Vignette: Prashant’s Naan
Four-year-old Prashant pulls a class recipe book from a shelf in the kitchen area that has a couple of recipe boxes, spice jars, and other photo and print-rich recipe books for the children to use. Recently, Prashant shared his family’s recipe for making naan, an Indian flatbread, with his class. Today, he uses the class recipe book to begin his play in the daily living center. He carries the recipe book to the stove singing to himself, “Naan, naan, naan.” He sifts through the pages of recipes with pictures of his friends enjoying their favorite foods until he finds the recipe he is looking for. On his recipe page, Prashant included a hand drawing of his family eating naan together at home. Pointing to text at the top left he says, “First, I have to put in flour.” He pauses reading to dip a measuring cup into a canister with a picture of wheat and the word “flour” taped to the outside. He gestures, dumping two scoops of flour into a bowl on the counter. He returns to the book and reads, “Then, I have to put in the water.” Prashant reaches for an empty pitcher and pours water into the bowl. Prashant reads again from the book and adds “yogurt” to the bowl. He picks up a spoon and begins stirring the ingredients in the pot. Then, Prashant scoops the mix into a pan on the stove singing, “Cook, cook, cook.”
Prashant pulls naan from the stove top and places the pan on the table. Prashant reaches into a small block basket on the shelf and puts blocks on the tray. Taking the tray to the table he calls out, “Naan for sale, come have a piece of naan!” Desmond, a 4 ½ year old, hears Prashant’s invitation and sits down at the table near the kitchen area. Desmond says, “I would like to buy a piece of naan. What kind of naan do you have?”
Miss Elise, the educator who was documenting Prashant’s play episode nearby, joins in the play prompting, “Oh, I think your customer might need a menu to help him decide what kind of naan he would like to order.” Taking Miss Elise’s suggestion, Prashant picks up a clipboard hanging on a hook next to the table and a marker and begins to write three strings of letter-like symbols across the page. As Prashant writes, Desmond says, “I hope he has the butter kind.” Prashant hands the clipboard to Desmond and says, “We have garlic and plain naan with butter. What kind would you like?”
Miss Elise moves on to observe other children in the class as the two boys continue to enact Prashant’s play episode making naan.
9.1 Constructivism and Literacy Play
Constructivist perspectives recognize children gain important insights into how the world works when they are engaged in rich play experiences. Play supports children’s literacy understanding through a process of construction, during which children are acting on the world based on their existing understandings or schemes (Roskos et al., 2010). Framed as a stage theory, constructivist perspectives reason children progressively acquire more sophisticated logic patterns as they interact with their environment. As children develop, they use memory to engage with their environment in increasingly sophisticated ways.
Play opens important spaces for children to practice emerging understandings of the world (Roskos et al., 2010). During play, children use object substitution and meta-play talk to reenact and reimagine observed events from their own lives. Review the following anecdote captured by Elise, the early childhood educator, who observed Prashant making the naan to see how children reenact literate experiences in their pretend play.
Anecdote: Prashant’s Naan
Child: Prashant Location: Daily Living Observer: Elise Time: 9:42 – 9:47am
Prashant carries the recipe book to the stove singing to himself, “Naan, naan, naan.” He sifts through the pages of recipes with pictures of his friends enjoying their favorite foods until he finds the recipe he is looking for. On his recipe page, Prashant included a hand drawing of his family eating naan together at home. Pointing to text at the top left he says, “First, I have to put in flour.” […] He picks up a spoon and begins stirring the ingredients in the pot. Then, Prashant scoops the mix into a pan on the stove singing, “Cook, cook, cook.” Prashant pulls naan from the stove top and places the pan on the table. He reaches into a small block basket on the shelf and puts several rainbow blocks on a tray. Taking the platter to the table he calls out, “Naan for sale, come have a piece of naan!” […]
9.2 Sociocultural Perspectives and Literacy Play
Sociocultural perspectives also recognize innovative play exchanges promote children’s emerging literacies. When children play, they use language, gestures, and materials in their environment to sustain play narratives. Play intentions and goals inspire meaningful actions and children embrace flexible representations of objects to drive their play narratives forward (Roskos et al., 2010). For example, Prashant approached his play session with the intention to make bread. He accessed materials to represent real-world items and used language to reenact the preparation process and later sale of the naan.
Play provides a setting for children to use their creative thinking and to communicate their thoughts. Accordingly, sociocultural perspectives encourage educators to consider how children’s interactions with objects and more experienced people, including peers, educators, and parents, promote cognitive development (Roskos et al., 2010).
Thought and meaning support children’s interactions with playmates and objects to nurture literacy development. Prashant’s thoughts on making the naan and the meaning of the item he was producing (it should be made and then shared), supported opportunities for Prashant to interact with his classmates. Vygotskian perspectives consider play “a strong social ‘push’ from the outside” compelling children to develop more sophisticated interpretations of how their world works (Roskos et al., 2010). It is within complex sociocultural exchanges that children’s narrative expressions develop and how changes in children’s understandings occur (Nicolopoulou, 2005).
Let’s return to the anecdote capturing Prashant’s play episode making naan to understand how children’s literacy development is also nurtured via their direct interactions with people in their environment.
Anecdote: Prashant’s Naan
Child: Prashant and Desmond Location: Daily Living Observer: Elise Time: 9:42 – 9:47am
Prashant pulls the naan from the stove top and calls out, “Nan for sale come have a piece of naan!” Desmond hears Prashant’s invitation and sits down at the table near the kitchen area. Desmond says, “I would like to buy a piece of naan. What kind of naan do you have?
In this case, Prashant expresses his desire to continue his pretend play narrative by eliciting the support of a peer. Enlisting the play of others in the cooking episode will require the two children to work together to nurture the narrative forward. As their play scenario develops, the children will adhere to specific rules to ensure the meaning of their play is maintained. In this manner, pretend play helps children develop an understanding of different points of view. The educator takes advantage of the shifting storyline negotiated between Prashant and Desmond to draw the children’s attention to another kind of text people frequently use in restaurants to help them make decisions, a menu. The educator’s casual language prompt provides an intentional literacy scaffold to extend the narrative for the children and supports “meaning-oriented thinking” (Roskos et al., 2010).
Literacy as it is understood today refers to the ability to read and write. Traditionally, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and other Indigenous nations depended on oral recitations of important teachings or agreements. This developed strong oration skills, memory skills, and the ability to engage in effective communication. Today, we rely on a combination of oral and written history. The Mohawk language was converted into a standard written form in 1993.
9.3 Ecological Perspectives and Literacy Play
In “Prashant’s Naan” play scenario, his incorporation of diverse literacy practices (i.e., reading a recipe and creating a menu) is not surprising when we use ecological perspectives to consider the design of this literacy-rich classroom. Both Prashant and Desmond utilized their environment and their understanding of how people interact in different contexts to support their play narrative. We can readily identify the routines (i.e., center time that opened spaces for pretend play and children’s existing schemas of restaurant and cooking rules), materials (i.e., books, cooking utensils and kitchen supplies, paper, and markers) and people (i.e., the children and the educator) that collectively influenced the children’s efforts. Educators can positively enhance children’s literacy understandings when they intentionally analyze the environment for opportunities that promote children’s routine interactions with print-rich materials and language-rich experiences.
As important people in the child’s learning environment, early childhood educators should seek opportunities to scaffold children’s expressions and enactments during dramatic play experiences (Morrow et al., 2013). In Prashant’s play scenario, the educator’s decision to encourage children to bring in a recipe, share it with the class, classify the food by category, and add it to a class recipe book throughout the year established an instructional literacy routine that became a natural part of the children’s classroom environment. This literacy experience allowed the educator to add an additional print-rich material (i.e., the class recipe book) to the kitchen environment. In this case, the educator recognized the class recipe book would be especially appealing to her learners because it held family and cultural relevance. Experiences like this that strategically blend children’s home and school environments further support children’s literacy development and illustrate how ecological perspectives can be used to highlight the rich literacy practices already supporting children’s understandings in their home environments.
In summary, constructivist, sociocultural, and ecological perspectives invite educators to think strategically about play-filled literacy environments. The perspectives do not need to be considered as competing frameworks, rather each perspective can be used intentionally to consider how we can manipulate the environment to enhance children’s experiences using their oral language, reading, and writing skills. In the following section, we focus on principles and practices educators use to intentionally orchestrate literacy-rich classroom environments for children that are developmentally and contextually relevant.
9.4 Literacy-Rich Play Spaces
Literacy-rich play spaces and learning experiences encourage children to explore their understanding of the world. To inspire children’s active incorporation of diverse literacy practices in play, educators need to take time to reflect on:
- the amount of time children engage in dramatic and guided play experiences
- the accessibility of intentional materials that inspire creative literacy play opportunities
- the language they use to scaffold children’s understandings and support literacy-rich play experiences.
As you review Table 9.4.1, consider how the materials invite children to engage meaningfully in literacy-rich spaces and nurture children’s literacy understandings.
Emergent Literacy Purpose
Examples of Relevant Literacy-Rich Materials
Ideas for Integrating Poetry in the Early Years Curriculum
Poetry is a great tool for enhancing literacy in children of all ages. In practice, this will range from rhyming activities with infants and toddlers to reading and writing poetry with preschoolers, kindergarteners, and school-age children. For these older age groups, the educator could also create a poetry billboard for children to share their poems. Children’s poetic expressions aren’t limited to the classroom. Their observations from authentic learning environments, such as field trips and zoos, provide many wonderful opportunities for them to express their learning poetically and creatively (Shubitz, 2017). Lived experiences from visiting museums, holiday breaks, vacations, or other excursions, can also become the platform for poetry integration to stimulate children’s imagination and creativity.
In integrating poetry in the classroom, Schoch (n.d.) suggested using poetry with the following strategies in mind:
- Activate prior knowledge
- Establish theme
- Explore language
- Focus on facts
- Set a scene
- Inspire writing
- See new perspectives
- Ignite curiosity
- Provide pleasure
- Capture character
Poetry lets children see the beauty and power of language; integrating poetry in all content areas engages children in new perspectives, mathematical reasoning, language analytical thinking, and scientific inquiry. Poetry can be integrated as a central thematic element in the classroom to reinforce learning in every content area and to create a positive learning environment where children work cooperatively to express their learning, thoughts, and feelings creatively (Martin, 2008).
Indigenous children participate in oral storytelling beginning at a very young age. They develop a sophisticated vocabulary because of the focus on oral narration. As a child develops, the story that is shared with them becomes more detailed and intricate allowing them to grow with the story.
Have you heard of story stones? Do a search to find out what they are and how to incorporate in early learning environments.
- Play supports children’s literacy understandings through a process of construction, during which children are acting on the world based on their existing understandings or schemes.
- Using other objects to represent items not readily accessible is considered an important first step toward understanding that letters are symbolic representations of oral language.
- Pretend play opportunities reinforce children’s current conceptualizations regarding how and why people use language and support their emerging literacy skills.
- Literacy-rich play environments allow children to explore “literate ways of thinking” with their peers and use their emergent literacy skills to influence evolving play scenes.
- Literacy-rich play areas include literacy tools and props to increase children’s incorporation of play scenarios that use their emerging oral language, reading, and writing skills.
Martin, C. (2008). Poetry in the classroom. Retrieved from https://webcache.googleusercontent.c…chive.vanderbi lt.edu/bitstream/handle/1803/1309/MartinCapstone.doc%3Fsequence%3D1%26isAllowed%3Dy+&cd=6 &hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-b-1
Morrow, L. M., Burkuel, S. B., Mendelsohn, A. L., Healey, K. M., & Cates C. B. (2013). Learning through play. In D. R. Reutzel (Ed.), Handbook of research-based practice in early education (pp. 100–118). Guilford Press.
Nicolopoulou, A. (2005). Play and narrative in the process of development: Commonalities, differences, and interrelations [Editorial]. Cognitive Development, 20(4), 495–502. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2005.09.001
Roskos, K. A., Christie, J. F., Widman, S., & Holding, A. (2010). Three decades in: Priming for meta-analysis in play-literacy research. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(1), 55–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798409357580
Saracho, O. N., & Spodek, B. (2006). Young children’s literacy-related play. Early Child D evelopment and Care, 176(7), 707–72. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430500207021
Schoch, K. (n.d.). 10 ways to use poetry in your classroom. Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/articl…your-classroom
Shubitz, S. (2017, January 24). Six ways to incorporate poetry all year long. Retrieved
Stange, T. V. (2008). Poetry proves to be positive in the primary grades. Reading Horizons, 48(3). Retrieved from https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/v…psredir=1&arti cle=1083&context=reading_horizons
Wolfersberger, M. E., Reutzel, D. R., Sudweeks, R., & Fawson, P. C. (2004). Developing and validating the classroom literacy environment profile (CLEP): A tool for examining the “print richness” of early childhood and elementary classrooms. Journal of Literacy Research, 36(2), 211–272. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15548430jlr3602_4