Incorporating literacy into imaginative play

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How can we inspire very young children to take an interest in literacy? Sue Lyle makes it fun with a class hunt for signs, symbols and letters in the everyday environment.

No one would disagree that literacy is essential in our modern world. This has been acknowledged in all articulations of the purpose of education since mass formal schooling was first introduced in the 1870s. It can be argued that the fundamental purpose of schools is to produce literate adults.

We have moved a long way since the introduction of schooling emphasised the importance of the 3Rs, yet governments still talk about ‘the basics’ – study of which should equip young people with the functional literacy skills to carry out everyday tasks. Today’s children, however, will need to be able to do far more than simply decode and encode script.

This raises a question – is teaching functional literacy enough? We know that the functionally illiterate are seriously disadvantaged in our society, but in the 21st century, there are other aspects of literacy that need to be planned for. What is sometimes referred to as cultural literacy – that is the ability to understand text and its sociocultural context – is a vital part of literacy. So is critical literacy – the ability to critique what one reads.

When exposed to text on the internet, children will quickly have to make a cultural appraisal of what information is useful and relevant in the context of their research – they will have to make an informed choice about what to pay attention to and what to ignore. They will also need their critical faculties to decide whether the information is reliable or not. Cultural and critical literacy are very important in the development of a 21st century literate person and should be taken into account from the very beginning of schooling.

Understanding cultural context
Our focus in this article will be on four-year-olds – those just starting out in our schools. Too often, young children are seen as blank slates as far as literacy is concerned. This attitude fails to
take into account the fact that…


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