Children use words to express themselves while playing. They discover new things through playful activities and start interacting with the world around them. One of the things that children learn through play is language.

How do I help my child’s language development through play?

As children mature, they acquire new skills. Their method of play also varies and becomes more complex and diverse. From playing with rattles when they were babies to role-playing activities during preschool years, these activities play an important part in your children’s lives. Most of the time, they want their parents or other caregivers to join them in these activities. It is encouraged that you take part in these bonding activities, as you will also be instrumental in helping them enhance and expand their linguistic abilities.

Observe and follow. Children’s level of interest can often determine their engagement in any activity. It is therefore important to observe and follow their lead. Note where their interest lies and try to create play activities that will hold their interest. The more engaged they are in an activity, the greater the opportunity there will be for language acquisition.

Practise taking turns. Turn-taking is an important social skill that your children will need to develop as they grow. This promotes better communication with others and might serve as a bridge towards building friendships. You can help establish a turn-taking routine by providing brief pauses after each turn during play activities. You can also try out storytelling activities where each of you takes turns reading. Other techniques that encourage turn-taking include using facial or body expressions (e.g. nodding your head when it’s their turn, making eye contact while waiting, or touching the top of their hands to indicate that it is not yet their turn) or by asking questions (e.g. Is it Daddy’s turn? Is it Amelia’s turn?). Practising taking turns will also help improve their patience, instil discipline, and let them learn how to initiate moves with confidence.

Be a role model. Playtime is an excellent opportunity for your children to attach meaning to words and build vocabulary. By modelling language, you expose your children to new words, correct grammar, and proper pronunciation. You can help expand their vocabulary by: 

  • Making a comment on what you or your child is doing e.g. “That is a lovely drawing!”
  • Making use of repetition or rhymes e.g. “Row, row, row your boat…” or “I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!”
  • Introducing synonyms and antonyms e.g. Big and Large or Before and After
  • Adding a word to your child’s phrases e.g. “Mum, look at that whale!” “Yes, that is an enormous whale!”
  • Modelling correct sentence structure e.g. “I see Aunt Grace yesterday” “Oh, you saw Aunt Grace yesterday?”

Sing Songs. Singing songs is a fun and interactive way to develop linguistic, listening and motor skills. Aside from exercising turn-taking skills and being exposed to repetition of words and phrases, singing can also help children in enunciating words. You can incorporate language learning by singing the usual songs appropriate for their age or by putting a melody to the things you and your child are doing. For example, you can demonstrate what you are doing by singing “Block by block, we’re building a dock, building a dock …” while playing with building blocks. 

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Allow opportunities for repetition as this helps children to master skills in different areas of development. It may seem boring or unproductive to adults to repeat the same activity, but for children, doing an activity over and over again will help them refine and stabilise their skills. It is particularly important to encourage repeating routines, actions, and words, especially those they enjoy as this contributes to vocabulary building and expressive language. Repeatedly singing the same songs, for instance, is also good for memory retention, teaching new concepts and improving sentence structure.

Read books together. Reading opens up a whole world of learning and improves speech, language and memory skills. By exposing your children to a variety of books, you can check which ones capture their interest more and let this guide you in procuring books that hold their attention. You can start with simple books, perhaps ones with short texts and pictures, and then progress to more challenging ones as your children’s reading skills improve. 

Language is a valuable tool that we should arm children with. As such, it should be continually improved so they can better communicate with others as they progress from playtime activities to more diverse learning concepts and situations. As caretakers of these young minds, adults have the responsibility to nourish and nurture them in every way possible, including learning through a variety of fun and entertaining methods.