Young children's discourse strategies during pretend block play: A socio-cultural approach

Lynn Ellen Cohen, Fordham University


This study examined preschool children's communication strategies and the ways children appropriate meaning in block play. There is an increasing emphasis in early childhood on developing academic skills. This accountability lacks an understanding that block play promotes oral language and later learning of symbols such as letters, words, and numbers as children get older. In this study, the observed frequency of communication strategies and levels of symbolism used in 3 different naturally emerging social relationships, (a) individuals, (b) dyads, and (c) groups of 3 or more children in a culturally diverse preschool program was investigated. Nineteen children participated in the study, 10 boys and 9 girls. The average age at the time of the investigation was 5.2 years. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected and analyzed. Individuals, dyads, and small groups were videotaped in a naturalistic classroom environment. Transcribed videotapes of block play were analyzed for episodes of pretend play. A play episode was the unit of analysis for this research. At the end of each block play session, a digital photograph was taken and children described and labeled completed buildings. Symbolism was quantified using an appropriation scale to code levels of symbolism. Combined data from transcribed videotapes, audiotapes, observation notes, digital photographs, and child reflections were used to designate a numerical value for symbolism and appropriation of block structures. Results indicated there were significant differences in the communication strategies of 5-year-old children engaged in block play without regard to social groupings. Significant differences were also found in the communication strategies with regard to social groupings. Of the 3 groupings, communication was observed least frequently by children in the individual group. With regard to symbolism, there were no significant differences for a level of symbolism in naturally emerging social groupings. Qualitative results report children use real-world and imaginary appropriations in block play. This study suggests 5-year-old children use communication strategies and appropriate shared meaning in block play.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Linguistics|Communication

Recommended Citation

Cohen, Lynn Ellen, "Young children's discourse strategies during pretend block play: A socio-cultural approach" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3208578.