When children play, they are learning how to read and write. They learn abstract representation—that an object can represent something or someone else. Making meaning out of a jumble of letters and words takes the ability to reason abstractly. Pretend play provides an excellent cognitive foundation.
In play, children develop communication skills. They verbalize their intentions to others and negotiate rules. They explain their actions to parents and friends. As children narrate stories and describe scenes, they learn skills essential to clear and effective writing.
Children learn to regulate themselves during play, self-discipline important to learning how to read. Vygotsky, a noted child development theorist, argues that during play a child's behavior progresses from impulsive to deliberative and thoughtful.* Play prepares children to respect the basic rules inherent to reading, such as following stories from beginning to end.
Children incorporate literacy into their play. They make notes and lists on paper with their crayons. They pretend to read. They learn that they can leave marks of themselves on pieces of paper (and walls!).
During play, children learn critical problem-solving skills. These contribute to their ability to comprehend texts and read for meaning.
Be sure that your playspace provides children with the chance to freely play at their level and you will be successful in helping them become great readers in the future!
*Source: Leong, Deborah J. and E. Bodrova, R. Hensen, M. Henninger. (1999). Scaffolding early literacy through play. New Orleans, NAEYC, 1999 Annual Conference.
American Speech-Hearing-Language Association. (2007). How does your child hear and talk? https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/chart.htm
Howard, A. (2006). Kids who blow bubbles find language is child's play. Economic & Social Research Council. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-06/esr-kwb062006.php
McLane, J.B. & McNamee, G.D. (1991). The Beginnings of Literacy. Zero to Three Journal. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1056-beginnings-of-literacy