Well, almost! More specifically a cardboard box can help initiate play and play can help your child learn to read. A few months ago, while the weather was still warm, an updated manual was released by the Every Child Ready to Read project. In this new edition, the importance of play in a child’s life was highlighted, and they wrote “Play is one of the primary ways young children learn about the world. General knowledge is an important literacy skill that helps children understand books and stories once they begin to read.” Okay, so what does that mean exactly? Well, I am here to tell you!
In play, children naturally learn about the world and how it works, from learning how language changes based on our surroundings to what purpose various people, places and things have, even parts of our own bodies. Play allows a child to step outside of the boundaries of their own home and explore the world around them in a friendly, non-threatening way.
Playing make-believe with your child is probably one of the best, and easiest, examples of fostering literacy (the ability to read, write and think about printed material) in play. Let’s say you have this box, and its the size of….a package. You can play post office, or instead of taking the package (or is it a parcel???) to the post office, maybe the postman is going to deliver it. Two different atmospheres, with two different directions your conversation could go. In this interaction your child is learning how the post office, or mail delivery system, works and when your child comes across a similar situation in a book later on, he or she will be able to understand what is happening in the story better because she has learned what the purpose a post office is, or that the postman/mailman will deliver mail, not flowers. If you have a larger box that you can turn into a restaurant, or a grocery store, or maybe even a rocket ship, you are introducing all of those different roles and atmospheres to your child. This will aid your child with his or her ability to understand what it is that he or she is reading.
Taking those boxes out of pretend play, they can still serve a “reading” purpose while being fun! Your child an artist? Make that box into an art project! Make a diorama or make it into a puzzle. Your child a climber, make them a tunnel, or create a mountain of boxes! Smaller boxes can be made into matching games or used to build towers. How do these activities facilitate learning language skills and reading readiness? Being able to match like items is important as we learn to read because once we store a word, and what it looks like, into our memory much of our reading happens by matching the word on paper to the word we have tucked away into the folds of our brains. The climbing and crawling helps your child gain awareness and control over his or her body and helps them hone in their motor skills so that they are able to grasp a pencil and become ready to write. The writing on the boxes, should there be some, allows your child to see how things are labeled and introduces them to yet another place to learn new words. So, the next time you are ready to cut that box down to size and get rid of it, ask yourself, has it lived up to its full potential and taught your child to read yet?
Check out some of these titles for more ideas on how to play with those boxes!