In an era of iPads and high-tech toys being the primary source for entertainment for both adults and children alike, the art of play can often get lost. Play is crucial towards language development in children. Even when children play silently, they are soaking up information like a sponge. Children watch, listen and explore the world around them to learn and all of these contribute to obtaining important communication and language skills.
Starting from infancy, babies watch and observe mouth movements as you talk and facial expressions to begin to correlate expressions with moods and feelings. Even mouthing objects has been shown to be a mechanism of exploration and vocalization (Iverson, 2010). Further on, they learn to imitate our actions and sounds as well. Children are even listening to us before they are even born! They can hear their mother’s speech and are able to discern sounds and speech patterns typical to their mother’s native language!
All of these factors, and more, play (no pun intended) into how our children use their skills to learn about the world around them. They incorporate all that they have watched, heard and imitated to create purposeful language. None of this is best bolstered at home than through play.
Not all play is created equal, however. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 90% of play in preschool aged children in the US involves a toy (Trawick-Smith, 2018). They have been tracking how toys can impact children’s behaviour and what influences they have on thinking, interaction with peers and creative expression. Do all toys serve more or less the same function or is there a real difference? What they found after studying groups of children and sampling different types of toys were that the more basic the toys were, the higher they scored on the measures listed earlier. These toys are often referred to as Open Ended Toys.
This means that the children should be doing more of the playing than the toy does. Often times this means disconnecting from the internet and no batteries. Some examples would be toy cars, wooden blocks and pretend play sets! Being present and in the moment with kids to present them with new vocabulary and circumstances to encounter. These activities can help boost language skills by introducing more vocabulary and novel concepts that they might not normally encounter!
Iverson, J. M. (2010). Developing language in a developing body: The relationship between motor development and language development. Journal of Child Language, 37(2), 229- 261. doi:10.1017/s0305000909990432
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/specific-toys-play