Where the Magic Begins: The Nexus of Commercially-Given Narratives, Pretend Play, and Literacy Learning
While research has suggested that pretend play can give children invaluable experience in such literary practices as story ideation, creation, and renegotiation, character development, and reading and writing rehearsal, it has yet to investigate the effects of omnipresent and commercially-given preschool media narratives on that potential. Some researchers argue that the integration of commercially-given narratives, pretend play, and literacy learning objectives is natural and rich with potential. Alternatively, critics who are skeptical of this integration argue that children lose narrative agency when commercial narratives take over, that young children are not capable of working through these often fantastical narratives in a meaningful way, and that these narratives are unforgivably problematic in message. This review analyzes and synthesizes relevant literature to address whether the commercially-given narratives which commonly infiltrate pretend play spaces in academic learning environments compromise the innate ability of those environments to cultivate literacy learning for learners ages three through five. This question is assessed from a dual perspective: 1.) the effects that those narratives have on learners’ confidence and motivation to engage in literacy practices and 2.) the effects that they have on the formation of the ‘hard,’ assessable literacy skills that pretend play has been theorized to cultivate. Ultimately, this review defends the conclusion that commercially-given narratives are not necessarily obstruent to literacy learning in pretend play and, when integrated purposefully, respectfully, and knowledgeably into these spaces, can imbue students with a healthy sense of confidence and belonging in literacy learning environments while helping them to develop lifelong literacy skills. Suggestions for practice are subsequently outlined to support teachers who hope to capitalize upon this potential.