Using play to develop language


  • Helping a child develop their play skills promotes language development. Why is this? Not just because we are talking to the child while playing, although that helps, but because we can develop their understanding of symbols through play. Why is this important? Because the ultimate symbol is a word.

  • Consider the word ‘car’. The word ‘car’ doesn’t have any meaning to us … until we know that it represents an object that has 4 wheels, which we can drive, and which takes us places. When we know what it represents and others know that too, then we can use the word as a shorthand, we don’t need to keep describing it all the time.

  • As children develop language, they start to learn what each word represents. To do this, they have to be able to understand that a word can be in the place of an object. This is learned through play.

  • Girl with dolly


    Typical stages of play

    Top Tips for developing representational play

    a) Give babies and toddlers the opportunity to explore a range of resources and to have fun! 

    b) Encourage boys and girls to play with large dolls and teddies. A large Peppa Pig is often a favourite. When they have their snack, Peppa can have a snack too! 

    c) Introduce ‘Small World’ toys and demonstrate how to play with them. Play alongside your child, modelling play and language. If your child piles all the toys up and doesn’t appear to understand, continue to support development of large doll play. 

    d) Help develop imagination through play by providing a range of dressing up clothes and boxes. These don’t have to be anything fancy!

    dressed up child playing under bed

    Web links

    Check out these pages to find lots more information and great ideas.

  • The Land of Make Believe – The Hanen Centre
  • Symbolic Play – Imagination Comes to Life
  • The Fundamental Building Blocks of Speech and Language
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    Last modified: Friday, 15 May 2020, 2:23 PM