Children's Literacy Development

Play with Disney Princess Dolls

Karen Wohlwend

  • Assistant professor in literacy culture and language at Indiana University in Bloomington.
  • Recipient of the Prestigious International Reading Association Outstanding Dissertation Award for the work she discovered.
  • Kindergarten teacher for many years


  • Included observing kindergarten girls playing with Disney princess dolls.
  • Examined how the play is related to children's identity and understanding of early literacy with particular development and characterization.
  • Wondered: What kind of play do children use in school and what does it do for their literacy?
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What she found

  • Direct instruction was replacing play in some classrooms, advancing the kindergarten classroom to the first grade classroom a year early.
  • Play is an important way for students to make sense of the world.
  • Students can work problems out through play.
  • Toys are packed with literacy stories and credential and can be a useful cultural resource.

For the classroom

  • Allow students to bring popular media toys into the classroom- Enriches the curriculum.
  • Using their toy, have students write or rewrite their own story to have a chance to be expressive in writing.
  • Bringing toys can open up a discussion about cultural stereotypes and bring rich diversity literacy to the classroom.

Principal and Policy Makers:

  • Give teachers resources and permission to be professional decision makers in their classroom and their decision on whether or not to bring toys to school.
  • Ask yourself if the discrete "one kind", one test is serving students or if something else would work better for children.
  • Allow your teachers to be innovative and creative.


  • Are children's allies.
  • Supply children's toy boxes
  • Should continue to buy children toys that could expand student learning and encourage their children to play.
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Other information

  • Play is an important aspect that we need in early grades.
  • There are several lessons that can come from children's play.
  • Children can develop many skills from playing- social skills, language skills, physical skills, and cognitive concepts.
  • Play helps the brain focus- unstructured break with free play.