Creating Literacy Through Play

two young children sit on a small couch reading a book

As our ECC classes settle into the school year, we are excited to see relationships strengthen and each class begin to develop its own unique culture and identity. Throughout the past few weeks, we’ve observed storytelling and dramatic play become integral to the Shemesh Class. The children connect and collaborate most as they engage in imaginative play, look at books together, or share photos and stories about their families. The children’s stories reflect their relationships with their loved ones and caretakers. In addition to fostering meaningful connections and deepening relationships, storytelling is the foundation of language and literacy development.

Children begin developing language and literacy skills at birth. Our approach to learning is rooted in an understanding that children are capable learners primed to communicate and make meaning of the world around them. Literacy in early childhood focuses on the development of children’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes that ultimately lead to reading and writing.

When children take turns being the doctor or pretend to cook together in the dramatic play area, they are collaborating to tell a story. These interactions foster increasingly complex language and communication skills. As children negotiate character roles, plot, context, and props, they are learning how to make their ideas heard and understood while also beginning to take on the perspectives of their peers. Offering writing tools in the dramatic play area promotes pre-writing skills as children pretend to take notes at the doctor’s office or write a grocery list. When children engage in intentional scribbling, they are developing an understanding that print is meaningful while also building the fine motor skills needed to eventually learn to write.

As educators, we support literacy development in the classrooms by creating opportunities for children to explore print offered in contextual and purposeful ways, engage with mark-making materials (i.e., drawing and painting materials), and express stories through drama, oral expression, and representational media. Storytelling facilitates expressive language development in oral and written forms in addition to fostering new connections and understandings. Our primary goal as we support children’s emergent literacy is to promote a joyful and meaningful relationship with stories and print through play. We view reading and writing as two of many skills that children will learn to enhance their ability to connect and communicate throughout their lives.

This post originally appeared in the November 2022 Journal