The relationship between play and language.

The development of language is closely linked to the development of play. Play allows children to learn new skills and reinforce old skills and is vital to the development of speech, language, numeracy and social skills.

Exploratory play

At first a child plays by exploring –she mouths objects, handles objects and observes other people. Through exploratory play the child learns that different objects have different uses and characteristics. This allows the child to build up an internal concept of objects based on what you can and can’t do with it, what it is made of and what it is associated with. This information provides a framework to which the name of the object can be added when the child starts talking. Without this framework, the child has nothing to ‘hook’ the word onto when he learns new vocabulary.

How to encourage exploratory play

As well as toys, allow your child access to real everyday objects to explore. Observe him playing with them and show him how to use them. By the age of 9 months most children know what everyday objects are for, e.g. hairbrush, cup, spoon, hat etc.

Imaginative play

Imaginative play includes playing with large dollies and teddies, playing with miniatures (dolls house, tea set etc), understanding pictures and engaging in pretend play (e.g. dressing up). Around 15 months of age a child will act out everyday events with large dollies and teddies e.g. feeding teddy, putting dolly to bed etc. By 18 months of age a child can usually recognise and play with miniature toys and is able to understand picture material. As the child develops imaginary play skills she is learning to understand increasingly abstract symbols. Words are the most abstract form of symbols; a set of sounds used to represent an object. Imaginary play skills show that a child knows that one object or picture can symbolise another, just as a word represents an object.

How to encourage imaginative play

  • Involve a dolly or teddy and appropriate objects in everyday situations so that when your child is being fed, she can feed dolly or when your child’s brushing her teeth, she can brush teddy’s teeth too
  • To help a child to understand miniatures, play with the real object and then show him the miniature version of the object
  • To help a child understand pictures, show her real objects and then show her pictures tof the objects and encourage her to match the pictures and objects
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