Thanks to the Friends of Fountaindale, the Children’s Services Department has been able to add some new toys to our department: a play kitchen, doll house and an imagination station that can be used as a puppet theater or a window for a pretend business. Why are we doing this? It’s related to the five practices of early literacy:

  • Singing
  • Talking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Playing

Children (young children, especially) do a lot of their learning through play. So while playing restaurant or playing with puppets may not seem as directly related to getting school ready as singing the ABC’s or reading books, all of these activities are beneficial.

The truth is, many children in Illinois are not as well prepared as they could be when they enter kindergarten. In recent years, kindergarten teachers in our state have observed new students and provided data for the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey. In the 2018–2019 school year, they found that only 26% of children that entered kindergarten were ready for school in all three developmental areas: social and emotional development, language and literacy and math. That means almost three quarters of new kindergartners were only ready in one or two of those developmental areas or were not ready at all.

How can play help children get ready for school?

In addition to the five practices of early literacy, children also need the six skills in place when they start learning to read:

  • Narrative Skills
  • Letter Knowledge
  • Print Awareness
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Print Motivation
  • Vocabulary

Let’s take a look at some of the accessories that we are currently featuring with the imagination station and how they can be used. Our latest monthly theme is a pizzeria, which includes a toy pizza, empty pizza boxes, pretend pizza toppings and felt letters and numbers.

If a child notices that a real pizzeria has a sign above the front door, that’s print awareness. An adult can help them make their own sign with the felt letters for their pretend business. As they do that together, they are probably talking about what letters, are needed and that helps with letter knowledge. And if they then act out the process of ordering a pizza, they are using narrative skills—the ability to tell or act out a story.

Phonological awareness is closely related to the idea of abstract thinking. When a child pretends that a round piece of cardboard is a pizza crust, they are beginning to understand that one thing can stand in for another thing. That’s an important concept to have in your toolbox when you are starting to learn that marks on a page stand for sounds that make up words.

The first early math skills you probably think of are counting and recognizing numbers. A child can count the number of pizzas or the number of slices for a pretend order. Children can also create a menu with prices using the felt pieces and practice number recognition. In addition to that, being able to sort objects is an important early math skill. Why not sort some pizza toppings? There are also different shapes (squares, circles, parts of circles) to identify and talk about. Learning the vocabulary of shapes is important not just for future lessons about geometry and fractions, but for the more immediate tasks of learning letters and numbers (What does the number eight look like? One circle on top of another circle).

Playing with toys and not just tablets is important for developing both fine motor skills and gross motor skills. When children do lots of different activities with their fingers, they build up the same muscles they will use when they hold pencils and pens in the classroom. Some teachers have found that their students need more experiences playing or making crafts in order to catch up.

If you want to give your children some experiences playing or crafting, come to the library! Check our events calendar for arts and crafts programs for children, or stop by anytime to use toys like the dollhouse, play kitchen and puppets. See you at the library!