Pre-school children’s engagement with activities in child-initiated play is taken to be an important mediating factor in their learning. The adult’s role in supporting and enhancing children’s play is an area of significant study. However, how children play when play is child-initiated, and how this maps to our assumptions and expectations about the potential of opportunities on offer, is less well understood. This study reports findings of detailed observation of young children’s engagement in literacy provision during child-initiated play. The study showed that, despite rich provision, engagement was extremely limited. Equally significant are the findings from a functional analysis (Halliday, 1973) of the children’s language-use during child-initiated play, which showed that the children made almost no use of Mathetic language - the language Halliday argues is necessary for learning, most notably the linguistic demands of formal schooling. These findings contribute to the nascent understanding of children’s access to playful learning opportunities that are provided for them in pre-school settings. These initial findings are stark and thus warrant further study.