Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Powerful and Playful Literacy Learning with Digital Technologies

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Powerful and Playful Literacy Learning with Digital Technologies

Article excerpt

The theme of the 2014 ALEA/AATE conference--aNTicipating new territories--is appropriate as we contemplate the changes to childhood activities as we know them, and consider the potential technology brings to children's play and language and literacy development. In doing so, we are challenged to think about building strong minds, places and futures--this is imperative as we consider the enormous contribution technology has made to what it means to be literate and the ways in which children engage with their surroundings through play.

Vygotsky wrote, 'The child moves forward essentially through play activity', further stating, 'In play the child is always behaving beyond his age, above his usual everyday behaviour; in play he is, as it were, a head above himself' (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 74).

Play is time-honoured in early childhood education. Indeed, discussion of play and its advantages features heavily in texts focused on the early years of a child's life. While there is no one definition for play, play is acknowledged as a major developmental influence for children with the understanding that play may advance children's cognitive and socio-emotional development (Verenikina, Herrington, Peterson & Mantei, 2010) and language and literacy development (Edwards, 2013; Heath, 1983). The benefits of play are acknowledged through the positioning of play as a 'right of the child' (article 3 in the United Nations Conventions of the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, 2009).

Play has been characterised as a spontaneous, self-initiated and self-regulated activity for young children, which is relatively risk free and not necessarily goal-oriented (Verenikina & Kervin, 2011; Verenikina, Harris & Lysaght, 2003). Play is intrinsically motivated as children demonstrate an internal desire and interest to engage in play. Children actively seek opportunities for play, as they create their play scenarios and take control, making play 'the very serious business of childhood' (Grieshaber, 2008, p. 30). As children play, they take control of their actions, which are meaningful in the context of their play.

There is need to examine what actually transpires for young children in play contexts. While play is acknowledged as 'a leading context for the child's acquisition of communication and collaborative skills' (Siraj-Blatchford, 2009, p. 80), it is this notion of the context for play that provides an avenue to explore the ways that young children engage with language and literacy for a range of purposes. There are potential links between the opportunity to engage with play contexts and the development of other cognitive or social skills (Edwards, 2013; Lillard, Lerner, Hopkins, Dore, Smith and Palmquist, 2013) begging the question, 'What aspects of play might promote language and literacy development?' Play contains many of the ingredients necessary for optimal language development (even though there may be no single element of play that does the majority of the work).

Play fosters language and literacy skills. Language is the currency of social interaction and school achievement. Marsh and Hallett (2008) remind us of the importance of play for the development of language and literacy through 'the opportunities presented for creative use and practice; social interactions for real purposes; and, identifying and solving problems in the lives of young children' (p. 15). Imaginative play encourages language development as children negotiate roles, set up structures, and interact in their respective roles (Garvey, 1990). Adults support language development by engaging with, and commenting on, children's play to provide a language-rich environment that naturally reinforces concepts and builds on the play context. It is these play contexts that provide opportunities for children to practice using language but to also learn language from each other.

Vygotsky (1978) asserted that children learn through socially meaningful interactions and that language is both social and an important facilitator of learning. …

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