Updated: Apr 12, 2022
The perceived pressure of expectation in the year prior to school regarding literacy learning continues to provoke teaching strategies that don’t always fit with the play based learning approach.
We have all seen it, we feel it, yet we still succumb to it.
I believe this happens because we don't always have the courage, knowledge or support to push back on the quick fix approach to literacy learning that can easily creep into any classroom. Too easily the dotted line letter sheets and formal programs become the visible way to communicate learning around literacy to our stakeholders. Before we know it we are caught in the vacuum of worksheets, and product based processes, that only continue to feed the very expectations we want to minimise.
Our goal is to provide children with rich literacy learning opportunities so we must look beyond the obvious print based communication and articulate literacy as the "capacity, confidence and disposition to use language in all its forms" (EYLF, p.38). So what might this look like? I hope to provide some examples of the everyday literacy learning children pursue and the opportunity this creates in making literacy rich experiences visible.
Literacy - Symbols
A recent experience in the city found us listening intently to buskers - two children playing the violin and cello. It was captivating. Inspired by this Caleb asked me later that day to write his favourite song Jingle Bells. I assumed he meant words and proceeded to write this. He quickly interrupted me 'not that writing, the other writing' and demonstrated this as you can see in the picture.
Symbols are observed as writing and music is a form of communication. I was delighted to be reminded of this during this interaction. When I visited Reggio Emilia last year I remember Marika Fontana a teacher in one of the schools sharing her thoughts:
'The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for
keeping children's motivation for learning high'
I think about this in the context of literacy learning and recognise when I really stop and look and listen, it is evident everyday and there are opportunities frequently within children's play scenarios. When engaging in literacy learning this way, it is meaningful, contextualised and relevant. Below are a series of photographs showing the use of letters and words in a child's play context - Building a rainbow city using letters and words.
It is important to keep at the forefront that literacy learning begins at birth and not at school.
When we view literacy learning with a life long perspective, our goals become realistic and appropriate to the age and stage of each child. I believe it is important we protect the variety of mediums we provide in our environments so literacy is embraced across all aspects of the curriculum. This includes the great outdoors. It's important not to position literacy as a separate subject area holding more value than other aspects of the curriculum. Subjects work in partnership to create real world learning within a play context.
Literacy - Drawing
Drawing provided a space for Caleb to communicate his desire to play games and further explore his developing intrigue associated with games with rules. The conversations that took place whilst this game making was brought to reality, were rich in learning, knowledge and identity.
Caleb was able to find ways to articulate verbally a complex set of guidelines to guide our play. "If you roll the dice and don't want that number you still have to go" and "if you get a 6 it means you will probably win" all communicate Caleb's prior knowledge and history he brings to the game.
It is our responsibility as educators and teachers to research and adopt teaching strategies that honour the way children learn best. This will often mean learning new strategies, engaging new materials and testing new ideas in our programs. The Early Years Learning Framework describes literacy as 'music, movement, dance, story telling, visual arts, media and drama as well as talking, listening, viewing, reading and writing' (p.38).
What aspects of literacy are you most comfortable with in your own teaching strategies?
How can you become more familiar with mediums of literacy you do not easily draw from?
Literacy - Clay
The use of clay was not a medium I had always adopted until I was introduced to the four elements and story telling with Dr Red Ruby Scarlett in 2016. Once I was gifted with this form of communication, it quickly became a medium that was integrated on a weekly basis. I could see first hand the opportunity clay provided for children to communicate their ideas, theories and experience. It created a rich space for sharing stories - ones that were imaginative and ones that drew from our histories. Once armed with the four elements almost anything was possible!
So why does this all really matter? I believe imposing instructional and formalised literacy learning in the early years is limiting. It not only robs children of the opportunities to explore literacy through many mediums, it reduces literacy learning to a very narrow set of skills and knowledge.
Making literacy visible through the many mediums of communication is our responsibility as educators towards children and their right to learn in age appropriate ways. Play-based learning asks us to provide the context for children to organise, make sense and engage actively with people, objects and representations, so lets honour this in our daily practice, documentation and professional growth as early childhood professionals.