Potions, pirates and pizza delivery:
the power of play in supporting
boys’ writing in the EYFS
Julie Cigman
March 21st 2014
Early Years Annual Conference
The power of play in supporting
1. What is writing?
2. The importance of talk in
developing compositional skills
of writing
3. The power of play
1. What is writing?
The term ‘writing’ can refer to
both physical and
psychological processes as
well as to an end product
Whitehead, Marion R. (2010: 155)
Language and Literacy in the Early Years 0-7 London:
Sage Publications Ltd
Compositional skills
– making meaning, creative
Transcriptional skills
- rules and conventions
2. The importance of talk in
developing compositional
skills of writing
Children in a literate society
learn of ‘reading as one way
of listening and of writing as
one way of talking.’
Taylor, D. (1983: 87) Family Literacy Exeter, New
Hampshire:Heinemann Educational
Max (in a Reception class) is playing with diggers in a sand tray on
the floor.
“I like covering him (the digger) and then he sinks, cos it’s sinking
sand. You just take one step in there and then you sink, like he’s
sinking, and you can’t see his light.
(He covers up the digger’s light with sand)
That guy’s in the sand, he’s just crashed.
(A digger is lying on its side in the sand. He covers up part of a big
digger with sand)
It’s hard to get the big wheel done (covered). It’s getting stuck!
I can handle sinking sand.
This digger (he holds up a big one) doesn’t sink. He’s been good. I’m
going to sink his light and see if it can light when it’s been covered.
(He laughs excitedly) It can light when it’s been covered!”
George is completing a writing task with an
adult in a Reception class:
“I’m writing ‘mouse is walking’.” He wrote ‘m’ on
his page.
Teacher: “Can you hear any other sounds?”
George: “Ou.”
He found the ‘ou’ sound on his sound card and
copied it.
“I’m tired. I didn’t get much sleep.”
The “literacy iceberg”
(Marion Whitehead)
Reading and writing are
interconnected and it’s never
too early to start!
“Vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom…” (She
shunts the cars)
“Hallo! Look at my hand stand.” (The
two cars are talking to each other)
“Look dad. Come play with me. Dad!
Daddy car, look! Daddy car, come play
with me.” (Sophia aged 2.10)
“Having a bath!” (She puts the car in a
cup of milk)
“One car called Dylan, one called
mummy, one called daddy.”
Slurp, slurp, slurp!”
(She feeds the car, singing)
‘When I start to imagine a plot and build
up characters, I think about the times
when I played with Sylvanian animals
when I was small. Each Sylvanian had a
particular character and the narrative
evolved as I moved them around.
Screenplay writing is very similar.’
Rachel, adult screenplay writer and author
3. The power of play
‘The power of play as the engine of learning
in early childhood … is beyond question.
Children in play-based kindergartens have a
double advantage over those who are
denied play: they end up equally good or
better at reading and other intellectual
skills, and they are more likely to become
well-adjusted healthy people.’
Miller and Almon (2009: 8)
Children should be
‘like a fish in water’ (FerreLaevers)
Adults can help children become writers
by providing stimulating mark making
resources that connect with children’s
play, everywhere, all the time
“Confusing disengagement with
lack of ability is one of the most
dangerous mistakes a teacher
can make.”
Guy Claxton, What’s The Point of School? p.18
Boys need a combination of talk, action,
writing… and talk again
Potions and spells
Magic fairy dust
Red poisonous hairy worms
Big bad wolf’s huff and puff
Princess’s perfume from the king
Essence of cloud
Talking fish
Mermaid’s tears
Dragon wee
Pirates’ bogies
Spiders’ and chickens’ toe nails
Red Riding Hood’s blood
Leaves from the elves’ tree
The power of play: pirates
Lucas and Alex are playing pirates in the
garden. They find a plastic bottle in the sand
Lucas: “It’s a message in a bottle!”
Alex: “Shall I get it out?”
Lucas: “It says ‘blah, blah, blah, blah.’”
Alex: “No, it says ‘walk the plank – and scribble
– and fight’.”
Jake: “The man and the boy went for a walk and
they met a crocodile. The crocodile went snap – go
snap, Leo, go snap, Leo – and they ran away as
quickly as they could, there wasn’t another ladder.
There was a ladder for the man and the terrible
teeth and the terrible claws and terrible jaws, and
their favourite food was terrible fox and terrible
teeth…. Oh help, oh no, it’s a gruffalo…!
I’m the scariest creature in this wood. Everybody is
afraid of me.
‘Well’, said the gruffalo bursting with laughter…”
The power of play: pizza delivery
• Space: to move between inside and outside
areas; to write on a large scale, on the floor,
on large whiteboards and chalkboards; to
write collaboratively
• Time: to develop oral language in play with
other children and adults
• Irresistible resources: writing rucksacks,
little notepads on key rings, gloop and finger
painting, writing frames for role play, video
and voice recorders
•Displays: to celebrate children’s writing
EYFSP scores went up:
• For boys and girls
• By as much as 60%
• In Writing and also in other aspects
A Boys’ Manifesto - the Early Years setting we’d like:
Being Active
• We would like places and spaces where we can run…
jump… climb… dig … hide
Being Still
• We need places where we can lie down, stretch out
and draw or write or think
Messy play with naturalmaterials
• We love playing with water, sand, mud, twigs, bark
Creative and imaginative play
• We like to stretch our imaginations by being
superheroes, flying to the moon or chasing dragons
Time to follow through fascinations
• We need time to explore new ideas and places
Adults to help
• We need adults who listen to every one of us
• … adults who help us to problem seek and
problem solve
• … adults who find resources to improve our
• … adults who write down our ideas and stories
and who help us to write for ourselves
“…a pair of swim
protect engine swim
slide mud
binoculars, with
paddles to help the
binoculars go in
water and material
to protect the

Becoming a writer in leaps and bounds