I Speak Robot: Using Play Talk to Promote Literacy Development

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I know. I know. Suuuuuper research-y title. But i didn’t want it to just be I speak robot. Because, well, I don’t 😉  In our house, with three boys (going to do a post to update you on this soon!!) we have a LOT of playing that occurs.  All day.  Every day.  As an educator, I have, of course, spent countless hours figuring out how to turn these play events into a learning-based event.  Look, NOT all play is for learning.  Play for play is SUPER important for social, emotional and educational development. BUT, again as an educator and MOM, I can’t help but to turn some of these authentic play events into a learning situation!
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According to Fromberg and Gullo (1992), play enhances language development, social competence, creativity, imagination, and thinking skills. Frost (1992) concurred, stating that “play is the chief vehicle for the development of imagination and intelligence, language, social skills, and perceptual-motor abilities in infants and young children” (p. 48). (source)
So.  I wanted to share some ways that I encourage literacy development through play.
The most important device you can use is QUESTIONING.  The typical line of questioning  I use in play talk are applicable to (almost) any play situation.  Most of the times I allow the children to play on their own and then I “interrupt” with my questions (gently) but sometimes I create learning situations for them such as baking and science experiments. Here are a list of 10 simple questions you might use the next time you catch your little involved in play that would be conducive to talk/play learning.  The particular situation I based this blog post on involved this little cutie and his new Robot I got him (he later named it Chace-bot…duh!!!).  So, you want to mix a variety of open-ended and straightforward questions and you can tweak each question to cater to the specific play situation…
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1.  What is his/her (your robot’s) name?
2.  Why did you decide to name it that?  What does its name start with? (letter/sound)
3. What special things does he/she (your robot) do?
4.  Does he/she (your robot) eat things?  What kinds of things?
5.  What is the silliest thing he/she (your robot) can do?
6.  Is he/she (your robot) a good guy or a bad guy? WHY <— super important
7.  Is it real or pretend?
8.  Where does he/she (your robot) live?
9.  How does he/she (your robot) feel?  (this is good at getting at a child’s actual feelings regarding a situation that is tough to discuss)
10.  Show me something that he/she (your robot) can do.  Have them explain.
I asked similar questions to these cuties as they played Legos.  Obviously I adjusted the questing based on their ages.  Another activity I LOVE to do with the boys is baking/cooking/food prep.  This is a GREAT time to engage in conversation with your child.  We LOVE to do simple food prep activity like making fruit pattern skewers.
Starting color patterns at a young age can go a long way in terms of forming a solid number sense foundation.  These can be used for counting too.  And think outside the box. Don’t just ask “how many pieces of fruit are on there?” but rather “How many strawberries are on there?”  or “How many of the fruits are NOT red.”  This can be tricky, so try to be cognizant of your child’s age and developmental level.
We also love doing make your own pizzas!
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They key is to not just dump the ingredients on the table and go empty the dishwasher (although soooo tempting) but to stay present in the activity.  Ask questions like:
1.  What are we adding now?
2. How much of this should we add?
3. Will this make our food taste sweet? Salty?  Sour?
OK, I have to go take care of my boo, but I will be back soon with a juicy post! XO
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