Call me on the Banana Phone, Grandma!

by Penny Cook

Sibylesque Imagination Quote

I love technology. Well, I love that I get photos of my grandchildren on my smart phone!! The world has changed. It used to be that the grandmother was retired, or never had to work, so she didn’t need photographic documentation of what her grandchildren were up to because she was there!! Either in a visiting capacity or sometimes as a carer,

But, as a full time working grandparent in 2014, I love the photos. I love that I am included in the stories of their play. Although I’m not there I get to see when the 5-year-old decides to be Tarzan and his 9-month-old sister is cast as Jane. He in his underpants and she in her nappy. I get to see her diving into an upturned basket and emerging with an Octonaut. I get to see Tarzan reading a book and Jane looking lovingly on. I get to be delighted with their play.

I wonder, if we have forgotten the importance of play.

Sibylesque Banana Phone

If children haven’t had lots of opportunities to ‘play’, to pretend a banana is a phone or pencils on the front of their bikes are headlights, then we have a serious problem with literacy. We know we are hard wired for language, but not for reading and writing. When children participate in ‘symbolic play’ (the banana for the phone), they are beginning to understand about symbols. They are learning that you can substitute one thing for another and transfer meaning. Eventually, they will understand those squiggles on a page represent the words we use to communicate. While they’re playing they are also talking and building a bank of words they can use to navigate the world, have their needs met and communicate their thinking. There is a body of research that strongly suggests if children don’t have quality verbal interactions with adults, by the time they are three years old they can be seriously disadvantaged in the literacy journey.

How do children ‘get’ these quality interactions? Well, there are lots of ways. Reading stories together is one. Being available to listen and respond to the wonderful life theories children are constructing is another. Singing is possibly neglected in the literacy world, but so important. Young children are very forgiving. They are not yet music critics so don’t care what you sound like. They just like to sing together.

Sibylesque Iimaginary Train

So are we putting the cart before the horse with our expectations about reading and writing? Do we have an understanding of how young children learn? Are we rushing children in to the ‘academic’ world and are we taking away the very substance of how they learn – play? Have we forgotten the connection between symbolic play and the ‘valued’ literacies of reading and writing?

How can we reclaim play for children? Well Grandparents, rip the sheets from the bed and string them between the couch and the recliner. Get in that cubby with the kids. Drink copious cups of tea. Be the dog, the baby, the mum, the dad, sister, brother or whatever. You are building readers and writers…. And don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

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Penny CookPenny Cook has been an early childhood educator for over 30 years. She loves to travel  – anywhere. Penny is a mother and ‘Nan Pen’, who is continuously fascinated and amazed by her two young grandchildren.  She has always wanted to live in  a tree house by the beach …..it’s never too late!!

Photo source: Smatoday blog, Vic Museum and ipad App store.

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