Play an important part of early literacy

Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they learn to read and write.

  • Jan. 11, 2016 7:00 a.m.

Family Literacy Day is a national awareness initiative to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. Family Literacy Day is Jan. 27 and the Courtenay Library will have interactive learning tables that promote playing to learn from 10 a.m.-noon. Colleen Nelson, Comox Valley Library manager, describes how playing is an essential part of literacy development.


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 develop their literacy skills: reading, writing, talking, singing and playing.

Play is an essential part of literacy skill growth – it is fun and having fun motivates and engages children and adults.

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 practice symbolic thinking in imaginative play when a stick stands in for a sword or a box stands in for a rocket ship.

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 the 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-noon for Play Days, a drop-in program that explores play, stories and songs.

All families and children, young and old, are also welcome to participate in the Family Literacy Week celebrations at the three local libraries.

Details of Family Literacy Week can be found at  or on Facebook


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