Symbolic Play as a part of Children’s Literacy
The reason why I made this documentation piece was because of a number of questions I received from parents about kindergarten readiness (a term I completely hate, because the schools should be ready for children and not just the other way around). But their questions were valid. They wanted to know how I was going to address reading and literacy seeing as how their children were 4-5 years old and going to kindergarten in the next school year.
This documentation was explicitly created for the parents, but it was also for my colleagues and other teachers as well. I knew that this piece would be up in the hallway where teachers from other schools often visit. That being said, my main focus was for the families, and the teachers were a secondary audience.
When adults work with preschoolers on literacy, there is a tendency to only focus on their reading and writing.
In particular, many adults think children learn to read specifically at the moment when they sound out letters off of a page.
Many adults think children learn to write specifically at the moment when children coherently string letters together on a piece of paper.
But think about all of the cognitive structures that need to be in place before a child can read symbols off of a page, or use symbols to express something. There’s a lot that needs to happen.
First, children have to understand that the symbols have some sort of meaning attached to it. They have to be able to know that when those symbols are strung together, they form words and sentences. To do that, cognitively children have to first play with symbols in their mind, and they often do this with objects first. They use objects that symbolically represent other imaginary ideas.
Many adults only think children are working on reading and writing when they are doing some sort of writing drill or worksheet. And it’s hard to explain that when the child is playing symbolically, that is a requisite cognitive skill to learning to read and write.
Think about an infant. When they are learning to speak (which is arguably a MUCH more difficult thing to learn than to read or write), they learn how to do it without drills or adults breaking down speaking into letter sounds. You don’t teach infants to speak by teaching them about glottal stops in the larynx or pressing the tongue to the top of the mouth, or anything like that. Yet, we do precisely this kind of teaching when teaching writing. We break it down into small little chunks and teach those chunks. This is an example of inauthentic experiences. Children will never have to do those types of drills in a real-world scenario outside of a school. It’s inauthentic.
Think about that infant again. When they lift up their hands, we speak back to them. We ask, “Do you want to be picked up?” The infant may mutter something unintelligible. But we respond back to them, “It seems like you do.” We treat them as if they are speaking now and not at some later date. You treat them as if they are speakers now.