By: Alyssa Raven
We all remember Preschool and Kindergarten as the time where we played in the sandbox and took naps. This is known simply as play. Play is known as children exploring the world around them (classroom) and requires specific conditions that are engaging for a child. Children play by exploring and manipulating toys, objects, and other materials. But these early elementary grades are drastically changing. The key issue in early childhood today is the question: Is there enough time in the school day for play? Because this topic focuses more on early childhood education, time is crucial because of the fact that most kindergartens are only a half day. Teachers in early childhood education are unsure whether to include more play or more focus on academics in their classrooms. More play would be considered emergent literacy, while reading readiness is referred to as the push for more academics. While ongoing research proves that play in the classroom is vital for child development, there is a constant push for more academics with the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as our academic competition with other nations. Some teachers are concerned that children who engage in play will not develop the ability to read, write, and spell. On the flip side, some believe play is vital.
More play, less work
Play time, also known as developmentally appropriate instruction or emergent literacy, is said to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially engaging, which makes it essential to childhood development. To quote Susan Isaacs (Social Development in Young Children), "Play is a child's life and the means by which he comes to understand the world he lives in." In fact, play is key when it comes to learning language and literacy. It helps children figure out things in real world situations. Play may help children figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar sign, what a map is for, how to use a list, or what an unfamiliar word says. Piaget (1962) found that as children's play becomes more complex and abstract, they progress through childhood. Plus, social play contributes to early language development and later literacy. This helps children prepare for and experience what they will later learn in reading and writing. Students are not only having fun, but they're also informally gaining the skills they will later use in literacy. These skills include comprehension, vocabulary, and listening skills (just to name a few).
Those who are for emergent literacy claim that literacy can be taught through play before kids are taught to read. They stress that reading is not just decoding words on a page, but engaging oneself in literacy situations. In fact, those in favor of this perspective note that children are already engaged in some form of literacy in their everyday lives. Examples of this may include singing song lyrics, telling stories, recognizing symbols, and talking to friends and family. Another strong point to emergent literacy is it gives children perspective. Because literacy of this nature is influenced by social and cultural backgrounds, it gives students the chance to see what their peers bring to the table. The bottom line is that children learn the different parts of literacy at different times and at different speeds.
A more recent method of including play in the classroom is called materials intervention. In this approach, teachers set up various stations that resemble literacy environments that children may come in contact with in their lives. This is also helpful for those students whose families do not experience these types of settings. These centers help children build literacy skills. Research shows that's children are more likely to engage in play-related activities in reading and writing, than in pencil, paper, worksheet "type" literacies. Some examples of materials intervention may be a doctor's office, a weather station, an office, a grocery store, a kitchen, a post office, a library, a school room, or a pet store. These stations would include props and materials that one would normally find in the specific setting.
Less play, more work
Parents and teachers are now calling Kindergarten the new first grade. Even preschools are cracking down on getting children reading by the time they begin kindergarten. And not only are educators pushing students to read earlier, so are parents. This is more commonly known as reading readiness, which is said to raise the academic bar of America. Reading readiness focuses on discrete teaching skills such as phonemic awareness, phonics, knowing letters, and the development of oral language. Studies show that students in other countries (Singapore, South Korea and Japan) are outperforming American students when it comes to academics (Morgan 2008). Those in favor of reading readiness are the opposite of those who are for emergent literacy. They think that children have little to no experience to bring to the table and that they need basic reading skills to succeed. After these skills are learned, they will be able to read around the ages of five or six. In this approach, students are all taught to read on the same level and their funds of knowledge are put aside. As previously stated, the push for more standardized testing, reading, and math skills has created this idea of teaching kids to read much earlier than ever. Headstart, a program last updated in 2007, focuses in on getting underprivileged children to be ready to emerge themselves in academics. Programs like this have forced the United States education system to focus more on decoding, and less on emerging children in literacy.
Teachers who use this approach generally have students do activities like workbooks that teach them basic reading skills. As Linda Morgan (2008) describes, these are real letters-and-numbers academics for the littlest students. Examples of this include learning how to do matching activities with pictures and words, putting objects into various categories, identifying colors and shapes, knowing all the letters of the alphabet (upper and lowercase) and being able to count to about 30. And these activities are being used at a younger and younger age. For example, tutoring centers have reported teaching two-year-olds the alphabet and how to count to ten. This shows that the goals of the No Child Left Behind act are not only affecting those who are taking standardized tests, but our little ones, as well.
Though I strongly believe that helping students to read at an early age is beneficial, after doing the research, I believe the emergent literacy is the way to go. As Eric Liu notes in The Play Debate (2008), ""It's a false choice to think you must decide between creativity and academic rigor." What some educators do not understand is that emergent literacy really is teaching children literacy. I think that sometimes play is not associated with academics. However, in this case, young students are learning what they will later need to read and write (ex. skills) and still having a great time in preschool or kindergarten. Plus, you can teach students to read without assuming that they're all going to be on the same level, like reading readiness promotes. I also think that reading readiness deters students away from school and gives them negative thoughts about it. The last thing you want is students to hate school at a young age. Young children don't like doing worksheets and min-tests. They like to play! If studies show that students are learning better through play, then let them.
Baines, L. A., & Slutsky, R. (2009). Developing a Sixth Sense: Play. Educational Horizons, 87(2), 97-100. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
Stegelin, D. A. (2005). Making the Case for Play Policy: Research-Based Reasons to Support Play-Based Environments [Electronic version]. Young Children, 60(2), 76-85.
Trawick-Smith, J., & Picard, T. (2003). Literacy Play: Is it Really Play Anymore? [Electronic version] Childhood Education, 79(4), 229-231.
Smith, D. (1995). How Play Influences Children's Development at Home and School [Electronic version]. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 66(8), 19-25.
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Flint, A. S. (2008). Literate Lives: Teaching Reading & Writing in Elementary Classrooms (pp. 146-175). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Morgan, L. (2008, February 1). The Play Debate - Are kids too pressured, pushed and
prepped? The experts weigh in. Retrieved October 8, 2009, from http://www.parentmap.com/content/view/895/275/
1. Which approach would you like to use more of in your classroom (reading readiness or emergent literacy) and why?
2. Give 3 examples of either literacy centers or sociodramatic play settings that you would use in your classroom and how they relate to and strengthen literacy.
3. Based on previously conducted research (ex. Piaget & Vygotsky), play is vital in early childhood classrooms. If this is so, then why is reading readiness becoming so prevalent in present day American schooling?