Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest Post: Together, Playing AND Reading Are Magical

I'm delighted to present this wonderful guest post by Jerri Hemsworth. Jerri is the editor of Inspiring Play Magazine. She serves on the board of Shane's Inspiration, a non-profit that creates inclusive playgrounds and educational programs to unite children of all abilities. She and her husband are the proud parents of an amazing daughter and love to play in and around Los Angeles.

Together, Playing AND Reading Are Magical

By Jerri Hemsworth

“Someone’s been eating my porridge!” Maggie says in her best grumbly voice.
“Someone’s been eating MY porridge!” Comes her next line in an adorable motherly voice.
“Someone’s been eating my porridge, and THEY ATE IT ALL UP!” She says in her cutest high-pitched voice.

Jessica is finishing holiday projects at the kitchen table when she hears this conversation her 6-year-old daughter Maggie is having in the family room. As Jessica peaks around the doorway, she sees that Maggie has seven or eight of her dolls and stuffed animals surrounding her as she “reads” to them from her favorite book.

This scene is one that many adults take for granted. We don’t stop to think how our children get to this amazing stage in their development. Same thing is true when we see two boys playing on the playground. One is pretending to be Jack climbing the bean stock to retrieve the golden goose from the other, who is very good in his role as the giant.

When children play, they get to make amazing connections. No matter what a child’s physical, emotional or mental ability is, they learn to explore, experiment, imitate, and communicate with others by all they encounter. It gives them an opportunity to practice their language skills. They allow themselves to be free, spontaneous and creative. It’s fun. They don’t realize that they are learning psychologically, physically and socially. Most parents don’t realize how important this kind of play is. When parents and teachers do, it profoundly transforms young lives. Especially with children who have special needs.

While working on a story about the inclusion of special needs students with general education students in schools, one teacher relayed a very touching story. She had a student with multiple physical and emotional needs. His mother arrived one morning with great concern on her face. When she spoke with the teacher, she said, “Michael started speaking in many different voices last night. He’s never done that before. Has he done that here in class? Do you think there’s something wrong?”

The teacher smiled. “No need to worry. Yesterday, our helper students were playing pretend with Michael in the library while they were reading to him. He’s been playing with them.”

Many children of all abilities find story time in school to be their favorite. When the teacher plays with different voices and inflections, children are transfixed. You can see by their faces that they are in a different world. They are in a world of wonder and excitement. When parents read to their children in this same manner, children are allowed to let their mind run free and imagine. Using play during reading time is the best incentive for children to want to read on their own. When they see the grown-ups having fun while reading, they want to do it, too.

According to Deborah J. Leong, Ph.D., and Elena Bodrova, Ph.D., “As we learn more about how young children learn, it is becoming clear that we do not need to sacrifice play in order to meet academic requirements. On the contrary, only by supporting mature, high-quality play can we really help children fully develop their language and literacy skills.”1

There are many studies that support the benefits of play and literacy. Perhaps many parents and teachers need reminding that the more fun we make reading time or story time for ourselves, the more we’re teaching our children. Play is fun. Reading is fun. Together, playing AND reading are magical.

Thanks, Jerri, for this wonderful post!

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