Instilling a Love of Literacy Through Dramatic Play

Author: Helios Education Foundation

October 1, 2014

Learning to read is one of the most important skills that every child needs to master in order to build a foundation for academic success.   In fact, emergent literacy and language acquisition during the earliest years has been proven to be critical in laying a solid foundation for long-term academic success and life-long learning.   Developing these critical skills is often best achieved through the involvement of families and early childhood educators  working together to create everyday opportunities that engage the child in language-rich activities.  Creating the love of reading is more than just mastering sounds, learning new vocabulary, and reading words, it is about opening the door to new worlds, exciting worlds shared through stories.  Children’s learning is developed when they approach new activities with excitement and curiosity, and it takes a special teacher, one willing to invest the time and energy to make learning fun. 

Donna Washington is one of those teachers.   On any given day, she brings books to life for young children by becoming a penguin or having the children go on an imaginary journey through a forest.   Ms. Washington is a Southwest Human Development Head Start teacher at Balsz Elementary School in Phoenix, and she spends her day in a classroom of four and five year olds.  Through a partnership with Helios Education Foundation and Childsplay, she is learning how to help children develop early language and literacy skills through dramatic play.

The program, EYEPlay – early years educators at play – takes typical storytime and makes it anything but.  Rather than just reading a book to her students, Ms. Washington integrates drama into the experience using techniques learned during more than 30 hours of professional development through Childsplay.   EYEPlay is  introducing preschool teachers, throughout the metropolitan Phoenix area, to teaching techniques that create a classroom of experiential learning techniques. These techniques provide children with the opportunity to speak with each other and explain their understanding of the story by acting it out, which engages the students in language rich conversations and activities.

In an EYEPlay lesson, children hear a story read and explore the story by becoming characters from the book. When taking on a character, children are engaged in an emotional journey that is different from their own life experience. When emotions are engaged in learning, children participate with heightened attention. These experiences become imprinted on the brain and form a part of the child’s long term memory. Young people participating in EYEPlay can recall books, lessons and even character dialogue months after a drama experience. Their relationship with books is one of delight, pride and deep connection with stories and characters.

“The EYEPlay program is so exciting – it creates not only a love of learning for the child but reenergizes the teachers around their instructional practices.  It does a superb job of helping teachers bring storytime to life,” said Karen Ortiz, Vice President and Program Director, Early Childhood Education Initiatives at Helios Education Foundation.  “It helps young children get excited about learning new vocabulary and understanding how words create meaning and become ideas.” 

The work of the EYEPlay program is based on solid early childhood education research. EYEPlay has partnered with Michael Kelly, Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education  at Arizona State University and developed a rubric that shows the impact that  drama, when used as a teaching method, can have on student early language and literacy achievement.

Through the partnership with Helios, Childsplay was able to devote the time and resources necessary to develop the EYEPlay program, become trained early childhood professionals and test the program in a variety of preschool settings.  Additional contributors to the program include New Directors Institute for Infant Brain Development and the Arizona Department of Education to ensure the program is aligned to the Arizona Early Learning Standards and other best practices.   Childsplay is now taking this knowledge and applying it to a range of programs that promote literacy skills for students and families throughout the Valley.

Through partnerships with organizations like Childsplay and programs like EYEPlay, Helios is helping to ensure more children in Arizona and Florida will enter kindergarten with the skills that will help them succeed and be reading at grade level by the end of third grade. 


Category: Early Childhood Education

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