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The Intersection of Play and Literacy

This article was created by Kallie Crouch, our 2021 Spring Semester intern from the Front Street Writers program at the TBAISD Career-Tech Center.

Check out the list of resources at the end of this article (below the table) to learn more about the intersection of play and literacy!

Play is enriched by literacy, and literacy is enriched by play. Both serve critical roles in child development through offering different routes of world exploration and joyful self-expression. Play and literacy are demonstrated in a variety of ways. For example, literacy finds itself in play when a child mimics their parents by jotting down a shopping list while role-playing or when the child scribbles down an order while pretending to be a server at a restaurant. Play can similarly be found in literacy when children create rhymes or experiment with letter blocks, making new words and trying to sound them out.


To learn more, consult the table below, which explores the different ways that play and literacy intersect and enrich one another.

Solitary Play

Function in PLAY: A play situation in which a child only engages with their own activities and is uninterested in the activities of others.

Function in LITERACY: The consumption or production of literature by children on their own.

Image by Ben White

Symbolic Play

Function in PLAY: Play that uses objects, actions, or ideas to represent other objects, actions, or ideas.

Function in LITERACY: Speech or language that uses words or images to stand in for thoughts or messages in conversation or writing.


Storytelling-Narrative Play

Function in PLAY: Play that follows a story or incorporates a story in one way or another, including many characters maintaining defined roles.

Function in LITERACY: Writing or telling a story featuring characters that maintain their defining traits.

Image by Fabian Centeno

Role Play

Function in PLAY: Play exploring different roles and ways of life, though not intensely personal, social, domestic, or interpersonal.

Function in LITERACY: Writing a story in which the narrator or writer slips into the role of someone else in their own story.

Image by MI PHAM

Creative Play

Function in PLAY: Play featuring exploration, new ideas, use of the imagination, and use of different items to create, alter, or design.

Function in LITERACY: A writer using their imagination and skills to explore their own world in order to create a story.

Image by Tanaphong Toochinda

Body/Locomotor Play

Function in PLAY: Movement for the sake of movement.

Function in LITERACY: Acting out stories, whether those are someone else’s stories or their own. This might happen while reading or while writing, bringing the story to life.

Image by Anna Samoylova

Rough-and-Tumble Play

Function in PLAY: Close encounter play that takes the form of “roughhousing” to explore physical boundaries and strength.

Function in LITERACY: Featuring scenes of conflict or overcoming adversity in stories or acting out those scenes after reading them.

Image by Islander Images

Communication Play

Function in PLAY: Words and gestures that are used to engage in play.

Function in LITERACY: Using knowledge of body language to enrich speech and language in writing.

Image by Raychan

Social Play

Function in PLAY: A social or interactive situation in which play might follow a set of rules and include a group of people.

Function in LITERACY: The consumption or production of literature of children together and with collaboration, such as when reading aloud or asking questions.

Image by Artem Kniaz

Imaginative/Pretend Play

Function in PLAY: Play in the form of acting out experiences, including the act of figuring out and assigning roles.

Function in LITERACY: Writing the story in which the writer/narrator assumes a new character role or identity.


Fantasy Play

Function in PLAY: Play that operates within the make-believe world where anything can happen because the imagination is able to run wild.

Function in LITERACY: Using the imagination to create a story, written or verbal, featuring fantastical elements and set in a world that is not our own.

Image by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez

Object Play

Function in PLAY: Play requiring hand-eye manipulations and movements and involving the use of some other object.

Function in LITERACY: The act of gripping a pencil or turning a page while writing or reading; also, incorporating objects typically tied to literacy into play or incorporating objects used during play into storytelling.

Image by Santi Vedrí

Mastery Play

Function in PLAY: The control and manipulation of physical ingredients of the environment.

Function in LITERACY: In writing, acting, or speaking—incorporating aspects of the environment into pieces of writing. Also, turning pages or flipping a piece of paper over.

Image by Jelleke Vanooteghem

Sensory/Exploratory Play

Function in PLAY: Play that allows the senses to be engaged.

Function in LITERACY: Using experiences with the senses to bring stories to life.

Image by Gita Krishnamurti

Deep Play

Function in PLAY: Play that opens the door for risky encounters and conquering fears. This is play that pushes the boundaries of what is considered comfortable.

Function in LITERACY: Exploring aspects of the self or the environment through reading or writing.

Image by Jeremiah Lawrence

Resources for the Intersection of Play and Literacy


Keep reading to learn more about how literacy and play intersect. Below, you’ll find articles, papers, and more resources that will help you understand the ways that literacy and play interact and enrich one another. 


Writing and Reading Starts with Children’s Hands-On Play - Writing and reading starts with children's hands-on play ( 


In this article, author Hetty Roessingh explores the relationship between hands-on learning and the mastery of fine motor skills and early literacy skills. Particular emphasis is placed on the first 2,000 days of a child’s life, a time in which many important connections are formed in the brain as the child is exposed to new experiences. Roessingh also points to the importance of being exposed to literacy regularly within these 2,000 days. 


Talking is Teaching - Talking Is Teaching - Resources


Talking is Teaching is a self-described public awareness and action campaign geared toward helping parents boost children’s early brain and vocabulary development. The website pulls together resources from a variety of experts to help parents understand the ways they can grow their children’s vocabulary, from describing the grass while on a walk to singing a song about the sun. 


Can I Play with You? - Can I Play with You? The Intersection of Play and Writing in a Kindergarten Classroom (


This paper by Haeny S. Yoon explores the relationship between writing and play in a kindergarten classroom. Yoon describes the ways in which the media children are exposed to outside of the classroom is incorporated into the children’s own stories and play dynamics within the classroom. 


The Intersection of Young Children’s Play Activities and Multimodal Practices for Social Purposes - The Intersection of Young Children's Play Activities and Multimodal Practices for Social Purposes (


Rebecca Rohloff Clough writes about the different ways play can intersect with their social lives and literacy practices. Among other things, this dissertation features a look at how literacy can carry over into play and play can carry into literacy. 

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