Lauren Leisk, owner of Educational Toys Expert writes on the benefits of play in the development of speech and language.
November 2017

Learning Through Play

Play is often referred to as ‘the work of children’, and rightly so. Play is not something children do to pass the time but instead a way that they learn about the world around them and develop the skills needed for growth and future learning. It is through play that children learn how to interact appropriately with others and their environment. It is through play that children learn to communicate.

No activity, no toy, is really limited to one area of a child’s development. All areas of development are interrelated. By providing activities that stimulate our child’s cognitive, social-emotional, gross motor and fine motor skills we are also developing their language.

Speech Develops Through Imitation

We are all aware that children love to imitate. This is how they learn. We often see a child do something and giggle as they remind us of ourselves, dad or maybe even grandma. Speech is no different.

A child will often be heard mimicking word for word a phrase used by an adult. By observing our mouth as we interact with them during play our children are learning how speech works. As they watch our facial expressions they may imitate our mouth movements, strengthening oral muscle tone and developing movement and sound for speech. By watching our facial expressions, they are learning to understand our mood and social cues, enabling them to form important social understanding that relates to the development of speech. They learn what body language means and how to react appropriately.

Language Develops Through Repetition

Children listen. Listening starts from the day they are born, if not earlier. This can be seen as they begin to interact with us during our early conversation with them. As we engage eye contact and speak to them we are setting in concrete the early foundations for speech. Our interaction and speech soon leads to imitation that produces a smile, coo’s and baby babble. This soon develops into first words, sentences and conversations.

Facilitate Communication Through Toys

As parents we underestimate that first toy or rattle. We see it as a piece of amusement to keep a child happy, but it is far more. By exploring and manipulating toys and objects in their environment, be it during alone play or interaction with peers, siblings and adults, children are learning important information that they piece together to develop their language. By providing a variety of play items, not limiting them to gender specific toys, and interacting with our children we are creating experiences that encourage, promote and develop language within our child.

Best Toys to Support Speech Development

Age 0-1: Fisher-Price Light-Up Lion Stacker

With its flashing lights and music the Fisher-Price Light-Up Lion Stacker keeps your child’s gaze as they reach out to grasp the colored rings, holding it, shaking it and exploring the sounds and textures it offers. Your child smiles and vocalizes with excitement. The two of you are engaged not only in the toy but in one another. You respond to your child’s responses and your child responds to you accordingly. They are watching you, reacting, listening and imitating. As you label colors, sound, textures and verbalize descriptions of your play the child soaks in your every word, watching and listening contently. This one toy has opened up a whole new world. It provides an outlet of creative freedom, providing a non-threatening environment of parent-child interaction and positive learning.

Age 1-2: Mr Potato Head

The classic Mr Potato Head by Playskool is a toy many adults struggle to see any reason behind, is not as silly or useless as he seems. As your child places the body parts together he is developing language that enables him to label his own body parts, promoting self-awareness. The dexterity and fine motor skills also offered by this toy develops hand-eye co-ordination and self-confidence as they learn to attach the pieces. Fun and learning can be had with both child and parent as you play and test their associations of where certain body parts are supposed to go.

Age 1-3: Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Piggy Bank

For hours of engagement, the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Piggy Bank is an enduring favorite among toddlers. Exploring varied levels of learning through two staged development settings, it aims to help children learn to count in two languages (English and Spanish or English and French), as the big colorful coins are dropped into the top, and taken out through the side door. Pressing the cute piggy’s nose yields funny sounds and phrases such as “that’s my nose!” and baby can sing along to the musical tunes it plays.

Age 3-5: Shopping List Game by Orchard Toys

An award winning game that encourages communication with family members and friends is the Shopping List Game by Orchard Toys. The game encourages observational and memory skills, develops personal and social skills, educates kids about healthy nutrition and helps social skills by developing interpersonal bonds. As players have to match items from their shopping lists and pop them their trollies, opportunities are made for discussions about each item; what it is, what you eat it with, what plant or animal it comes from and how nutritious it is.

Age 4-13: Smart Talk by Educational Insights

This sophisticated electronic device assists kids learning new languages and those with special needs or limited vocabularies. The Educational Insights Smart Talk learning toy assists with word pronunciation, word contexts, conversational phrases and language patterns through audio, visual pictures and repetition activities.

Closing Note on the Value of Play

The value of play is often underestimated. Play is repetitive, stimulating and fulfilling. The dolls house and those action figures promote imagination, stimulating the thought processes, helping make sense of earlier observation and providing an outlet for descriptive speech and open ended questioning. As parents we should never feel too silly to play with our child as all play is an important form of interaction coherent to the development of our child. That puzzle piece you put in the wrong place has opened up language opportunities along with problem solving skills. It has created interaction and memories that your child will use in a positive way to develop further skills.

As we develop into adults and life gets in the way play looses it’s importance. It is through our interaction with a child that we are once again given the opportunity to connect with the joy of play. Play provides us with an opportunity to relax and reconnect with the wonders of the world around us. This is exactly what our children are doing. Play is beautiful, fulfilling, addictive, stimulating and the window to a world of exploration, learning and discovery.

Written by Lauren Leisk, owner of Educational Toys Expert

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