unstructured, free play allows children to grow their oral language skills as they talk about what they are doing, provide instructions to others, and make up stories. Play also provides children with a chance to develop their narrative skills. An important part of learning to read is the understanding that stories or books follow a pattern; there is a beginning, middle, and end or first, next, last. When children play they talk about what they are doing and create stories helping to build essential narrative skills. Words stand in for experiences and help create an imaginative space.

In imaginative play, children often pretend an item is something else. This is symbolic thinking and it is a key part of learning to read. Symbolic thinking is when we learn that one thing stands in for another. We practise symbolic thinking in imaginative play when a stick stands in for a sword or a box stands in for a rocketship.

This helps us when we learn to read because we need to learn that an A stands in for an “ahhh” sound, and the word “apple” stands in for the fruit we like to eat. When children learn how to think symbolically through play they are also building pathways in their brains that will help them learn to read.

Early childhood researchers are concerned that children are not getting enough unstructured, imaginative play in their lives. This lack of opportunity to play could impact the development of skills needed to succeed at reading and social development, but adding play into your family’s life can be simple.

Your branch of Vancouver Island Regional Library has resources and information for parents to help incorporate play into your everyday life. Borrow one of our literacy kits filled with books, activities, and tips for sharing the joy of language, reading, and play with your child. Get silly with a book or learn a new song at our storytime programs, Wednesday mornings at the Comox branch and Thursday mornings at the Courtenay branch. On Saturday mornings kids of all ages are invited to join us from 10-12 for Play Days, a drop-in program that explores play, stories and songs. The library is your partner at play, after all play is the work of childhood, and we can’t wait to get to work.

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