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The Power of Play!

Article Written By: Sarah Mohamed, Communication Disorders Student and Candidate

Play is one of the first ways language is introduced to your child. It’s the most important way children learn about the world. Being a part of the play means you are actively playing with your child. Allowing your child to choose what they want to play allows them to be engaged for a longer period of time.


When you are a part of the play, your child has:

❖ Better attention

❖ Better eye contact

❖ Ability to add language

❖ Longer interaction

❖ Opportunities to take turns


Ways to be a part of your child’s play:

❖ Get a toy similar to your child's - Joining in with your child can be easier (eg; your own car, doll, farm animal)

❖ Get down to your child’s level and make eye contact

❖ Join in the play by taking turns - Take turns building a tower (constructive play), take turns dressing a doll (pretend play).

❖ Narrate what is happening during play

❖ Make funny/fun sounds - Such as “beep,beep”, “ohh no”, “boom” etc.

❖ Imitate the actions of your child - For example, when your child makes a doll go down a slide, imitate his/her actions while commenting on the action and say “doll goes down, wee”.

❖ HAVE FUN and bring your ‘inner child’ out during play!


Different Forms of Play and How it support language development:


1. Pretend Play- Pretend play also known as role play involves make believe and allows children the opportunity to be someone else in their lives. Pretend play is an imperative part of developing oral language. Psychologist Jerome Bruner found that “the most complicated grammatical and pragmatic forms of language appear first in play activity.” Children learn emergent literacy skills during pretend play. For example, during pretend doll play, children learn that when a baby is hungry you have to feed the baby with a bottle and that after a while the baby needs a diaper change because of the bottle they fed the baby. The aspects of fun and meaning within pretend play provides motivation of learning new concepts and words to enrich their language development.

Encourage Pretend Play:

❖ Observe your child’s interests - if your child is gravitating towards a particular toy such as a car, you also pick up a car. The child will be motivated to play with a toy he/she enjoys and this makes it easier for you to join in.

❖ Make sure to be face to face - face your child and come down to their level. Your child will be able to observe actions and gestures easier and can be better connected with you.

❖ Imitate your child’s pretend play - observe your child’s actions, gestures and

vocalizations and then imitate them. This can motivate your child to do pretend play and it can eventually be a great opportunity to introduce a new action to add into the pretend play.

❖ Keep it simple - introducing new pretend play ideas all at once can be overwhelming, keeping it simple and using repetition is helpful with practice.


Examples of Pretend Play Activities & Toys

❖ Toy Store Pretend Play

❖ I’m a Doctor Pretend Play

❖ Tea Party Pretend Play

❖ Ice Cream Shop Pretend Play

❖ Dollhouse Pretend Play


2. Constructive play - Involves constructing something with a plan in mind such as building a tower from blocks.


Encourage Constructive Play:

❖ Having the right materials - LEGO, wooden building blocks, sand, tools, natural materials

❖ Model play - you can get children involved during play by showing how to play with them, a lot of the time when parents say their child is uninterested in a toy it can be because the child does not know how to use the toy or the different ways to use them

❖ Deconstructing their creation - that's the fun part for many children! Children seeing their built towers fall down is fun and satisfying. However for some children its a learning curve, it's important to prepare them for the temporary nature of their creation and that is what makes it fun and creative.

❖ The mix of imaginative play - As children get older, children begin to mix the fantastical element to their constructive play, the important thing to remember is to not hinder your child’s play by restricting the type of play, allow them to explore their imagination when building and creating.

❖ You can tie language to constructive play by adding language to each step of their process of making/building their activity/toy. For example if a child built a lego slide and you observe the child using a lego boy/girl to go down the slide, comment on the action ‘boy goes down’ and use repetition.

❖ Use simple language and repeat the phrase as you are repeating the phrase pause to observe if the child will continue to complete the phrase.

❖ Avoid asking questions such as “what are you building?’ “Is this a tower?” instead

comment on what you see “Wow you are building something, looks like a tower”.



Examples of Constructive Play Activities & Toys

❖ Building a toy train

❖ Sewing/knitting

❖ Building sandcastles

❖ Using playdough

❖ LEGOs

❖ Woodworking

❖ Box Construction


3. Functional play - Involves exploring toys and objects by banging, shaking, pulling and similar actions. It includes physical play such as throwing, running and jumping.

You can target many language goals during functional play.


Encourage Functional Play:

❖ Engage in toys that are of interest and join in the child’s play

❖ Modeling how to play the toy/activity

❖ Encourage your child to imitate his/her peers, yourself etc.

❖ Many children are highly motivated by cars and trains. One way to incorporate language into this play would be to use simple language to expand a child's verbal outputs. For example if a child says “go” you can expand their language by adding 1-2 words “go train”

❖ Using the example of cars, you can target another goal such as turn taking by passing the car back and forth and comment when turns are being taken and use verbal and physical gestures.

❖ During lego play for example, narrate as your child is building. You can label the shapes and colours and attach a verb phrase such as blue block on top and make sure to repeat as repetition supports language acquisition in children’s language development.

❖ Following directions - in a lego activity you can support your child’s ability to follow directions by first getting on their level, being face to face, giving the direction and waiting. If the child is not receptive, repeat the direction with a gesture or physical cue and wait. Lastly, if the child is still not receptive, use hand over hand support to allow the child to follow through your request.


Examples of Functional Play Activities/Toys

❖ Cars/Trains

❖ Books

❖ Magnetic Tiles

❖ LEGO creative play

❖ Dolls

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