The Importance of Play and Speech and Language Development

Play is a powerful way for children to learn speech, language and communication skills. Play is essentially a child’s occupation. It is how they make sense of their world. Whether play is purposeful and self-directed, or free and unstructured, it is a dynamic and lifelong process. Play is the way children learn new skills and language is one of the most important skills that children learn while they play. I have outlined below how children learn speech and language skills through play.

Here are the 5 ways children learn speech and language skills during play:

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1. Children WATCH.

Starting as an baby, your child watches your mouth as you talk. Your child will watch your body language and facial expressions when you speak, communicate, and interact with others. All of this information — the movements of speech, facial expressions and body language will be saved and stored by your baby so that they can later use them in life.

 

2. Children LISTEN.

While your child is watching you, he or she is also listening. Listening begins even earlier than watching. Children listen to the variety of sounds we make, how we combine these sounds into words, and then into phrases or sentences. The more opportunity your child has to hear different words and types of words, the more words he or she will be able to access when they begin to imitate.

 

3. Children EXPLORE.

Watching and listening are key components of language development but play becomes especially important during the exploration phase. During playtime, children explore and manipulate things around them. The exploration phase happens throughout childhood. Parents play a key role in providing opportunities for their child to explore. As your child explores different activities such as playing with rice or water, they are learning new words such as pouring, wet, cold and colours.

 

4. Children IMITATE.

As your child watches and listens, he or she begins to imitate your actions and the sounds he or she hears around them. Early on, your child begins to mimic gestures such as clapping and waving. This is a foundation skill that children require before they can imitate speech and language to speech and indicates an understanding of communication. Speech imitation starts with the coos that you can hear in your child’s first few months. Then, it progresses to babbling and later to real words. The time you spend in play with your child, narrating your actions and their actions, creates genuine language learning opportunities for your child.

 

5. Children CREATE and FORMULATE.

The skills your child has been working on and building — watching, listening, exploring/ playing, and imitating — eventually come together. This combination allows your child to create and formulate his or her own words, sentences, and thoughts.

Next, your child begins to use language to express their wants and needs, share information, engage with peers, and ask questions. They create and formulate new ideas and sentences, using language to share and communicate.

 

Through play, your child will go through all of these stages and will learn new sounds, words and sentences. They will combine these sentences to engage in conversations with others. By providing opportunities for your child to engage in play activities, you are developing your child’s speech, language, communication and social skills.


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