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Playing Teaches Early Literacy!
"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood." -Fred Rogers
How Can Playing Develop Early Literacy Skills?
Play is simply the best way for children to learn language, literacy, social, and other skills. It also nurtures creativity.
Play helps children think symbolically (one thing can stand for another): a box becomes a car, a playmate is a firefighter, etc. This will help them understand that written words stand for real objects and experiences.
Children develop thinking and oral language skills: as they play store or pretend to be animals, they talk about what they are doing. They are practicing putting their thoughts into words.
When children make up stories for what they're doing (dramatic play) they learn narrative skills. For example, stories happen in an order: first, next, last.
Make-believe allows children to act out real situations, work through worries and fears, and solve problems using their imaginations.
Play builds self-confidence and imparts a sense of accomplishment in children. This motivates them to try new experiences and not give up when things are difficult.
What Kind of Play?
You are your child's first and favorite playmate! Your child learns something new through each interaction with you.
Let them lead: give your child the freedom they need to explore items and do activities in their own way, at their own pace. Show them one way to interact with a toy, but allow them to find other ways too.
Respond to their signals: paying attention to your child's expressions and gestures will help you know when you need to change activities or offer assistance. You want to provide just enough help so they don't get frustrated, which will motivate them to keep trying.
Play it again: Repeating the same game or activity over and over again may bore you, but your child is practicing in order to gain mastery of new skills. Encourage them in their efforts to do it "All by myself!"
Adapt to meet their needs: Giving your child a place to play in that is safe to explore will ensure fewer "No"s and more smiles. Pay attention to their cues – some children like lots of sensory stimulation, and others may want to focus on one thing at a time.
Remember that the best kind of play is often unstructured. Don't pressure yourself or your child; simply enjoy your time together.
Putting it into Action
Here are several examples of using Play to help build early literacy skills:
Play matching and sorting games! As children notice what is alike or different, they will be prepared to understand the distinctions between letters.
Play with blocks – it builds motor, math, and science skills by providing opportunities for sorting, categorizing, building, and knocking down.
Use puppets or other props for dramatic play. Acting out the story of a favorite book builds narrative skills.
Involve all their senses: Go on a scavenger hunt for items of different colors, different textures, etc. This kind of sensory play will expand your child's knowledge of their world as you talk about what they're exploring.
Add print to pretend play: suggest that your child write prescriptions if they're playing doctor, menus for a restaurant, prices for a store, etc.