Of the 64 reviews, 4 are devoted to the topic of children’s play. These reviews, published between 1983 and 1993, describe the shared features of play and literacy activities. For example, “pretend” play uses symbols and story-telling, as does reading, and writing. As well, even before learning to read, children use books and writing materials as play objects. The studies reviewed were unable to confirm a cause-effect link between play and literacy, but the evidence suggests a positive relationship between play and the early literacy development of  preschoolers. The reviews suggest that parents and teachers should encourage literacy-related play by providing appropriate materials (e.g., books, crayons, paper) for children’s play.

Christie, J.F. (1992). Elements of play in young children's reading and writing development. Zeitschrift fur Padagogische Psychologie (German Journal of Educational Psychology), 6(4), 265-273.

Can play lead to the development of young children’s reading and writing skills, and if so, how? Not many research studies have addressed this question. Those who did report that during play children engage in many literacy-related activities such as handling, examining, and exploring print materials, and imitating, practicing, and experimenting with reading and writing. But although the building blocks of emergent literacy are present in play, researchers have not yet determined whether they help children learn to read and write.




Isenberg, J., & Jacob, E. (1983). Literacy and symbolic play: A review of the literature. Childhood Education, 59(4), 272-276.


The process and content of young children's symbolic play (that is, “pretending” or “make-believe”) may be related to their early literacy development. Symbolic play and literacy both use symbols to represent objects, persons, or events that are not present. Symbolic play also provides children the opportunity to practice the skills and behaviours associated with literacy, such as using a shopping list while playing house. Teachers should encourage symbolic play; in doing so, they may be able to help students develop the foundational skills needed for literacy. 




Pellegrini, A.D. (1985). The relations between symbolic play and literate behaviour: A review and critique of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 55(1), 107-121.


It has been argued that children use similar thinking processes both in symbolic play and in reading and writing behaviours. For one thing, symbolic play and literacy both use symbols to represent objects, persons, or events that are not present or even necessarily real. As well, during symbolic play children often construct storylines and role-play different characters mirroring common reading and writing activities. However, conclusions regarding the effectiveness of play on literate behaviour should be made cautiously. Observations seem to support play-reading connections, but experimental research is less supportive of the theory that symbolic play fosters literate behaviour.




Pellegrini, A. D., & Galda, L. (1993). Ten years after: A re-examination of symbolic play and literacy research. Reading Research Quarterly, 28(2), 162-175.


Young children's symbolic play (“pretending” or “make-believe”) seems to be related to literacy development. Symbolic play may help children to talk about language, which is important for early reading. As well, symbolic play uses symbols to represent objects, persons, or events that are not present or even necessarily real, and this representational process seems to be important in early writing. The extent to which symbolic play enhances literacy development past preschool is uncertain. Finally, although adults are more effective than peers at tutoring children in specific literacy skills, there is evidence that the presence of adults may inhibit aspects of children’s symbolic play and oral language production.




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