Date of Award

Spring 1990

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Donald Graves


This ethnographic study of a first grade classroom examines the interdependence and synergism of multiple symbol systems. Children's oral language, their idiosyncratic use of time and space in the classroom, as well as their play and artmaking all suggest dynamic interrelationships with their writing. Simply put, the study asks, How do play, work in the creative arts, and the language arts influence each other?

Historically, language arts studies have been verbocentric. Such an exclusively verbal conception of language arts limits expressive potential in general, and in particular, limits writing development. Nearly a decade ago, Janet Emig asked writing researchers, "...for the process of writing, what is truly organic?" Now, Playful Literacy explores that question by following four first grade thinkers as they compose with blocks, with clay, with shadow puppets, with tissue paper collage, and with dress-up clothes, as well as with written and spoken words.

Fundamentally, this study asks language arts curriculums to honor a range of meaning making gestures or literacies including play and the creative arts. Consequently, it challenges the time-honored "basics" and asks educators to rethink "literacies.".