14Jan 22

Literacy + Play = Success!

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Family Literacy Day is Thursday, January 27th. Register here to celebrate literacy and learning in your home.

READ Saskatoon’s family literacy programs combine learning and play through literacy enriched activities and information. Our programs are grounded in the belief that children’s literacy development start in the home and community, and the special adults in a child’s life are their most important teachers. READ Saskatoon’s family literacy programs benefit all members of the family – children and adults alike – in reaching their full potential at home, school and in the workplace. Families build our communities and province, and literacy builds families.

In my role as a Family Literacy Coordinator, I facilitate family programs for caregivers with children 0–5 years. Every session includes rhymes, stories, literacy-based activities, and a parent discussion segment. I am often asked, “What should my child know before kindergarten?”

Emerging literacy skills are the foundation for reading and academic success. Oral language development, vocabulary, book language, phonological awareness, and print awareness are all part of early learning literacy (Ghoting, 2014). Family literacy programs also support and strengthen engagement between children and parents and set the foundation for lifelong learning. In addition, READ Saskatoon reinforces that these skills develop through play. A child who can problem-solve, follow instructions, has access to reading and writing materials, and has the love and support of a caring adult is on the right track to becoming a strong learner. The key foundational skills for learning achievement start early and they start in the home.

The premise of learning through play is doing things your child enjoys. Play is your child’s work! It is a natural way to learn; children are not aware that their motor skills, language skills, and thinking skills are improving while they play. Research has shown that by age 10, children who had played in kindergarten excelled over others in their advancement of reading and mathematics, social, and emotional adjustments. They also excelled in creativity, oral expression, and intelligence (Miller and Almon, as cited in Early Years Branch, 2014). The critical work your child is doing while rhyming, building towers, and playing playdough are all opportunities for learning: “My grandson and his brother made Lego boats at home. Their dad filled bowls with water and the kids kept changing their boats to make them watertight. Once they were watertight, they added Lego men to see how much weight the floating boat could hold” (Lynne, 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe).

We know play is great for developing minds, but we also know instructed learning has a time and place. What does that look like? Think five minutes of intentional learning where you are the guide. Practicing letter sounds, focusing on counting, writing their name: these quality interactions over time will be better received than long formal learning sessions. The key is to keep learning positive. As a parent I am sure you have been asked to sing a song or read the same story over and over. Repetition is a way for a child to learn. It can take 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain unless it is done with play, in which case it only takes 10-20 (Dr. Karen Purvis, Child Development Specialist).

When children explore something that interests them, they learn more quickly and more easily remember what they have learned (Ministry of Education, Your Child Plays, Learns, Explores, 2015). This might mean thinking outside the box when focusing on reading and writing skills for your little one. Write in the snow with sticks, make letters out of playdough, or go on a scavenger hunt to find all the places that have the first letter of their name.

What else can you do?

  • Make time for free play to explore, and problem solve
  • Expand their vocabulary and be descriptive of what your child is doing
  • Let your child get messy and creative
  • Let your child see you reading and writing in its many forms

If you’re looking for a great starting point for you and your little learners, check out READ Saskatoon’s family literacy programming. We connect play to everyday life and encourage you to find those intentional moments in your home. “During the program, my kids had fun, made new friends, learned new vocabulary and new songs. They became more confident. It has been a good experience for them to get prepared for kindergarten” (parent, Criss Cross Applesauce).

Kayla Schneider, READ Saskatoon Family Literacy Coordinator


READ Saskatoon is a local literacy organization that offers literacy programs to adults and families. Our strengths are program delivery in adult, children, family, and financial literacy.