5. Building the Environment for Play-Based Learning

“When we observe the behaviors of people we notice that what they do is markedly influenced by where they are.”

Kounin & Sherman, 1979, p. 145

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Emergent Literacy Environments 

5.3 Using Theories of Play to Orchestrate Intentional Literacy Learning Opportunities

5.4 Designing Literacy-Rich Play Environments


Opening Vignette: Prashant’s Naan

Four-year-old Prashant pulls a class recipe book from a shelf in the kitchen area that has a couple of recipe boxes, spice jars, and other photo and print-rich recipe books for the children to use. Recently, Prashant shared his family’s recipe for making naan, an Indian flatbread, with his class. Today, he uses the class recipe book to begin his play in the home environment center. He carries the recipe book to the stove singing to himself, “Naan, naan, naan.” He sifts through the pages of recipes with pictures of his friends enjoying their favorite foods until he finds the recipe he is looking for. On his recipe page, Prashant included a hand drawing of his family eating naan together at home. Pointing to text at the top left he says, “First, I have to put in flour.” He pauses reading to dip a measuring cup into a canister with a picture of wheat and the word “flour” taped to the outside. He gestures, dumping two scoops of flour into a bowl on the counter. He returns to the book and reads, “Then, I have to put in the water.” Prashant reaches for an empty pitcher and pours water into the bowl. Prashant reads again from the book and adds “yogurt” to the bowl. He picks up a spoon and begins stirring the ingredients in the pot. Then, Prashant scoops the mix into a pan on the stove singing, “Cook, cook, cook.”

Prashant pulls naan from the stove top and places the pan on the table. Prashant reaches into a small block basket on the shelf and puts blocks on the tray. Taking the tray to the table he calls out, “Naan for sale, come have a piece of naan!” Desmond, a 4 ½ year old, hears Prashant’s invitation and sits down at the table near the kitchen area. Desmond says, “I would like to buy a piece of naan. What kind of naan do you have?”

Miss Elise, the instructional assistant who was documenting Prashant’s play episode nearby, joins in the play prompting, “Oh, I think your customer might need a menu to help him decide what kind of naan he would like to order.” Taking Miss Elise’s suggestion, Prashant picks up a clipboard hanging on a hook next to the table and a marker and begins to write three strings of letter-like symbols across the page. As Prashant writes, Desmond says, “I hope he has the butter kind.” Prashant hands the clipboard to Desmond and says, “We have garlic and plain naan with butter. What kind would you like?”

Miss Elise moves on to observe other children in the class as the two boys continue to enact Prashant’s play episode making naan.

5.1 Introduction

Throughout this text, we use the nest as an analogy for reflecting on the multitude of factors that support a child’s emerging literacy skills. Reflecting on this analogy, we recognize each nest is influenced by the larger ecosystem in which it is constructed. Diverse species of eagles, owls, pigeons, and penguins thrive in uniquely different habitats and use the available natural resources to build viable shelters. Similarly, early childhood educators work in diverse and complex learning environments. Early education contexts include (but are not limited to) early intervention settings that occur with young children and families in the home, early care centers serving children and families from birth through age five, and Early Head Start and Head Start programs located within public and private schools. The physical spaces early educators and children occupy greatly influence their interactions, behaviors, and collective literacy experiences. Referred to as the ecology of the classroom (Reutzel & Jones, 2013) each early learning context is as richly varied as the birds’ environmental habitats noted above. Early educators play a central role in strategically drawing upon and enriching each learning context to promote young children’s literacy development and engagement.

Intentionally designed environments encourage children to experiment with a variety of materials, prompt rich dialogs between children and educators, and challenge children to use their emerging oral language, reading, and writing skills for a variety of purposes. Classroom environments need to be strategically arranged to increase the likelihood that rich literacy interactions will occur. Consider the exchange between Prashant, Desmond, and Ms. Elise in the vignette at the beginning of this chapter. The class recipe book, labeled cooking containers, writing materials, and language exchanges worked in complementary ways to inspire and extend the literacy rich play opportunity. When early educators pause to identify the environmental factors influencing particular learning contexts, opportunities for enriching young children’s literacy spaces are revealed. This chapter prepares educators to intentionally construct classroom environments to enhance children’s emerging literacies. This chapter will explore the following questions:

Nest from the nested literacy model, Figure 1.1 How do early learning environments influence children’s emergent literacy experiences?

Branch from the Nested Literacy Model Figure 1.1 How do educators use constructivist, sociocultural, and ecological perspectives to shape literacy rich play experiences?

Nest from the nested literacy model, Figure 1.1 How do educators intentionally design and evaluate rich literacy environments to enhance children’s literacy experiences?

Nest from the nested literacy model, Figure 1.15.2 Emergent Literacy Environments 

Effective early learning environments consistently provide opportunities for young children to use emerging literacy skills and understandings in personally relevant ways. To orchestrate meaningful literacy environments, educators make strategic decisions about the people, materials, and experiences available to children. Children’s interactions with the people and objects in their physical environment influences their cognitive development (Reutzel & Jones, 2010). Educators draw on ecological and sociocultural perspectives when reflecting on how specific features of the learning environment affect children’s engagement in a variety of literacy events. When combined with constructivist perspectives, ecological, and sociocultural perspectives (see Chapter 3 for more on educational theories) provide useful lenses for analyzing the instructional environments educators create to enhance children’s literacy.

Early childhood classrooms are common environmental contexts. By this we mean that most people, especially early educators, can easily describe characteristics commonly found in classrooms designed with young children in mind (e.g., colorful charts, small tables, low bookshelves, art easels, water tables, library nooks, dramatic play centers, and construction spaces). Identifying the physical areas and materials in early learning contexts is an important first step in learning how to effectively orchestrate meaningful emergent literacy contexts. When educators consider different learning spaces for young children, they also envision children using the space to engage in different activities. Understanding the ecology of a classroom challenges educators to consider how the space itself influences the types of activities children and teachers engage in because they inhabit a particular space, at a particular time, with specific people. We use the word challenge above to emphasize that learning to see how materials, classroom design, and children’s interactions shape literacy opportunities is not necessarily an easy task. This is because the “patterns, structure, and organization of activities in the classroom environments are often invisible to the mind’s eye but are essential elements of designing effective classroom learning environments” (Reutzel & Jones, 2013, p. 83). Intentionally focusing on how educators and children use spaces and materials to engage in a variety of literacy expressions makes invisible patterns visible.

A teacher sits at a table between two children. The H and F stencils are on the table. One child makes an H with sticks. The teacher helps the other child make an F with sticks.
Children learn by interacting with environment materials such as letter stencils and sticks.

As early educators we may take for granted the basic premise that a child’s learning environment influences their cognitive development. At the same time, we may also surmise that designing emergent literacy environments may require practice as we learn to notice the people, materials, and activities occurring in a given space with the intention of extending and enhancing children’s literacy enactments. Fortunately, we have a significant amount of research demonstrating that educators’ intentional efforts designing literacy-rich learning spaces and facilitating literacy-rich play experiences promote children’s emergent literacy practices.

5.2a Research Examining Emergent Literacy Environments

Studies exploring children’s interactions with materials and teachers inform contemporary classroom design practices and provide research evidence for the intentional structuring of centers to challenge and engage children in meaningful literacy experiences. Early research capturing human behavior in authentic contexts leads educators to wonder how classroom environments sustain children’s interests and influence their behaviors (Barker, 1968; Roskos & Neuman, 2002). Children self-select certain play areas with more frequency than others. Some children may choose blocks routinely, while others seek out dramatic play. Additionally, different play areas sustain children’s engagement longer than others. For example, research shows block centers and art stations tended to be more popular with preschool children than other center opportunities. For instance, the art center has more “holding power” for children than other centers (Weinstein, 1979). Educators repeatedly shift their attention to meet specific environmental demands (e.g. art commands more attention from educators than the reading corner). Finally, the complexity of children’s social interactions also vary by center (e.g., children’s interactions with dolls demanded more complicated exchanges to sustain play scenarios) (Weinstein, 1979).

In early childhood contexts, centers offer small learning environments for children to exercise their emerging literacy skills. Centers, also called learning stations, should be strategically redesigned and enhanced to entice children’s spontaneous literacy enactments (Roskos & Neuman, 2002). The design of centers should be intentional. For example, children interact more frequently with books when the classroom library displays books with the cover facing out instead of shelving books with only the bound spine exposed (Roskos & Neuman, 2002). As a result, early childhood classrooms frequently use front facing bookshelves or put books in bins with the covers facing forward to entice children to read. Similarly, literacy play props (e.g., note pads, writing tools, envelopes) encourage children’s explorations with print and support children’s emergent writing skills (Souto-Manning & Martell, 2016).

Early learning settings use essential design elements to organize the physical space. Roskos & Neuman (2002) encourage educators to use hard and soft boundary markers (e.g., low shelving and carpeting) to organize physical spaces and guide children’s play within each area. Defined areas organize spaces visually for children and encourage them to use easily accessible materials as a part of their play. Accordingly, educators should enrich play areas with appropriate, relevant, and authentic literacy materials. Intentional literacy materials will influence play complexity and invite children to use literacy rich materials for a variety of play purposes. Extended time engaged in purposeful play scenarios allows children “to move from exploratory play to mastery of concepts” (Roskos & Neuman, 2002, p. 285). Children’s literacy knowledge develops when they have time to experiment with the literacy props in their play environments. Children’s literacy environments have the greatest impact when educators provide time for children to engage with meaningful literacy spaces, materials, and activities.

5.2b Linking Theory to Research and Practice

Ecological and sociocultural theories provide rich theoretical perspectives for educators to use when designing effective literacy play-spaces for children. In fact, when educators pause to consider the physical and human factors influencing a particular environment, they begin to notice children’s patterns of behavior and anticipate opportunities for scaffolding children’s attention and engagement. The Ecology of an Early Childhood Literacy Classroom, presented in Figure 5.1, illustrates how educators might think about the contextual factors influencing their emergent literacy environments. Based on a study conducted by Cambourne (2002), the model situates people, materials, and routines as the interrelated and interdependent characteristics shaping literacy environments. The round dots that permeate the environmental characteristics represent the intentional literacy experiences educators create to scaffold children’s literacy acts.

Figure 5.1 Ecology of the Early Childhood Literacy Classroom

The ecology of the early childhood literacy classroom graphic includes three overlapping circles labeled Peoplle, Materials, and Routines. Pegs representing literacy experiences connect the three circles. Outside of the People circle is a box with Children, Early Educators, and Family Members. The box outside of Materials says, Books, Writing Materials, Wall Art, and Puppets. The box outside of Routines says, Circle Time, Program Curricula, and Children Sign-In.

The Ecology of an Early Childhood Literacy Classroom model invites educators to ask intentional questions about the classroom environment. When educators pause to consider when, where, with what, and with whom literacy experiences might occur, they can intentionally change the environment to make the literacy experiences more powerful. Educators exercise the greatest power in the classroom and this allows them to orchestrate the environment “to create the kind of learning culture they desire” (Cambourne, 2002, p. 359). As decision makers, educators determine how the people, materials, and routines will interact to support children’s emerging literacies. In fact, many of the literacy experiences educators create become part of children’s regular routines. This helps children engage in literacy practices in predictable ways (e.g., finding their name card and putting it under their picture as the attendance routine).

Children sit at a table with letter stencils and stick letters. They trace the stick letters with a paintbrush.
Children practice literacy in many ways, such as by tracing stick letters with a paint brush.

The Ecology of an Early Childhood Literacy Classroom model invites educators to consider how they might manipulate the materials, people, and routines to work together in a variety of ways to enrich children’s literacy experiences. Educators frequently use a circle time, or group time, as an opportunity to bring children together for a whole group activity. For example, it is common to do the daily calendar, weather, and a welcome song in a circle time as part of the morning meeting. As such, circle time is a common routine for preschool children, books are prevalent materials, and several children (people) usually participate in circle time together. Consider how children’s language and literacy interactions might shift if the educator ended every circle time with a paired buddy “reading.” In this example, we can predict the regular opportunity to share a book with a friend allows children frequent and predictable opportunities to practice actions associated with reading. In this shared literacy space, children will practice a number of reading strategies and skills including talking about books, turning pages, examining illustrations, making predictions, making personal connections, expressing opinions, and learning new vocabulary. Introducing the “buddy reading” routine to the children will require some scaffolding on the part of the educator and will be determined by the children’s needs, ages, and previous experiences sharing books. Once the routine is established, the educator can begin to strategically enhance children’s “buddy reading” time by introducing new reading concepts and skills in circle and challenging them to find or do something similar with their buddy.

The following box provides another example of how the ecology of the early childhood literacy classroom may be used to enhance children’s literacy opportunities in diverse spaces.

Lunch Time: A Time for Intentional Literacy Routines

Lunch time is arguably a hectic period of the day for educators and children. Educators are concerned with supporting children throughout the community experience and need to attend to the hand-washing, eating, milk pouring, and clean-up routines. Within this context, opportunities for enhancing children’s literacy may become invisible as educators strive to stay on schedule. However, an analysis of the lunch time routine reveals opportunities for embedding simple environmental prompts to guide children’s intentional use of language, writing, and reading.

Table 5.1

Instructional Moment

Literacy Material

Literacy Routine

Choosing Lunch Items

Provide laminated menus with frequent lunch choices

fruit choices

vegetable choices

drink choices

entree items

Educators and children can use the menu to talk about the lunch selections. The visual cue of the menu prompts the literacy experience and encourages children to “read” their choices and communicate their preferences.

Lunchtime Helper Routines

Velcro charts with picture symbols and labels for the lunchtime helper jobs children (i.e., napkin helper, sweeper, menu collector, etc.)

Children’s name cards with photos as needed

Children work with educators to select a helper job for the day. The routine encourages children to identify their own name card and place it under the helper job for the day. As children’s writing develops they are invited to write their name next to a job instead.

Using the Ecology of an Early Childhood Literacy Classroom model, the people influencing the literacy opportunity include the children and the educator, the illustrated menus and helper charts are the materials extending children’s literacy engagement, and the children’s selection of specific lunch items and jobs become the enacted literacy routines.

Finally, it is important for educators to value their capacities for flexibly responding to shifting classroom contexts. We know an early childhood classroom is anything but static; it changes constantly. Roskos and Neuman (2011) remind us, “At one point or another (and at every turn), teachers confront what is and is not possible in the classroom environment they inhabit with their students” (p. 110). Learning to identify, evaluate, and modify classroom learning spaces will enhance the early childhood literacy classroom environments you create and increase opportunities for you to intentionally nurture young children’s literacy understandings.

Branch from the Nested Literacy Model Figure 1.15.3 Using Theories of Play to Orchestrate Intentional Literacy Learning Opportunities

The first part of this chapter discussed how people, materials, and routines/activities shape early childhood classroom environments. The intentional literacy learning opportunities that “float” on top of these ecological dimensions influence children’s emergent literacy practices. In the second part of the chapter, we will focus on how early childhood educators use constructivist and sociocultural play theories, alongside ecological perspectives to prepare, manipulate, and enhance young children’s literacy environments.

Play remains an essential element of the early childhood classroom context. It is through a child’s intentional exploration and engagement in the world around them that they gain important understandings about their communities and build agency as literate members. Saracho and Spodek (2006) explain, “Play experiences provide young children with opportunities for them to use language in literate ways and to use literacy as they see it practiced” (p. 708). Accordingly, during play children reenact stories, simple and complex lived experiences (like going to the store and cooking) and even favorite movie or television storylines; in doing so they use language, reading practices, and writing practices to drive play scenarios forward. Early educators use constructivist and sociocultural perspectives, alongside the ecological perspectives explored in the first part of this chapter, to design relevant and engaging literacy environments for young children to support play experiences. As we will discover, the three theoretical perspectives are not mutually exclusive, rather their philosophical principles work in complementary ways to support educators’ facilitations of play-based literacy environments.

5.3a Constructivism and Literacy Play

Figure 5.2 Constructivist Perspectives

A child sits on the floor looking at a book. An arrow points from the book to the child's head. The text in graphic reads: "Constructivist perspectives emphasize changes in a child's internal literacy understandings."

As discussed in Chapter 3, constructivist perspectives recognize children gain important insights about how the world works when they are engaged in rich play experiences. Play supports children’s literacy understandings through a process of construction, during which children are acting on the world based on their existing understandings or schemes (Rosko et al., 2010). Framed as a stage theory, constructivist perspectives reason children progressively acquire more sophisticated logic patterns as they interact with their environment. As children develop they use memory to engage with their environment in increasingly sophisticated ways.

Play opens important spaces for children to practice emerging understandings about the world (Roskos et al., 2010). During play children use object substitution and meta-play talk to reenact and reimagine observed events from their own lives. Review the excerpt from the running record captured by Elise, the early childhood educator, who observed Prashant making the naan to see how children reenact literate experiences in their pretend play.

Figure 5.3 Running Record of Prashant’s Naan (1)

Date:   4/18/2020  

Student: Prashant Center: Home Living Time: 9:42 – 9:47

Prashant carries the recipe book to the stove singing to himself, “Naan, naan, naan.” He sifts through the pages of recipes with pictures of his friends enjoying their favorite foods until he finds the recipe he is looking for. On his recipe page, Prashant included a hand drawing of his family eating naan together at home. Pointing to text at the top left he says, “First, I have to put in flour.” […] He picks up a spoon and begins stirring the ingredients in the pot. Then, Prashant scoops the mix into a pan on the stove singing, “Cook, cook, cook.” Prashant pulls naan from the stove top and places the pan on the table. He reaches into a small block basket on the shelf and puts several rainbow blocks on a tray. Taking the platter to the table he calls out, “Naan for sale, come have a piece of naan!”  […]


In Prashant’s case, both object substitution and meta-play talk promote his exploration of important literacy skills. Renaming objects (e.g. “nann” instead of “blocks”) and offering running narrations (e.g. “Naan, naan, naan” and “cook, cook, cook”) bring to life pretend play scenarios, making them “real.” Using other objects to represent items not readily accessible is considered an important first step toward understanding that letters are symbolic representations of oral language. Similarly, meta-play talk provides ongoing narration of children’s actions and propels storylines forward. Indeed, young children frequently narrate and negotiate their play, even when playing independently. Through their oral narrations, children negotiate literacy enriched spaces and use environmental tools to represent their understandings about how the world works.

Additionally, in Prashant’s Naan play scenario, we see examples of how dramatic play affords children opportunities to explore concepts of sequencing, to practice procedural activities, and to recognize text as informative resources. We also see Prashant practicing important language skills such as vocabulary usage, word order, gesturing, and soliciting conversational partners. Prashant strengthens his cognitive skills and practices using his prior knowledge in play. The exact sequence of events for making a naan and the ingredients may be creatively imagined, but it is hard to overlook that Prashant’s focused and intentional reenactments mirror common kitchen and literacy practices. Pretend play opportunities reinforce children’s current conceptualizations regarding how and why people use language and support their emerging literacy skills.

5.3b Sociocultural Perspectives and Literacy Play

Figure 5.4 Sociocultural Perspectives

Two children stand at a table. One child offers a toy to the other child. A two-way arrow goes between the two children's heads. A two-way arrow goes from the toy in one child's hand to the other child's head. A two-way arrow goes from the toy in the child's hand to his head. The text in the image reads: Socio-cultural perspectives emphasize learning is grounded in children's intentional interactions with other learners, educators, and materials.

Sociocultural perspectives also recognize innovative play exchanges promote children’s emerging literacies. When children play, they use language, gestures, and materials in their environment to sustain play narratives. Play intentions and goals inspire meaningful actions and children embrace flexible representation of objects to drive their play narratives forward (Roskos et al., 2010). For example, Prashant approached his play session with the intention to make bread. He accessed materials to represent real-world items and used language to reenact the preparation process and later sale of the naan.

Play provides a setting for children to use their creative thinking and to communicate their thoughts. Accordingly, sociocultural perspectives encourage educators to consider how children’s interactions with objects and more experienced people, including peers, educators, and parents, promote cognitive development (Roskos et al., 2010). Thought and meaning support children’s interactions with playmates and objects to nurture literacy development. Prashant’s thoughts on making the naan and the meaning of the item he was producing (it should be made and then shared), supported opportunities for Prashant to interact with his classmates. Vygotskian perspectives consider play “a strong social ‘push’ from the outside” compelling children to develop more sophisticated interpretations of how their world works (Roskos et al., 2010, p. 71). It is within complex sociocultural exchanges that children’s narrative expressions develop and how changes in children’s understandings occur (Nicolopoulou, 2005).

Let’s return to Elise’s running record capturing Prashant’s play episode making naan to understand how children’s literacy development is also nurtured via their direct interactions with people in their environment.

Figure 5.5 Running Record of Prashant’s Naan (2)

Date:   4/18/2020

Student(s): Prashant + Desmond  Center: Home Living

Time: 9:42 – 9:47

[…] Prashant pulls the naan from the stove top and calls out, “Naan for sale, come have a piece of naan!” Desmond hears Prashant’s invitation and sits down at the table near the kitchen area. Desmond says, “I would like to buy a piece of naan. What kind of naan do you have?”

End memo


In this case, Prashant expresses his desire to continue his pretend play narrative by eliciting the support of a peer. Enlisting the play of others into the cooking episode will require the two children to work together to nurture the narrative forward. As their play scenario develops, the children will adhere to specific rules to ensure the meaning of their play is maintained. In this manner, pretend play helps children develop an understanding of different points of view. Miss Elise, the educator, takes advantage of the shifting storyline negotiated between Prashant and Desmond to draw the children’s attention to another kind of text people frequently use in restaurants to help them make decisions, a menu. The educator’s casual language prompt provides an intentional literacy scaffold to extend the narrative for the children and supports “meaning-oriented thinking” (Roskos et al. 2010, p. 71).

5.3c Ecological Perspectives and Literacy Play

Figure 5.6 Ecological Perspectives

Children stand inside cardboard vehicles getting ready to be part of a parade. One half circular arrow going from bottom to top and one half circular arrow going from top to bottom surround the children standing in the cardboard vehicles. The text reads: Ecological perspectives emphasize leanring is influenced by the opportunities available to children in their environment.

Constructivist perspectives focus on the child’s internal mental constructs, and sociocultural perspectives emphasize the interactional exchanges that enhance a child’s understandings; however, ecological perspectives highlight the role the environment plays in drawing a child into literacy. Literacy-rich play environments allow children to explore “literate ways of thinking” with their peers and use their emergent literacy skills to influence evolving play scenes (Saracho & Spodek, p. 711). Dramatic play opportunities encourage children to recreate life experiences and provide meaningful spaces for children to manipulate literacy materials (e.g., books and writing tools) and grapple with foundational skills that promote children’s literacy (Saracho & Spodek, 2006).

In “Prashant’s Naan” play scenario, his incorporation of diverse literacy practices (i.e., reading a recipe and creating a menu) is not surprising when we use ecological perspectives to consider the design of this literacy-rich classroom. Both Prashant and Desmond utilized their environment and their understandings of how people interact in different contexts to support their play narrative. We can readily identify the routines (i.e., center time that opened spaces for pretend play and children’s existing schemas of restaurant and cooking rules), materials (i.e., books, cooking utensils and kitchen supplies, paper and markers) and people (i.e., the children and the educator) that collectively influenced the children’s efforts. Educators can positively enhance children’s literacy understandings when they intentionally analyze the environment for opportunities that promote children’s routine interactions with print-rich materials and language-rich experiences.

As important people in the child’s learning environment, early childhood educators should seek opportunities to scaffold children’s expressions and enactments during dramatic play experiences (Morrow et al., 2013). In Prashant’s play scenario, the educator’s decision to encourage children to bring in a recipe, share it with the class, classify the food by category, and add it to a class recipe book throughout the year established an instructional literacy routine that became a natural part of the children’s classroom environment. This particular literacy experience allowed the educator to add an additional print rich material (i.e., the class recipe book) to the kitchen environment. In this case, the educator recognized the class recipe book would be especially appealing to her learners because it held family and cultural relevance. Experiences like this that strategically blend children’s home and school environments further support children’s literacy development and illustrate how ecological perspectives can be used to highlight the rich literacy practices already supporting children’s understandings in their home environments.

Figure 5.7 Developmental Theories

Three images combined into one. First, A child sits on the floor looking at a book. Constructivist is written across the bottom of the image. Second, Two children stand at a table. One child offers the other child a toy. Socio-cultural is written across the bottom of the image. Third, Children stand inside cardboard vehicles getting ready to be part of a parade. Ecological is written at the bottom of the image.

In complementary ways, constructivist, sociocultural, and ecological perspectives invite educators to think strategically about play-filled literacy environments. The perspectives do not need to be considered as competing frameworks, rather each perspective can be used intentionally to consider how we can manipulate the environment to enhance children’s experiences using their oral language, reading, and writing skills. In the following section, we focus on principles and practices educators use to intentionally orchestrate literacy-rich classroom environments for children that are developmentally and contextually relevant.

Nest from the nested literacy model, Figure 1.15.4 Designing Literacy-Rich Play Environments

Optimal learning environments are designed with intentionality. When considering how to orchestrate effective literacy-rich environments for young children, educators strategically reflect on how the physical environment invites children to actively use language in personally relevant ways. The principles of universal design guide educators’ decisions about how to establish literacy routines that support all learners within a particular learning environment. Originally, architects used the concept of universal design to ensure people with diverse interests, abilities, and needs were able to successfully navigate a particular space with ease (e.g., curb cuts, flexible seating, wide pathways, and automated doors and lights). Educators use concepts of universal design to ensure all children are able to meaningfully take part in and access the learning environment (Dinnebee, Boat, & Bae, 2013). When educators use concepts of universal design, they not only think critically about the physical spaces children occupy, they also think about how the learning experiences they create engage and support learners with diverse background experiences.

A teacher sits and child stands at a lighted table touching clear shapes.
Teachers use elements of the environment to engage students, such as light play with shapes.

Universal design principles encourage educators to (a) develop curricular routines and classroom spaces that meet the needs of all children, (b) recognize learning pathways for children are unique, (c) appreciate learning differences as a natural part of classroom communities, and (d) use open-ended learning opportunities that allow children to represent their understandings in diverse ways (Dinnebell et al., 2013). As described, these principles advocate for learning environments that are inclusive, flexible, and open for all learners as opposed to making modifications for individual children. The universal design principles ask educators to consciously attend to both the physical aspects of an environment that define learning spaces as well as the intangible classroom experiences that engage children emotionally, socially, and cognitively.

5.4a Physical Literacy Learning Environments

At the most basic level, the physical environment refers to the design and layout of the classroom. The decisions educators make about how to arrange the physical environment within a classroom has implications for the types of activities, behaviors, and learning routines children and educators experience. While there are elements of the physical environment that are beyond an educator’s control, (e.g., the overall size of the space and design details like sinks, bathroom accessibility, and electrical outlets) educators enjoy control over the learning spaces found in early childhood classrooms. Effective learning environments use a combination of visual cues (e.g., signs and pictures to identify learning spaces or processes) and structural features (e.g., rugs, low shelves, beanbags, play furniture, and tables) to divide the classroom into distinct learning spaces. The visual cues and structural features work together to guide children’s behaviors, engage learners, and inspire literacy explorations.

To meet children’s learning preferences and needs, classroom designs include flexible individual and small group learning spaces. Classrooms also need a space large enough for a whole group of children to come together for shared experiences. The whole group space may actually prove to be the trickiest of all to “fit in.” The space needs to be large enough and situated so all children are able to share in the learning opportunity. Children’s sight-lines need to be clear and they need to be able to sit comfortably. For some children, this means providing wiggle cushions or small chairs, others need room to safely extend or bend their legs as needed to ensure they are comfortable. Traffic flow in and around this space needs to be flexible and open as well. An open design will allow guests, teachers, and children to enter and move around the space more easily and enhance children’s engagement.

A teacher sits in a chair holding a big book with the pictures and print pointed toward the two children sitting on the carpet. The two children look at the book.
Whole group space works well for read-aloud time.

Whole group space works well for read-aloud time.

Establishing the primary learning areas first will help divide the room into distinct activity zones. When initially designing classroom spaces for children, educators stop to identify the types of learning opportunities they want young children to experience and where these experiences will take place. Common early learning areas include, but are not limited to, library nooks, home living corners, STEM centers, art exploration stations, and construction zones. The names of the learning areas suggest the types of learning activities children will experience and promote different kinds of play and explorations. Thoughtful arrangement of learning centers and activity zones within a classroom supports positive literacy behavior patterns.

Pause and Consider: Establishing Effective Classroom Climates

Take a moment to read Table 5.2 “General Guidelines for Establishing an Effective Classroom Environment.” As you read, consider how each suggestion might impact children in the learning environment. After reading the selection, make a mental list of characteristics of a literacy rich classroom, or use materials to create a mock map. One possible app for classroom design can be found at: http://classroom.4teachers.org/

Table 5.2 “General Guidelines for Establishing an Effective Classroom Environment”

General Guidelines for Establishing an Effective Classroom Literacy Environment

  • Divide the classroom into quadrants (wet, dry, noisy, quiet)
  • Ensure wet areas are separated from dry areas and noisy areas are separate from quiet areas
  • Design flexible whole, small group, and independent learning spaces
  • Use furniture and materials to provide boundaries and define learning spaces
  • Carpets, low shelving, front-facing book shelves, tables, chairs, open storage bins with writing tools and material, and easels inspire children’s engagement within particular spaces
  • Create soft and hard literacy play and learning spaces by offering flexible and moveable seating options, diverse writing surfaces, and cozy spots for reading, writing, and conversing
  • Organize materials for easy accessibility to support literacy practices and make clean-up easier
  • Label classroom spaces, shelves, and storage bins with words and pictures to guide children’s patterns of behavior and infuse the classroom with meaningful print

5.4b Building Areas for Literacy-Rich Play

Intentional learning areas invite children to engage in hands-on, minds-on explorations of their literacy worlds. During play children use and develop critical thinking skills while increasing their oral language and other emergent literacy skills and understandings. As Heath (1983) explains,

In their play, the children tell stories to each other or they monologue their creations. They frame parts of the whole drama of adulthood in sandboxes, corners of the playroom, or the play yard. But there they also declare themselves members of the world of children and members of a community which does not let its members ever go too far or too long away from the constraints of reality (p. 162).

Literacy-rich play spaces and learning experiences encourage children to explore their understandings of the world. To inspire children’s active incorporation of diverse literacy practices in play, educators need to take time to reflect on (a) the amount of time children engage in dramatic and guided play experiences, (b) the accessibility of intentional materials that inspire creative literacy play opportunities, and (c) the language they use to scaffold children’s understandings and support literacy-rich play experiences. Through their interactions with purposeful materials, educators, and peers, children manipulate and use language in flexible ways to learn about and influence their world. Literacy-rich play areas strategically infuse literacy tools (e.g. books, writing paper, pencils, stamps, envelopes, etc. ) and props (e.g. mailboxes, puppet theatres, recipe boxes, lab coats, aprons, etc.) to increase children’s incorporation of play scenarios that use their emerging oral language, reading, and writing skills (Walfersberger et al., 2004). “Literacy Enriched Learning Areas” provides examples of how educators enrich learning areas to intentionally promote children’s literacy explorations.

As you review Table 5.3, consider how the materials invite children to engage meaningfully in literacy rich spaces and nurture children’s literacy understandings.

Table 5.3 “Literacy Enriched Learning Areas”

Literacy Enriched Learning Areas

Learning Area

Emergent Literacy Purpose

Examples of Relevant Literacy-Rich Materials


  • Connects young children to books
  • Promotes print awareness
  • Supports children’s comprehension and interpretations of text
  • Extends children’s oral language opportunities and enhances children’s vocabulary through story telling
  • Books on a range of topics
  • Books from multiple genres
  • Books with diverse representations of children and families (i.e., culturally, ability, socio-economically, geographically, and children and families with diverse gender and sexual orientations)
  • Puppets/Stuffed animals for children to read to and engage in story retelling
  • Soft materials (i.e., pillows and cushions)
  • Puppet theatres
  • Felt boards


  • Encourages children to understand letters combine to represent words in a written form
  • Develops children’s letter formation
  • Supports letter/sound connection
  • Expands opportunities for children to write in personally meaningful ways
  • Various types of paper
  • Writing utensils (pencils, colored pencils, pens, markers)
  • Clip boards
  • Hole punch/stapler for making books
  • Envelopes
  • Ink pads and stamps
  • Magnetic letters
  • Chalk and chalkboards
  • Dry erase boards and markers

Dramatic Play

  • Inspires children’s oral language and supports vocabulary development
  • Invites children to manipulate text in diverse ways
  • Promotes creative expression
  • Themed props to encourage imagination and discovery
  • Bakery theme: recipe cards, cake boxes, cake pans, spatulas, etc.
  • Animal shelter: animal name cards, adoption certificates, veterinarian health charts, etc.
  • Post office: envelopes, mail boxes, stamps, boxes, labels, scales, etc.
  • Restaurant: menus, note pads, welcome signs, etc.
  • Writing utensils
  • Paper


  • Encourages children’s oral language fluency with mathematical and scientific concepts
  • Extends children’s vocabulary in personally relevant ways
  • Promotes mathematical literacy
  • counting,
  • Cardinality (the total number in a set),
  • Mathematical operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing)
  • Algebraic thinking,
  • Measurement,
  • Data collection, and
  • Geometry (shapes, lines, dimensions, etc.)
  • Manipulatives
  • Counting bears
  • Snap cubes
  • Blocks
  • Cars
  • Collections of “things”
  • Paper
  • Graph paper
  • Tape measures
  • Rulers
  • Writing utensils
  • Weights

Art Exploration

  • Extends children’s voices by providing opportunities for children to use multiple mediums to express themselves and represent their ideas
  • Nurtures creativity
  • Promotes higher order thinking skills, including planning, designing, experimenting, and examining
  • Develops fine motor skills and eye hand coordination for detailed work with their fingers and hands
  • Construction materials (know your learners–safety first as always)
  • Glue
  • Tape
  • String
  • Staples
  • Magnets
  • Hammer and nails
  • Scissors
  • Recyclables (boxes, cardboard tubes, cans etc.,
  • Paper all kinds, sizes, and colors
  • Natural items (boards, sticks, rocks, slates, etc.)
  • Paint
  • Clay
  • Playdough
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Pastels
  • Pencils
  • Colored pencils

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

  • Promotes inquiry-based thinking
  • Encourages children to ask questions about how their physical world works
  • Supports children’s documentation of their thinking and wonderings using words, print, pictures, drawings, diagrams, videos, etc.
  • Domain specific vocabulary
  • Scientific method (e.g. investigation, hypothesis, research, inquiry)
  • Physical science (e.g. volcano, earthquake, ocean)
  • Biology (e.g., chrysalis, hive, stem)
  • Chemistry (e.g. reaction, dissolve, combine)
  • Technology (e.g. coding, streaming, cloud)
  • Natural elements (leaves, shells, snake skins, dirt, water, ice, seeds, etc.)
  • Physical elements (ramps, marbles, wheels, magnets, pulleys, ropes, etc.)
  • STEM inquiry tools
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Graph Paper
  • Markers
  • Tape measures
  • Rulers
  • Scales
  • Science Logs
  • Measuring Cups


As the Literacy Enriched Learning Areas table demonstrates, once foundational structures are decided upon, educators can enrich the learning environment with a variety of materials to scaffold children’s literacy interactions. Classroom environments that are predictable support intangible, emotional elements that impact the nature of instructional literacy play experiences, children’s learning progressions, and educator-child interactions (Reutzel & Jones, 2013). Intentional design strategies help educators create places where children feel comfortable exploring their environment and empower children to modify learning spaces to meet their play goals and preferences.

A child plays at a sensory table while seated.
Children extend their play and build on their language with each other at the sensory table.
5.4c Print-Rich Environments

Print-rich environments promote classroom cultures that value literacy explorations. Literacy rich contexts intentionally display children’ own writings, drawings, and pictures alongside a variety of children’s books, writing materials, and engaging charts, diagrams, and signs. Print-rich environments present children with a wealth of reading and writing materials and encourage children to see that print has meaning (McGee, 2007). In print-rich environments children observe adults using printed materials in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. In turn, children are guided by educators to use printed materials for their own play purposes. Therefore, careful attention to both the placement of print and the amount of print found within the environment is important.

Images, symbols, and text designed to cue children’s interactions with text need to be strategically placed to draw children’s attention and encourage sustained engagement. Writing materials, children’s books, and other items that support children’s literacy enactments (e.g., puppet theatres, construction signs in the block center, alphabet stamps in the art center) need to be both visually and physically available so that children instinctively use classroom resources to support their learning explorations. When educators place print-rich classroom literacy materials, including signs, materials, and books, within children’s natural sight lines the literacy materials remain child-centric. This increases the likelihood that children will use the resources in personally meaningful ways. Print that is placed for intentional and functional purposes in “just right spaces” allows children to meaningfully engage and interact with the print. Conversely, print materials positioned in a space “too high” for children to visually or physically access, will not be easily incorporated by children into their play scenarios or learning experiences.

In addition to deciding where to position print-rich material, educators also need to consider the amount of print in the classroom. Classroom environments with too much print can be overwhelming and distracting to young learners. Environments that overload children’s sensory capacities may impact how children interact with peers and adults and undermine children’s literacy enactments. Ultimately, the print displayed within the classroom should be done so in an intentional manner with children’s literacy interactions in mind. For example, in a veterinarian dramatic play center thematic word and picture charts (e.g., bird, snake, dog, cat), scales for weighing animals, record forms for the children taking care of the animals, and relevant labels (e.g., water, food, check-in) support children’s literacy play experiences.

The image is of a wall with children's art mounted to it. Each piece of art is labeled with the child's name and the child's verbal statement about the art written out.
Children’s verbal statements and a photograph next to their artwork enhances the print-rich environment.

5.4c1 Critically responsive children’s books. Children’s books offer a rich foundation for children’s literacy explorations. However, the quality of literature children are immersed in matters. Emergent readers, writers, and speakers need consistent opportunities to engage in texts they find compelling. Educators can use books to spark and provoke children’s interests. Intentional literature experiences encourage children to consider multiple perspectives and allow children to vicariously experience worlds beyond their immediate classroom environment. Narrative texts (fiction texts) invite children to problem solve along with central characters, explore places beyond their own communities, and listen to lived experiences of other people. Expository texts (nonfiction or informational texts) promote children’s inquiry and encourage children to use texts as mediums for learning about how the world works and consider how people influence our communities. Educators play a critical role in determining children’s access to print and their intentional selection of compelling children’s texts is essential.

Children need to see themselves represented in the books embedded within their early learning spaces. In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop published a seminal article titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Dr. Sims Bishop explains,

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. (p. ix)

Children’s early literacy experiences offer the opportunity for children to learn about new worlds or ideas. For example, in the book, Bilal Cooks Daal, the main character, Bilal, cooks daal with his friends who have never had it or made it before (Saeed & Syed, 2019). Daal is a term used throughout India and South Asia to broadly identify a variety of spiced lentil and bean-based soups. The dish is described in the book along with the cooking process and serves as a window for children who have never heard of daal, a sliding glass door for children to walk through and experience new cultural practices (such as how daal is served in the bowl and the preparation practices), and a mirror for children who regularly eat daal with their friends and family.

Daal is frequently served with rice or flatbread like naan. So, for Prashant, Bilal Cooks Daal serves as a mirror, reflecting the familiar food items his family prepares at home. At the same time, the story offers windows and sliding glass doors for his peers and educators who may not be as familiar with Indian or South Asian cuisine. The story invites all children to vicariously experience the rhythm of cooking daal and can subsequently be used to extend the play scenarios Prashant and his friends create. Diversity rich classrooms encourage conversations and offer children opportunities to learn about people and families that are different from themselves (Baker, 1990).

NAEYC’s 2019 Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education underscores the intentional infusion of literacy opportunities that reinforce the dignity of each child, stating “children of all genders, with and without disabilities should see themselves and their families, languages and cultures regularly and meaningfully reflected in the environment and learning materials” (NAEYC, 2019, p.7). Educators must always be mindful that in selecting materials, they are exercising power to choose which windows, mirrors, and sliding doors children will be exposed to. Accordingly, it is important for educators to infuse children’s literature that show children and families of color as the central characters even if the classroom demographic appears to be predominately white. When selecting texts, educators need to “remember that the learning environment and its materials reflect what [they] do and do not value by what is presented and what is omitted” (NAEYC, 2019, p. 7). With this power comes a responsibility to use a critically responsive lens when selecting children’s texts. Diverse texts allow children to celebrate and honor cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, ability, family, and gender diversities. It also creates opportunities for educators to challenge storylines that stereotype, misrepresent, and marginalize.

Pause and Consider: Diverse Children’s Texts

Looking for Diverse Children’s Texts?

If you are currently in an early learning context, take a moment to review the children’s texts available to your young learners. Alternatively, take a moment to reflect on the diversity of children’s text you read as a child. Mentally tally how many texts included children and families of differing ethnic, economic, ability, linguistic, and regional backgrounds. Then consider, whose voices were underrepresented or not represented in the mental evaluation you conducted? Consider if generalizations, stereotyping, or misrepresentations are present. How might the texts you reviewed serve as windows, sliding glass doors, or mirrors for children?

Developing literacy opportunities and class libraries that meaningfully infuse books with children and families that bring diversities to the classroom takes planning. Fortunately, there are a number of resources educators can access to support their efforts in acquiring diversity rich texts. Take a few moments exploring some of the resource sites in Table 5.4 “Finding Exemplary Children’s Books.” Then, make a plan for enhancing children’s access to a wide variety of texts with multiple cultural, familial, and ability representations.

Table 5.4 Finding Exemplary Children’s Books

Finding Exemplary Children’s Books



Web Link

American Library Association (Coretta Scott King Award Books)

The Coretta Scott King Award recognizes African American authors and illustrators capturing the African American experience.


American Library Association (Pura Belpré Award Books)

The Pura Belpré Award is presented to a Latinx author or illustrator capturing the Latinx cultural experience.


American Library Association (Schneider Family Book Award)

The Schneider Family Book Award recognizes authors and illustrators presenting stories of the disability experience for children.


Learning for Justice

Learning for Justice is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that published guidelines to support educators’ considerations of children’s texts. The free resource guides educators to use a critical lens when selecting text for children.


The National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian online bookstore presents a selection of texts that show children contemporary experiences of Native Peoples and challenge stereotypes that continue to marginalize tribes.


National Council for the Social Studies

The National Council for the Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Book Award also honors a few children’s texts each year “that depict ethnicity in the United States” (NCSS, YEAR)


We Need Diverse Books

WNDB provides a platform for curating “literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people” (WNDB, 2020).

5.4d Assessing Early Literacy Environments

A number of program evaluations are currently used in early education contexts to guide early educators’ efforts designing classroom spaces, negotiating and nurturing relationships, and facilitating effective literacy experiences. In Chapter 6: Exploring Emergent Literacy Assessment Practices there is a more detailed discussion of early childhood education literacy assessment practices for young children. For the purposes of this chapter, three evaluation scales are considered to demonstrate how elements of classroom environments are captured in evaluation instruments and help guide program development and instructional practices in diverse early childhood contexts. The Classroom Literacy Environmental Profile (CLEP; Wolfersberger et al., 2004), the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-R; Harms et al., 2014) and the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO; Smith et al., 2008) are grounded in research that demonstrates positive correlations between the unique environmental factors itemized on the scales and children’s learning. These tools help educators understand how the physical environment and human interactions influence children’s learning. Table 5.5 below summarizes the broad categories emphasized in each assessments’ observational protocol.

Table 5.5 Classroom Literacy-Focused Assessments

Classroom Literacy-Focused Assessments

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale

(ECERS; Harms et al., 2014)

Classroom Literacy Environmental Profile

(CLEP; Wolfersberger et al., 2004)

Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation

(ELLCO; Smith, Brady, & Anastasopoulous, 2008)

Environmental Subscales

Literacy Environment Subscales

Literacy Environment Subscales

  1. Space and Furnishings
  2. Personal Care Routines
  3. Language-Reasoning
  4. Activities
  5. Interaction
  6. Program Structure
  7. Parents and Staff
  1. Identifying Literacy Tools for Use in Literacy-Rich Classroom Environments
  2. How to Use Literacy Tools or Props to Support Such an Environment
  1. Classroom Structure
  2. Curriculum
  3. Language Environment
  4. Book and Book Reading Opportunities
  5. Print and Early Writing Supports

A quick analysis of the subscale titles across each evaluation tool reflects the central role environment plays in shaping children’s literacy experiences. Across the scales some of the indicators focus on how the environment is constructed to support children’s emergent literacy while other indicators consider the literacy interactions between educators and children. For example, the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS-R) includes an indicator encouraging children to communicate in the classroom (Harms et al., 2014). An example of this indicator would be to include “materials that encourage communication throughout the room (e.g., puppet, small figures in block)” (Harms et al., 2014, p. 147). The Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Pre-K Tool includes an indicator for supporting children’s writing and gathers evidence demonstrating that educators engage children in “authentic uses of writing that are integral to their daily classroom experiences” (e.g., children make charts, dictate stories, participate in daily sign-in) (ELLCO, 2008, p. 36).

Early childhood educators will encounter diverse assessment tools across their careers. It is beneficial for educators to take time to understand the theoretical perspectives that inform the nature of the items on each assessment. It is also important for educators to consider the assessment tool can be used to enhance their work with young learners and the families they serve. Just as we use a variety of assessment tools to understand what our children know, we can use a variety of tools to analyze how we use intentional teaching practices to promote children’s learning. Collectively, the human relationships, physical spaces, and literacy routines young children experience make up the essential components promoting children’s emerging oral language, reading, and writing skills.

Figure 5.17 “Sharing a Writing Moment”

A teacher and two children sit at a table writing with crayons.
Relationships, routines, and spaces create opportunities for assessment.

Key Take-Aways

Educators’ intentional interactions with children engaged in play experiences support children’s emerging literacies (Saracho, 2004). In early childhood education contexts, play-filled experiences occur throughout the school day and are influenced by the decisions educators make when designing instructional spaces for young children. Children’s diverse background experiences also provide rich funds of prior knowledge that educators use to extend children’s literacy worlds and engage children in personally relevant play scenarios. As observed in the opening vignette, educators play an important role in guiding children’s attention toward literacy rich materials and scaffolding children’s language explorations. Early childhood educators are essential guides for children as they learn to use the power of language to speak, read, and write their own literacy journeys.


Additional Resources 

Early Childhood InclusionJoint Position Statement: National Association for Education of Young Children and Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Childrenhttps://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/ps_inclusion_dec_naeyc_ec.pdf

Literacy-Rich Environments, Reading Rockets https://www.readingrockets.org/article/literacy-rich-environments

Language and Literacy Environments in Preschool, Reading Rockets https://www.readingrockets.org/article/language-and-literacy-environments-preschools


Barker, R. G. (1968). Ecological psychology: Concepts and methods for studying the environment of human behavior. Stanford University Press.

Cambourne, B. (2002). From conditions of learning to conditions of teaching. The Reading Teacher, 55(4), 358–360. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20205062

Dinnebell, L. A., Boat, M., & Bae, Y. (2013). Integrating principles of universal design into the early childhood curriculum. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 41(1), 3–14.

Harms, T., Clifford, R. M., & Cryer, D. (2014). Early childhood environment rating scale (3rd ed.) (ECERS-3). Teachers College Press.

Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life, and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge University Press.

Kounin, J.  S., & Sherman, L. W. (1979). School environments as behavior settings. Theory Into Practice, 18(3), 145–151. http://doi.org/10.1080/00405847909542824

McGee, L. (2007). Language and literacy assessment in preschool. In J. Paratore & R. McCormack (Eds.), Classroom literacy assessment: Making sense of what students know and can do (pp. 65–84). Guilford Press.

Morrow, L. M., Burkuel, S. B., Mendelsohn, A. L., Healey, K. M., & Cates C. B. (2013). Learning through play. In D. R. Reutzel (Ed.), Handbook of research-based practice in early education (pp. 100–118). Guilford Press.

Reutzel, D. R., & Jones, C. D. (2010). Assessing and creating effective preschool literacy classroom environments. In M. C. McKenna, S. Walpole, & K. Conradi (Eds.). Promoting early reading (pp. 175–198). Guilford Press.

Reutzel, D. R., & Jones, C. D. ( 2013). Designing and managing effective early childhood classroom environments. In D. R. Reutzel (Ed.), Handbook of research-based practice in early education (pp. 81–99). Guilford Press.

Roskos, K. A., Christie, J. F., Widman, S., & Holding, A. (2010). Three decades in: Priming for meta-analysis in play-literacy research. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(1), 55–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798409357580

Roskos, K. A., & Neuman, S. B. (2002). Environment and its influences for early literacy teaching and learning. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 281–292). Guilford Press.

Roskos, K. A., & Neuman, S. B. (2011). The classroom environment: The first, last, and always. The Reading Teacher, 65, 110–114. https://doi.org/10.1002/TRTR.01021

Saracho, O. N. (2004). Supporting literacy-related play: Roles for teachers of young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 31(3), 201–206.  https://doi-org.mutex.gmu.edu/10.1023/B:ECEJ.0000012138.07501.44

Saracho, O. N., & Spodek, B. (2006). Young children’s literacy-related play. Early Child Development and Care, 176(7), 707–72.  https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430500207021

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 1(3), ix–xi.

Smith, M. W., Brady, J. P., & Anastasopoulous, L. (2008). Early language and literacy classroom observation: Pre-K tool. Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Souto-Manning, M., & Martell, J. (2016). Reading, writing, and talk: Inclusive teaching strategies for diverse learners, K-2. Teachers College Press.

Weinstein, C. S. (1979). The physical environment of the school: A review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 49(4), 577–610. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543049004577

Wolfersberger, M. E., Reutzel, D. R., Sudweeks, R., & Fawson, P. C. (2004). Developing and validating the classroom literacy environment profile (CLEP): A tool for examining the “print richness” of early childhood and elementary classrooms. Journal of Literacy Research, 36(2), 211–272. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15548430jlr3602_4

Image Credits


Figure 5.1: Leslie La Croix and Kalyca Schultz. “Ecology of the Early Childhood Literacy Classroom.” CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Figure 5.2: Leslie La Croix and Kalyca Schultz. “Constructivist Perspectives.” CC BY 2.0, derivative image using untitled image, (https://pxhere.com/en/photo/941148) by unknown author.

Figure 5.3: Leslie La Croix. “Running Record of Prashant’s Naan (1)” CC BY 2.0.

Figure 5.4 Leslie La Croix and Kalyca Schultz. “Sociocultural Perspectives.” CC-BY-NC 2.0, derivative image using “Preschool Girl and Boy,” (https://bit.ly/32F4Zgo) by Alliance for Excellent Education.

Figure 5.5: Leslie La Croix. “Running Record of Prashant’s Naan (2).” CC BY 2.0.

Figure 5.6: Leslie La Croix and Kalyca Schultz. “Ecological Perspectives.” CC BY 2.0, derivative image using 070608-F-5217S-001.JPG, (https://bit.ly/3gsZCZP) by U.S. Department of Defense.

Figure 5.7: Leslie La Croix and Kalyca Schultz. “Developmental Theories. ” CC-BY-NC 2.0, derivative image using untitled image, (https://pxhere.com/en/photo/941148) by unknown author, and “Preschool Girl and Boy,” (https://bit.ly/3sJg3U4) by Alliance for Excellent Education, and 070608-F-5217S-001.JPG, (https://bit.ly/32F4HpO) by U.S. Department of Defense.

Additional Images

Image, Section 5.2: Longwood Universtiy. [Children and Early Educators Learning Together: Building Letters With Sticks] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Image, Section 5.2 & 5.4: Lucy La Croix. [Nest] CC BY 2.0.

Image, Section 5.2b: Longwood University. [Child Tracing Stick Letters With a Paint Brush.] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Image, Section 5.3: Lucy La Croix. [Branch] CC BY 2.0.

Image, Section 5.4: Longwood University. [Light Play] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Image, Section 5.4a: Longwood University. [Large Area With Storybook] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Image, Section 5.4b: Longwood University. [Child Extending Kitchen Play With Measuring Cups and Pans] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Image, Section 5.4c: Longwood University. [Writing on the Wall: Print Rich Environment] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Image, Section 5.4d: Longwood University. [Sharing a Writing Moment] CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Early Childhood Literacy: Engaging and Empowering Emergent Readers and Writers, Birth - Age 5 Copyright © 2021 by Christine Pegorraro Schull; Leslie La Croix; Sara E. Miller; Kimberly Sanders Austin; and Julie K. Kidd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book