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Increasing literacy in a pre-K classroom: super ideas for centers.

When we think back to our first school experiences, we remember playing house, molding Play-Doh, running outside, and enjoying recess. We do not remember chanting letters, memorizing, and undergoing stressful tests, especially in pre-kindergarten. In many of the preschool and elementary classrooms of today, however, play is no longer the center of the curriculum. Meeting standards consumes the time of many teachers. Some educators view play as something that requires no skill, carries little or no value, and has no integral part in a young child's classroom experience (Christensen, 2003). Many believe that including more play will lessen the accountability of the teacher. However, advocates and scholars in the field of education disagree, stating that "high-level play is widely recognized as an instructional strategy that builds language, vocabulary, and underlying cognitive skills necessary for children to become successful readers and writers" (Christensen, 2003, p. 2). How do early childhood educators balance this "high-level play" and still meet the required standards the states have set? This question led me to implement an action research project, designed to enhance learning without losing time for play.

My research focused on props to promote literacy, using play as a vehicle for learning. I observed my students 20 minutes a day for four weeks, adding new literacy-enhancing props to free-choice center time. I focused on three specific behaviors:

* Pretend reading--Looking at books, pointing to pictures

* Writing--Using magnetic letters, paper/pencil, markers, chalk, etc.

* Innovative language during dramatic play--using vocabulary related to the props and books.

I used a checklist to tally how many times I observed these behaviors before and after adding new materials. An analysis of the data revealed that my students' literacy behaviors greatly increased. The following are some ideas of props used within my study that can lead to positive results when incorporated into centers.

Ideas for Classroom Teachers

Block Center:

To the usual collection of materials, I added the following:

* Community worker figures

* Paper and pencils

* Telephones

* Toy cars and trains

* Pictures of construction

* Street signs

* Books about construction

* Road carpet


I observed my students:

* Using more imaginative vocabulary related to street signs and construction

* Creating road signs and drawing pictures of what they built

* Building bridges and buildings seen in the books

* Interacting more with peers

Housekeeping/Kitchen Center:

To the usual collection of materials, I added the following:

* Money

* Cookbooks

* Telephones

* Notepads

* Magazines/store ads

* Clipboards with paper

* Recipe cards

* Play-doh

* Empty food containers

* Coupon books


I observed my students:

* Creating new play environments, such as a store, restaurant, and pizza delivery

* Role-playing and using language associated with a waitress, pizza delivery person, and chef

* Creating menus and grocery lists, and taking orders

Library Center:

To the usual collection of materials, I added the following:

* Paper and pencils

* Alphabet letter pointers

* Magnetic letters and easels

* Telephones

* Puppets

* Magazines

* Personal chalkboards

* Felt board and figures


I observed my students:

* Picking up books more often

* Using magnetic letters to spell out words found in the center's books

* Reading books to the puppets

* Creating games (for example: one student would read a word and the other students would try to spell it)

Writing Center:

To the usual collection of materials, I added the following:

* Books

* Magazines

* Magnetic letters and easels

* Telephones

* Envelopes

* Markers

* Picture cards with words

* Personal chalkboards

* Note pads

* Greeting cards


I observed my students:

* Creating their own books with words and illustrations

* Noticing and writing more words and punctuation within the books on the chalkboards * Role-playing teacher, secretary, and mail carrier

I found that literacy learning was enhanced through play. The following websites and resources will provide additional guidance for teachers who wish to create literacy-based play centers.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Lisa Parker for her contribution to the research, as well as Mary Patton for her knowledge, editing, and inspiration.

Teacher Resources

Journal Articles

Campbell, E., & Foster, J. (1993). Play centers that encourage literacy development. Day Care and Early Education, 21(2), 22-26.

Genisio, M., & Drecktrah, M. (1999). Emergent literacy in an early childhood classroom: Center learning to support the child with special needs. Early Childhood Education Journal, 26(4), 225-231.

Lerach, H. (1995). Creating a literacy-based play centre for preschoolers, Interaction. Canadian Child Care Federation, Summer 1995.

Rosenquest, B. (2002). Literacy-based planning and pedagogy that supports toddler language development. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(4), 241-249.

Roskos, K. (1988). Designing and using play centers that promote literacy: Two examples. Early Childhood Education Journal, 25(4), 26-27.

Stone, S.J. (1996). Promoting literacy through centers. Childhood Education, 72, 240-242.

Stone, S. J., & Christie, J. F. (1996). Collaborative literacy learning during sociodramatic play in a multiage (K-2) primary classroom. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 10(2), 123-133.



Literacy Centers in Photographs: A Step-by-Step Guide in Photos That Shows How To Organize Literacy Centers, Establish Routines, and Manage Center-Based Learning All Year Long, by Nikki Campo

Literacy Through Play, by Gretchen Owocki

Play and Literacy in Early Childhood, edited by Kathleen A. Roskos and James F. Christie.

The Complete Learning Center Book, by Rebecca Isbell

This Idea-Sparker was submitted by Mandi Moore.
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Author:Moore, Mandy
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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