This study of the influence of social context on children's learning investigated the functions of literacy-based verbal exchanges of 37 preschoolers in a print-enriched play environment. Play settings in two preschool classrooms were enriched with print materials and literacy-related props. Four play settings were created: post office, library, office, and kitchen. Literacy props, such as stamps and recipe cards, were added to the play settings on the basis of appropriateness, authenticity, and utility. Children's play behavior was recorded by means of extensive observations over a 2-month period. A total of 67 literacy-related conversational episodes were isolated and analyzed. The three types of discourse about literacy identified were those used for: (1) designating the names of literacy-related objects, pictures, or texts; (2) negotiating meaning related to literacy topics or routines, such as mailing a letter; and (3) coaching another child in some literacy task, such as spelling words or forming letters, in order to achieve a goal in play. It is concluded that provision of literacy tools and authentic literacy contexts in play inducts children into the culture of literacy, where they may ultimately adopt the discourse patterns, ways of knowing, and cultural practices of the literate community. A total of 42 references are cited.
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