Language Development and Playtime

By Deanna Kelly

Language Development and Playtime

“Play has been called, “the work of children” because it is through play that children learn how to interact in their environment, discover their interests, and acquire cognitive, motor, speech, language, and social-emotional skills.” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2007)

Children observe, listen, imitate, and investigate while playing; they also formulate/make use of language with intention during play. It’s important that you engage your child during playtime by doing things they find interesting. Follow your child’s lead, because the more interested they are in the activity the more opportunity for acquisition of language.

Playtime is a great way to practice your child’s turn-taking skills as well. With infants you can coo and smile then wait for a cooing response back, with toddlers or pre-school aged children, you can take turns using certain toys, and with older children you can incorporate more structured games or board games to facilitate turn taking skills. Playing games can be taken one step further to incorporate asking questions, use of body language, and facial expression, which will only increase your child’s exposure to all aspects of language.

Playtime offers a unique opportunity to correct and expand your child’s language. During play you act as a model for correct grammar and can increase your child’s vocabulary, while giving them a context for the words they are learning. Playtime is the perfect occasion to teach your child the give and take of conversation by offering commentary to what they say or do, as well as expanding upon their words or phrases.

Here are some examples of how to expand language:

Child: “truck”                                      Adult: “Yes, a small truck”

Child: “truck”                                      Adult: “Go truck, Go!”

Child: “He wented fast”                   Adult: “Yes, it went fast”

Child: “That’s a big truck!”              Adult: Ýes, that’s a huge truck!”

Singing songs and reading books are great interactive ways to help your child learn language. Songs are great for memory, and if you incorporate movements or signs, you also strengthen your child’s motor skills. You can sing songs at bath time, while cleaning up after play, or while getting your child ready for school. There are plenty of times throughout the day when you can incorporate a fun or educational song.

Reading books is a great time to teach your child how to infer while reading, by asking who, what, when, where, and why questions about the text. Another idea is to use the pictures in books to inspire your child to tell you a sentence or short story based on what they see.

Singing the same songs and reading the same books help your child to master certain vocabulary words, showcase their expressive language skills, and begin to understand sequencing of stories, and sentence structure; so start singing and reading!

Playtime is when children learn about the world and how they fit into it. It’s a time for them to test boundaries and create, to discover what does and does not work, as well as what acceptable behavior is. It’s when children experiment with the language and social skills they are learning, making it the ideal time for parents to reinforce specific behaviors and assist in the language development of their children.