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Play is A Lot More Than Fun and Games

By Shari Harpaz, MS, CCC-SLP


Play has a very strong influence on a child’s language development. It is the precursor to language when children are very young. And as play skills become more creative the language that they use becomes more complex.


At first you’ll notice that a child plays quietly and primarily focuses on exploring how a toy works. As their pretend play skills emerge, they will begin to comment on what they see and/or what they are doing. And then, when they start playing with other children the language they use becomes more social and conversational and as their social skills develop they may use more complex language to negotiate during cooperative play and/or to explore new scenarios.


Below are some of the key stages of play and the language that coincides with them.


Birth – 1 year:

In this first year, a child focuses on exploring objects using their sense of touch with their hands and mouthing of objects. They learn about object permanence (a hidden object still exists), means-end behavior, and cause-and-effect. They will begin to babble but there is no use of ‘real words’ at this age.

Two great baby toys that help to develop these skills are the Stacking Toy and Ball game and the Peek-a-boo Love you Book.


Peek a Boo Love
You Book
Stack Flap n Tumble See all newborn toys »



1 year – 2 years:

This is a dramatic year in terms of play and language skills development. A child will demonstrate autosymbolic play (i.e. acting out familiar activities, such as drinking from a cup or eating with a spoon) and use single words to label objects/actions within the context of what they are doing. They progress to symbolic play (i.e. using dolls to perform the actions on) at which time you will notice a burst in their language. Their expressive vocabulary will increase and they will begin to combine 2 words.


Three toddler toys that encourage this type of play are the The Super Shapes Dump Truck, Touch and Feel ABC Letters, and Teddy Bears Schoolhouse.


Super Shapes
Dump Truck
Sunny Day
See all 1-Year-Old toys »



2 years – 3 years:


Your child will engage in parallel play near their peers. They act out less frequently occurring events (i.e. going on a trip). These events trigger questions and you will notice that your child will begin answering these questions… what, why, when and how.


The Wooden Cash Register, the Lift off Rocket and My First Purse are all great 2 year old toys which serves as props for these more complex pretend play events.


Cash Register
My First Purse See all 2-Year-Old toys »



3 years – 4 years:


Your child will engage in associative play in which they include their peers. These new joint activities require language that helps them explain their ideas, predict what will happen next, engage in dialogue, and describe what’s happening using a broader range of adjectives.


Theatre Stage with Puppets, Dino Adventure, and a Day at the Zoo are all good 3 year old toys that really help expand the imagination of children.


Goodnight Moon
See all 3-Year-Old toys »



4 years – 5 years:


Cooperative play with peers and role-playing will continue to develop with children of this age. Their use of complex sentences will evolve with it. Your child will begin to use conjunctions (and, but, or) and relational terms (first, then etc.) and they will learn to use language to negotiate with their peers.


My First Chemistry Set, Fizzy Foamy Science and Make your own Cards are all great 4 year old toys that will peak your child’s interest.


Make Your Own
Fizzy Foamy
Science Kit
See all 4-Year-Old toys »



To your child play is all about fun, but it’s also how they learn and grow in the early years. Encourage their exploration of new toys and their imaginations. The language that emerges will amaze you.

If you liked this article, you may also want to read our other developmental articles:


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