Play and Its Effects on Childhood Literacy Term Paper

Pages: 16 (4372 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Teaching

Play And Literacy

Play and its Effects on Early Childhood Literacy Development

Over the last two decades, a dramatic change has taken place with kindergarten students. Play has been pushed out of the curriculum by a range of factors, including larger class sizes and a focus on standardization of testing and curricula that have reached all the way down to the youngest students. Play has also been marginalized by elementary teachers who in the last generation began substituting words like 'explore' or 'discover' for play. This substitution has been made in an attempt to make literacy and math activities more exciting for students. The traditional classrooms, with their spacious rooms, unlimited time for unstructured art, music, dance, and freedom to take time to practice and improve social skills, have all disappeared. The focus now is on math and literacy instruction.

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There is, of course, nothing in any way wrong with wanting to instill strong mathematical and language arts in children. However, it is both true and highly problematic that high-stakes testing and test preparation has deprived kindergartners of the benefits of play. This reduction of time spent just playing (which is, surely, the most important task of early childhood) not only affects the overall development of the child but (according to a wealth of recent research) but in particular affects young children's literacy development: "research suggests that children's creative engagement with reading and writing activities through play has important implications for their literacy development" (Anderson & Stokes, 1984; Isenberg & Jacob, 1983; Jacob, 1984; Pellegrini, 1985; Roskos, 1988).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Play and Its Effects on Childhood Literacy Assignment

Nevertheless, even with the formal exclusion of play from elementary schools, many teachers still try to incorporate play into their curriculum. Their inclusion (or re-inclusion) of play into the daily school life might seem to be either a positive or at worst neutral activity. However, the seemingly innocuous and even frivolous activity of play has caused significant controversy in a number of school settings. It is difficult to justify such reactions on the part of educators given the fact that there is such a substantial body of research supporting the idea that play can promote children's literacy development. Pre-primary children differ physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually than do older children. Their different ways of learning and developing are best supported by (and in) an environment of play. Play, unlike formal educations practices, immerses the child in a natural context, a context that can enhance literacy development for the implicit practice of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and knowing.

Recent research supports the premise that young children need programs that motivate them to become active learners; such programs center on play experiences that enable them to develop and build up their own knowledge. By incorporating play into literacy activities, young children can join their peers in dramatic play, a form of play that assists young children to discover and appreciate the complexities of the real world. Dramatic play usually represents the children's life experiences.

Vygotsky (1978 and throughout his work) has provided some of the most important research to date on the ways in which natural play is an essential part of the education of the young child, especially in the arena of literacy development. He argues that most important for supporting literacy skills are supportive play environments that are highly enriched. Such enriched environments highlight the pleasure and play of language. Classroom environments can incorporate aspects of language arts without removing the play from the classroom. A classroom environment conducive for literacy development is spacious and neat, with bulletin boards displaying learning materials and children's work. This allows for a promotion of the importance of literacy without reducing literacy to test preparation.

Play is one of those human activities that are much easier to recognize than to define. Usually when adults observe children together having fun they think of these activities as play, but play is more complex than simply having fun. Vygotsky (1978) described play as a context in which children learned how to use objects and actions as a representation of symbols

. Given this definition of play of his, it should not be surprising that Vygotsky limited the scope of play that he believed to be the most significant to be dramatic or make-believe play. This is, of course, the type of play that is typical of preschoolers and children of primary school age.

Play can provide young children with a meaningful context for learning literacy concepts and skills; this connection between play and literacy was one of the most heavily researched topics in the late 20th century. When adults observe young children at play, we tend to focus on the smiles and laughter that accompany play and assume that these affirm the enjoyable nature of play. What is far less clear to adults is the ways in which play may be educational. According to Bodrova & Leong (1998), adults may be unable to assess the complete range of education that is available through play because they limit their definition of "play" to that of Vygotsky. His definition does not include many kinds of playing such as movement activities, object manipulations, and explorations that should be considered to be important forms of play. Vigotsky (1977, 1978) defines real as only play defined by the creation of an imaginary situation, the assumption of dramatic roles, and the adherence by the child (ren) to a set of rules specified by those roles. While this is certainly a valid form of play, recent research on play demonstrates how very limited this definition is in seeking to understand how play is linked to literacy. The rest of this paper examines some of the recent research in this area helps contextualize the importance of play as a necessary element of the environment in which young children acquire literacy skills.

1. Mary Williams & Hilma Rask. Literacy Through Play: How Families with Able Children Support Their Literacy Development.

The researchers examined how teachers can create an environment in which children help to work with their teachers to develop their own literacy skills. The researchers in this case focused on the importance of aural learning: They found that children are likely to have superior literacy skills when both home and school environments focus on an emphasis on "phonemic awareness." That is, children acquire literacy skills by focusing on the sounds in words, which is precisely the kind of learning that occurs when children listen to and verbalize nursery rhymes. This skill may also be refined by the kinds of dramatic play activities that Vygotsky (1978) focused on.

2. L.S. Vygotsky. (1933). Play and its Role in the Mental Development of the Child.

Vygotsky's described his perspective on play: "Let us now consider the problem of play itself. We know that the definition of play on the basis of the pleasure it gives the child is not correct for two reasons -- first, because we deal with a number of activities which give the child much keener experiences of pleasure than play." He gave an example of a child getting pleasure from sucking a pacifier even though the child was not being satiated. Second, "we know the games in which the activity process itself does not afford pleasure." The example used was of sporting games or other games with outcomes or results. If the outcomes were not favorable to the child, a sense of displeasure was the result."

Vygotsky argues that children with unfulfilled desires will have temper tantrums. This reminds me of my own students who stomped and/or hollered because of unsatisfied desires and tendencies, students likely to calm down after realizing that even in play there are rules to follow. Vygotsky (1933) wrote that "The play-development relationship can be compared to the instruction-development relationship, but play provides a background for changes in needs and in consciousness of a much wider nature. Play is the source of development and creates the zone of proximal development." Play is vital to the cognitive, social and emotional development of children. When observing students playing, those who comprehended the rules were in the independent performance zone. Students with unfulfilled desires who threw temper tantrums and took special assistance to calm to were in the assisted performance zone. Those in the middle who could control the situation with little assistance were in the zone of proximal development. In Kindergarten literacy we work with children with all three domains of development and just as Vygotsky recognized play as a self-help tool, educators need to recognize that play is not a luxury; instead, it is a necessity.

3. Johnson, J.E., Christie, J.F., and Yawkey, T.D. (1999). Theories of Children's Play.

When I observed the smiles and laughter of children at play, I thought these were outward signs of children's play being fun and exciting. Yet, what was less obvious was whether play was educational, or for that matter, pleasurable

. One aspect of play I had not considered was whether play was enjoyable for students. When talking about play one naturally took it for… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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