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.
(1985). The relations between symbolic play and literate behaviour: A review
and critique of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research,
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
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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