Playing With Literacy
by Laura Klenk, Ph. D View Bio
Laura Klenk is an Associate Professor in the department of Elementary Education & Reading at Buffalo State College where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in reading, writing, children's literature, literacy assessment, and play. She has also taught children in elementary and special education classes, including three years in a two-room school in rural Wyoming, where she taught children from grades 4 - 8 in one class.
Dr. Klenk received her Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary and special education from Augustana College (Sioux Falls, SD) and her Master of Arts in Curriculum from the University of Wyoming (Laramie). She earned a doctorate in Educational Studies from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). Her dissertation study of young literacy learners in a self-contained special education classroom was recognized by the Rackham Graduate School with a Distinguished Dissertation Award. She also received the Outstanding Dissertation Award for Curriculum from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Her research interests focus on the intersection of play and the development of literacy, and on the role of elementary school principals in supporting play in early childhood classrooms. She is a member of the International Literacy Association, the U.S. Play Coalition, and is active in the annual Conference on the Value of Play at Clemson University.
Dr. Klenk lives in Buffalo, NY where she is actively involved in her church and neighborhood. Sharing her home is a miniature white Schnauzer, Eddie Victor Valiant (aka "The Beastie Boy”).
- Encourage children to write their own way! This will make them want to write which in return will help them master conventional print skills.
- Go to the library and pick out a book with an interesting story children can act out. Create different props and have a costume bin to allow children to transform into the storyteller.
- Create puppets through the use of paper bags, paper plates or socks. Have children decorate them as they wish to help act out the story.
- Fill a container with various markers, crayons and colored pencils. Throw loose-leaf paper or scrap paper in to create a writing center for your child! Can include shopping lists or junk mail forms that children can fill out.
Have you ever noticed that children will invest enormous amounts of time and effort into their freely chosen play activities? While adults tend to define play as fun or recreational, children know that they are playing when they choose the activity and when they are in charge of how the activity proceeds – even if it looks like work to adults.
Before children are old enough to begin reading, they can reenact the stories their parents read to them. As they “pretend read” and act out stories, children are acquiring new vocabulary. And they are learning to use the syntax, or grammar, of written language. These skills are crucial for laying the foundation for success in learning to read.
“These skills are crucial for laying the foundation for success in learning to read.”
Likewise, before children develop the fine-motor and visual discrimination skills necessary to print letters, they can scribble and create letter-like forms. If they are allowed and encouraged to “write their own way,” they will also develop an identity as a writer. They will want to write because they have a message to communicate. Learning to write is often the most difficult task children will have to master in school. Writing their own way assists children in developing the stamina necessary to master conventional print skills.
Children who are allowed and encouraged to read and write their own way will find opportunities incorporate literacy into their play activities. Here are some tips from early literacy experts that parents can borrow to create meaningful literacy experiences for their youngsters.
- At the library, select high-quality children’s literature with rich illustrations and intriguing stories. Well-told folk tales with repetitive and poetic language are fun for children to act out with props and puppets.
- Create prop boxes with items that your children can use to act out their favorite stories. Not only playthings and toys, but old work shirts, uniforms, frilly princess dresses, a variety of hats and shoes are all items that children can use to transform themselves into story tellers.
- Simple puppets can be made from paper bags and paper plates. Keep a supply of markers and crayons, tape, construction paper, craft and sewing notions (trim, buttons, fabric remnants) on hand and accessible for your children to create their own props and costumes.
- Any container with a sturdy lid can become a writing center. Fill the container with a variety of appealing markers, crayons, and pencils. Add a variety of paper – lined and unlined, junk mail with forms to be filled in, shopping lists, etc.
- Create opportunities for writing. Invite your child to add an item to your shopping list, or to sign a birthday card for their favorite auntie.
Parents and older siblings who write are the role models for new writers. Respond to your child’s scribbles in the same way that you responded to the coos, gurgles, and babbling of infants and toddlers – assume that there is a message. You might have to remind your child that you have forgotten how to read “kid writing” in order to learn what that message is.
When my niece, Sarah, was a new kindergartner, her “Paw-Paw” (great-grandfather) passed away. Sarah accompanied her parents to the visitation and funeral. A few weeks later, the beetle Sarah had been keeping in a glass jar died. Later that day her parents found a note taped to a tree in their front yard. It said, “Pls pra fr mi tadr bg” (please pray for my tater bug). Sarah was deeply disappointed when no one in the neighborhood stopped to sign their names to her “guest book,” as she had seen people do at her Paw-Paw’s visitation. I was delighted to know that Sarah was able to recognize a legitimate, grown-up reason for writing. I could see that she was learning to print letters with appropriate letter-sound associations. The spacing in her note revealed her understanding that there is a one-to-one correspondence between words in speech and words in writing. Most importantly, she knew herself as someone who communicates with others through print.
The power of playful literacy cannot be understated. It is often tempting for concerned parents to purchase commercial materials that promise to teach children to read and write easily and at a very young age. However, these materials rarely have the power to create readers and writers – children who want to read on their own, and who want to communicate original thoughts in writing. So let your children play their way to reading and writing!