I was at the Southern Flinders. A couple of days earlier it was 38 degrees and a hot dusty North Westerly was blowing. This day was a reprieve. Only 32 degrees. With a gentle hot northerly blowing. That’s alright though, because I was actually in a lush jungle feeding a baby gorilla some mashed banana. A new friend handed me the crying infant to nurse, while she prepared the mash. Shhh, she whispered to the baby, “its coming.” “She hates waiting for her food” she tells me.
I might have to step back a little. We were crouched under half a ton of sticks piled high on some climbing frames, nursing a baby gorilla sized log, feeding it a mash made from pulverised ochre. I accidently started the gorilla thing by saying I wonder if the roof could hold my weight, as I weigh as much as a gorilla. Ten minutes later a group constructed a gorilla nest, they become gorilla mums, the logs became hungry babies and the rocks were crushed to become baby food.
I love a good theorist. What would have Vygotsky said about this. In one of my favourite bedtime reads, Mind in society (Vygotsky 1978) Vygotsky reasons, when an object becomes a symbol for something else (such as the log becoming a baby gorilla), then higher order thinking is needed. And Vygotsky also sees a continuum from linking a log to a gorilla, to, linking a scribble on a piece of paper to a sound or word. They are both symbolic representations of something. A plethora of research supports this.
Schrader (1990) notes many ‘studies have suggested that children use similar representational mental processes in both symbolic play and literate behaviour’. Pellegrini and Galda (1993, p.167) argued, ‘the symbolic transformation component of symbolic play seems important for the early writing of preschool children’.
Another way research has found symbolic play supports early literacy is the fact it encourages metalanguage. My new Gorilla friend was talking to me as a mum gorilla. She was telling me about the woes of Gorilla motherhood, and then without blinking, she became a four-year-old girl, and she asked me where I got the rocks from. This ability shows her understanding of language. Talk like this, and you are a gorilla mum, talk like that and you are yourself. Pellegrini and Galda’s research highlights the affordance symbolic play has, when it comes to talking about language.
The DECD literacy indicators have something to say about all of this. One of the four indicators are “I represent my world symbolically”. Understanding conventions of text, being a key element. For my Four year old gorilla mum, using language to flick from Gorilla mum to four year old, and flipping from genre’s, Narrative, to a discussion, show, she is on her way to master the complex world of literacy.
And the last word goes to Singer (1961) who says “abstract symbols provide distance from ‘‘the bondage of direct sense perception’’
DECD 2015, Implementation guidelines for indicators of preschool numeracy and literacy in government preschools, South Australian Government, South Australia.
Pellegrini, AD & Galda, L 1993, ‘Ten years after: A reexamination of symbolic play and literacy research’, Reading Research Quarterly, pp. 163-175.
Schrader, CT 1990, ‘Symbolic play as a curricular tool for early literacy development’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 79-103.
Vygotsky, L 1978, Mind in society: the development of higher pschological processes, Harvard University Press, London.