November 3, 2021
Family Support
Basic Needs
two ladies and man reading books and ladies and the man sitting on the books

By Kristen Rodriguez, Youth Services Librarian, Nova Southeastern Alvin Sherman Library

Reading and writing: the cornerstones of literacy. Right? When we think of literacy, some terms that come to mind may be “reading comprehension,” “phonics,” and “print awareness.” While these are certainly important aspects of literacy, these alone do not make a reader. Before children can even recognize letters, they are developing literacy skills. In fact, the Every Child Ready to Read initiative recommends five practices for early literacy skills: read, talk, sing, play, and write. As you talk and sing to your children, they are developing literacy skills. When you read books aloud to them and let them scribble with crayons, they are developing literacy skills. And yes—when they play with puppets and kitchen sets and playdough, they are developing literacy skills.

Play should not stop once children have learned how to read and write. The International Literacy Association defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context” (Alvermann, Donna, et al.). As children are exposed to new media and become content creators, they are still developing their literacy skills. Indeed, literacy is a broad skillset that, at minimum, incorporates reading and writing. Just as educators present their lessons to accommodate children’s unique learning styles, literacy can be approached the same way. Not everyone is a linguistic learner. Some people are kinesthetic learners and need to move around, while others are auditory and engage through sound. No matter the style, everyone learns through play. 

Now the big question: how can you encourage literacy through play at home? Give children ownership over the stories they read and how they experience them. Here are four simple ways you can encourage literacy skills using imaginative play that is fun for both reluctant and avid readers:

1. Get Moving

Don’t just retell... reenact. Experience the story as though you were the characters. Young children may love to engage in dramatic play with puppets and figurines, while older children may retell stories by acting them out. Children can create character pieces and props with modeling clay or craft materials. They can also design costumes and sets to use as part of their retelling. As a family, try doing a story walk at home. Draw pictures of different parts of a story with short statements explaining each scene and put them around the house. Then read the story as you move about. Want to go outside? Use sidewalk chalk to draw story elements and encourage others to experience your story walk.

2. Flip the Script

Fractured fairy tales are a staple of children’s literature for good reason. They take commonly known storylines and reinvigorate them with fresh ideas for a new audience. So, here’s your chance to become the author and write your own fractured fairy tale! Take a folktale and switch up the story. What if Cinderella was a superhero? What if the setting of Three Billy Goats Gruff was outer space? What if Hansel and Gretel were the villains? The possibilities are endless, and the format can range from a play to comic strip to short movie.

3. Add Audio

Audio creates a unique experience, either through actors reading an audiobook, using an app like Novel Effect to add ambiance, or creating a song based on the plot or characters of the story. Audiobooks can create a dynamic experience with sound effects, music tracks, and multiple narrators. Another way is to experience stories out loud is through songs. Music is a wonderful way to remember concepts through rhyme and rhythm. Simply replace popular song lyrics with plot of story or add melody to the text.

4. Game Time

Transform the story into a game! Whether it’s trivia, crossword puzzles, anagrams, a board game, or something completely original, games provide opportunities to develop vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. As a bonus, they naturally provide hours of entertainment.

Literacy can be fun when the stories themselves become immersive experiences. Encourage your children to find an activity they love, and you can help keep the magic of stories alive. To find cherished childhood classics to share with your children and discover new favorites as a family, visit your local library!

Kristen Rodriguez is a Youth Services Librarian at the Nova Southeastern Alvin Sherman Library, Research, and Information Technology Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Alvermann, Donna, et al. “Literacy Glossary.” International Literacy Association, “Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library.” Every Child Ready to Read. Public Library Association and Association for Library Service to Children.

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When Literacy Becomes Play!

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