one link between literacy & play

prewriting, creativity, and play

The earliest stages of the writing process can be approached in a multitude of ways. And there seem to be just as many words to describe these beginnings as there are approaches. L. Calkins describes early “planning/ rehearsal,” (Calkins, 2020) J. Serravallo refers to “generating ideas,” (Serravallo, 2017) R. Fletcher talks of “seed ideas” (Fletcher, 2020) and G. Heard begins with “Heart Maps.” (Heard, 2016) There are also numerous other approaches and terms, such as brainstorming, pre-writing, doodling, storyboarding, outlining, and freewriting.  

Whatever terms and approaches writers choose to begin the writing process, they all have something in common. The beginning is filled with thinking and imagining what could be. It is a creative process. Imagining possibilities and creating something that wasn’t there before is the pastime of both authors and artists, as well as, instinctively, children. Childhood is the ideal time to encourage and nurture creative thinking! 

Creativity cannot be bought, or forced, or learned with flashcards. So how do we encourage the development of creativity in our students? Through play! Neuroscientific research shows a clear link between play experiences and the development of creativity and problem-solving skills. Play actually changes the connections of the neurons in the prefrontal cortex. These changes play a critical role in executive functioning skills, essential for our ability to make connections, make plans, and creatively solve problems. (Hamilton, 2014) 

The more opportunities our students have to play, the more experiences they will have to practice creative thinking, which is a universal characteristic of the earliest stages of the writing process.  Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, and researcher noted that among so many other benefits, “Play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.” (Brown & Vaughan, 2010) Through play, our students explore reality as well as possibilities. Stated another way, play is an opportunity to define the box, as well as to think outside the box.

As teachers, when we model, scaffold, and support our students’ pre-writing experiences, we should prioritize creative thinking. It is easy to get lost in academic skills and strategies and forget how important creativity and problem-solving are to the writing process, especially in the earliest, pre-writing stages. Carl Jung, best known for his work in developmental psychiatry, noted that “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Whenever possible, we should encourage and nurture this play instinct, which is the foundation for creativity.

Play on, my friends!