How to play with your child and support their language skills.
Play has been shown to increase decision-making, social behavior, imagination, language development, contextual memory (ability to remember emotional and social aspects of an event), and much more.
Here are some ideas to try when playing with your child:
Do you ever wonder what types of toys to buy for your child to increase your child’s language?
When deciding which toy to buy for your child, think to yourself “can this toy be something or do something.” If your answer is yes then great! You have then chosen a symbolic play toy, which is very important for your child as they are developing language.
Other important factors when selecting a toy is the ability to name the toy. For example blocks versus Start Up Circuits. It is also important that toys are visually more simplistic such as Play-Doh versus digital toys.
Studies have shown that when toys are more simplistic, parents use more specific vocabulary, which provides more exposure to a variety of words. Some examples of great toys to purchase would be farm sets, doll houses, dump trucks, cars, foam blocks, Play-Doh, Mr. Potato Head, and trains.
Symbolic play versus functional play
Functional play is using a toy for its purpose, such as stacking rings. Symbolic play is using a toy to represent another object, action or idea such as use of a block for a slide. When comparing the two types of play, symbolic play results in “joint attention occurring more often and for longer periods of time as well as increased use of symbolic gestures” (O’Neil et al. 2016).
Joint attention occurs when two people are attending to the same object or event which is crucial for social and language development. Joint attention is an important component for bonding between two people, focusing during a game/activity, requesting items/objects, and engaging in pretend play with friends. Symbolic gestures are movements that represent an object or action, such as using your fingers to represent a phone during play. These gestures are important to use and understand while interacting with another person as well as when making requests, and commenting on things that you see in the environment.
Any type of play is important for language development whether it be functional play or symbolic play BUT one must continue to promote using their imagination during play by continuing to use hands as binoculars and a brush as a phone or a microphone.
I’m supposed to model language during play but what am I supposed to say?
When talking to your child about what is happening during play try to increase the use of nouns versus pronouns you are using. For example, when playing with a farm set try saying, “The dog is barking” versus “It’s barking.” This allows more exposure to a variety of words and encourages the development of sentence structures. So, when playing with your child, try to talk about the toys that you and your child are playing with as well as provide the name of the item/object.
O’Neill, D. K., Deglint, T. J., McKinnon, A. M., Nyhout, A., & Scott, J. (2019). Busy toy designs reduce specificity of mothers’ references to toy parts during toy play with their toddlers. Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.
Quinn, S., & Kidd, E. (2018). Symbolic play promotes non-verbal communicative exchange in infant-caregiver dyads. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 10.1111/bjdp.12251.
Hadley, P.A., Rispoli, M., Holt, J.K. (2017). Input Subject Diversity Accelerates the Growth of Tense and Agreement: Indirect Benefits From a Parent-Implemented Intervention. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi: 10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-17-0008
Hadley, P.A., Rispoli, M., Holt, J.K., Papastratakos, T., Hsu, N., Kubalanza, M., McKenna, M.M. (2017). Input Subject Diversity Enhances Early Grammatical Growth: Evidence from a Parent-Implemented Intervention. Language Learning and Development. doi: 10.1080/15475441.2016.1193020.