Learning through play

June vasquez

Don't underestimate the importance of play in literacy preparation.

Play is an important part of human growth, and while it might look meaningless to us adults, play is one of the most important ways a child learns about themselves and the world around them. Play and learning go hand-in-hand. In fact, when children play they are learning important pre-literacy skills from very early in life.

From the moment children are born they are learning. Did you know that 90 percent of a child's brain growth happens by the age of 5? Children learn language, vocabulary, communication skills and social relationships through everyday verbal and nonverbal interactions. Studies show that the quality and quantity of language children hear in their first 3 years of life directly affects their cognitive development, which is the foundation of a child's ability to read and comprehend what they have read.

Playing is an incredible learning tool for children, whether it is playing with family members, other children or even by themselves. Play helps children learn how to negotiate rules, communicate their intentions and explain their actions. Play encourages children to create storylines, characters and describes settings or scenes, essential skills not only for learning how to express and regulate their feelings, but also for developing effective writing in the future. Play helps with abstract thinking which is important to understand the alphabet.

Play develops fine motor skills inherent to writing, such as hand-eye coordination, crossing the midline, and even hand dexterity. And the most concrete way children learn literacy through play is by incorporating writing directly into their pretend play. They might pretend to write traffic tickets or scribble a grocery list. They might pretend to read from a menu or "read" mail.

This semester, Twirl will offer a weekly early literacy program to the Taos schools titled "Word Play" for early literacy children and their families engaging children in early literacy play. Twirl also offers a class called "Theater Play" that interacts with pre-literacy age children virtually. A list of past Theater Play classes can be found on the Twirl Taos Youtube page.

There are many ways you can support early literacy skills at home for children at any age.

Here are a few:


Read together every day.

Build a pillow fort and read a book about dragons.

Read a book out loud and act out the story.

Use instruments and create sound effects to your story.


Recite nursery rhymes.

Pretend you are on a cooking show and explain everything you are doing.

Give your child opportunities to talk with you, not just listen while you talk.


Sing together, even if you aren't a singer or you have to make up the words.

Sing rhyming songs.

Sing nonsense songs.

Clap along to the rhythms in songs to help your child hear the syllables in words.


Allow children to try writing in shaving cream, sand, finger paint or even the shower steam on the mirrors.

Talk to your children about what they draw. This helps them learn how to narrate actions and express intention.

Write stories together.

Have different types of writing utensils and papers available for imaginative play.


Allow children to have unstructured time to use their imaginations to create stories about what they're doing.

Encourage children to engage in dramatic play.

When children use puppets, dolls or stuffed animals to make up stories, they develop important narrative skills that help them to understand that stories have a beginning, middle and end.

Please tune in and join Twirl for our classes encouraging playful ways to engage in literacy!

Amber Thomas is the Early Childhood Program Coordinator and Integrative Arts Specialist for Twirl Play and Discovery Space in Taos New Mexico.

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