Dr. Vivienne Smith: Reading as a Playful Act
I’m Vivienne Smith. I work at the University of Strathclyde in the Department of Education and I’m really interested in literacy, and how the messages we give to children about reading from the very beginning influence the way they develop as readers.
If you look at the way reading is treated in the media – and sometimes in schools – it’s presented as a very skills-based experience. It’s all about learning to decode words and getting your phonics right. However, real readers know that reading is much more rich than that. It’s actually about responding to texts. It’s about entering into a story and wondering what might happen next. It’s about playing with ideas in the text.
What particularly interest me is how we can perhaps position reading, not as a skill that has to be learned, but as a sort of play. It seems to me that there are very, very many correspondences between a person who is playing and a person who is reading: the flow of play; the exploration of play; the indeterminacy of play; the ‘what if-ness’; the ‘let’s pretend-ness’ are all part of what readers do. And it seems to me that if we think about reading as a playful act, we’re more likely to have children who are not only keener to read, but actually who read with more imagination and more personal input, more engagement, than they might otherwise do.
What you’re trying to achieve is an understanding of that book that will stay with the child even when the book is closed. I call that ‘the afterlife’. Helping children read the text and take that text with them in their heads so they can think about it, play with it, work with it, and imagine through it even when the book is closed. That seems to me to be the most valuable thing we can give our children.