The Contribution of Play Experiences in Early Literacy: Expanding the Science of Reading

Muriel K. Rand, Lesley Mandel Morrow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Children’s experiences in preschool and kindergarten influence their future literacy learning. Although emergent literacy has traditionally been supported by play-based experiences, there has been a decline in play opportunities in recent years. Media publications citing the science of reading have called for more focus on systematic, direct instruction of skills in phonics and phonemic awareness. However, from the perspective of the simple view of reading, the process of learning to read involves developing both decoding and linguistic comprehension skills. In this article, we review the research that has linked play experiences to three areas: (1) the development of language skills necessary for linguistic comprehension, including vocabulary, decontextualized language, and oral narrative competence; (2) opportunities for functional literacy behaviors, including emergent reading and writing behaviors; and (3) skills related to decoding, including print awareness, phonological awareness, word recognition, and reading fluency. The research also has demonstrated the value of adult guidance during play experiences in optimizing literacy learning. This review of the literature linking play and literacy in early childhood expands the scope of the science of reading to include a wider range of skills that support reading development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S239-S248
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • 1-Early childhood
  • Constructivism
  • Early Literacy
  • Emergent Literacy
  • Instructional strategies; methods and materials
  • Methodological perspectives
  • Oral language
  • Social Constructivism
  • Vocabulary
  • Vygotskian


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