I think that play is the best way for kids to explore, discover, and learn. I'm a strong advocate for young children to learn and build understanding through their play. But often, when we think about literacy, we think of more "academic" learning. Sometimes we forget that literacy can be play, too.
When teaching literacy (reading and writing) in early childhood, reading books is key. Read alouds build important concepts and skills about reading. Children understand how books work. They grow to know that those black squiggles have meaning. They begin to recognize letters and understand the parts of stories (beginning, middle, end). But sometimes we forget that reading books and talking in more "formal" ways about words or letters isn't the only way (or even the best way) to build literacy skills for young children. We can help children explore and build literacy skills by adding opportunities for reading, writing, and alphabet exploration to our play experiences.
Every week I teach a group of kindergartners at my church. Here are some examples in my classroom from this week--
As we explored moving pompoms with chopsticks, we looked at a chart of words written in different languages. We also explored a book written in Chinese. Looking at words in other languages helps kids understand that writing and print is meaningful and that people communicate in different ways.
We spelled words at the large magnet board. We used word cards and magnet letters. We had magnet sticks, too, to explore and discover. Some kids experimented with creating letters with the sticks. This encouraged kids to think about letter shapes and communicating through writing.
I often add books and other reading material to different centers or activities. This week we played in the home center. These girls turned pages in the Bibles and wanted to find stories that we had read in the past. They were connecting the stories they had heard to written text, connecting themselves to words.
Other ways to add in a little literacy:
- Add pencils, paper, and clipboards to any activity.
- Post a sign with key words or a statement about what children are learning.
- Provide access to writing materials at all times. Kids can pull in writing when they choose.
- Lay books and other reference materials near a center or work area. Use books that relate to what children are doing.
- Set up a reading nook where kids can always explore the written word.
- Add cards, pencils, and tape to block or construction activities. Kids can make signs or labels for their structures.
- Offer a writing center each week. Our kids always have opportunities to draw and write.
Just as kids experiment with blocks or art materials or nature items, they can experiment with words, books, and writing. Look for ways to add literacy play in all the things you are doing in your classroom.