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Ready To Learn

Ready to Learn

Using Play to Build Literacy Skills in Young Learners


By Anne Burke,  © 2010 Pembroke Publishers



At first this was a no brainer of a title for me, I was like, well, duh!  Tell me something we don’t know.  But once again, we are always on the hunt for the ONE book that reaches that ONE person that says what we have been saying (for years!) in the way THAT person needs to hear it said!


So I bought it.


Some good quotes from the forward (written by David Booth)


“To observe an effective teacher in a classroom where play and learning are successfully intertwined is to see education at its best: participants are engaged in “deep learning”, establishing habits of mind and patters of behavior that are the building blocks for their futures.”


“Play is not a four-letter word in education; it is the heart of learning. Engagement is the true motivator for learning, and play, we know, does this from the inside out.”


Too bad the people who already know this are the ones reading the book!


I am not sure if Burke tells us anything “new” per se in her book, but it was an interesting read filled with info that might be well shared with those who still question why playing is what we do.  (The recently in the news NYC I want a refund for $19,000 spent on preschool mother comes to mind…


According to Brian Sutton-Smith, (and I am directly quoting here from Burke’s book, page 17) “play brings children a greater awareness and understanding of the world in which they live: Play is an inquiry process that consists of four ways of learning:

1)   exploration

2)   testing

3)   imitation, and

4)   construction.


When children play they construct an understanding of what the world means using these 4 ways to create their knowledge base.” (end quote)


Burke talks about the types of play based on Sara Smilanky’s work:

1)   Functional

2)   Constructive

3)   Symbolic (dramatic)

4)   Rough and Tumble

5)   Games with Rules


Bias alert – Smilanky and Sutton-Smith should be on your “folks I should be familiar with” list!!


From page 23:  While playing, children may be focusing on making a nameless product, but that does not negate the importance of what they are doing.


She gives a good overview of the Developmental Stages of Writing on page 57:

1)   Drawing

2)   Scribbling (random and controlled)

3)   Forms that resemble letters

4)   Letters that are recognizable

5)   Spelling

6)   Words and sentences


And a nice comparison is provided on page 64:

“Their scribbles are similar to an infant’s babbling.  Just as an infant babbles to experiment with the sounds he/she can make, taking pleasure in repetition as well as variety, so do novice writers delight in discovering the infinite combination of marks they can make; they find satisfaction in gaining sufficient control to deliberately repeat the same marks.  Writing is both exploratory and practice play!”


And THIS is justification for needing LOTS AND LOTS of paper, shaving cream (for scribbling) white boards, sidewalk chalk, fingerpaint and crayons!!!!!


In individual chapters, Burke points out the “play” in reading and writing, math, science, ELL skill development, and in cultivating citizenship.


From page 101:  “One of the greatest aspects of true free play is that it allows children to learn and to take risks in a safe environment.  Safe learning, in turn, builds self-confidence.”


She ends with a list of books that promote “playful learning” as well as an annotated bibliography and four pages of references.


At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll again state that this book didn’t necessarily provide me with any info or data that I didn’t already “know” but it did provide me with another tool in my tool belt.  Another resource to have on hand for that one parent, that one colleague, that one supervisor… a resource that might say it in a way that reaches that one person who needs to see that play-based learning is not my preference, it is what we know is best for children.



Lisa Murphy

Ooey Gooey, Inc.

March 17, 2011





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