The Importance of Play in Language Development.

Receptive and Expressive  language development.

Receptive language is what we hear and understand.

When children are brought into this world they are bombarded with noise.  As they develop they learn to filter out the “noise” from language.   The noise of the washing machine gets filtered out as the voice of a parent is focused on.  The loud noises in the kitchen from washing dishes are filtered out as the voice of a sibling is focused.  This language, the language they hear from spoken words, is called receptive language.  This is how our babies learn language.  Jill gets excited and waves her arms around when you ask if she wants a bottle.   Declan smiles when he hears a familiar voice. They are showing you they are learning language.

The more we talk to children, repeating the same words and phrases the sooner the child will learn language.  As the child grows, he will begin to display for you his acquisition of receptive language.  If you ask him, “Where is the truck” he should look at, point to, or go get the truck.

Expressive language is the act of speaking or gesturing.  Gesture language develops first and is the foundation for verbal language.  Examples of gesture language include when your child smiles at you, puts his hands over his eyes to get you to play Peek-a-Boo, or lifts his arms to be picked up.  Soon, he will add words to his gestures, for example, “Mama!” when your child smiles at you, “Pee-boo!” as he puts his hands over his eyes, and “Up!” as he lifts his arms.


Research has shown a child needs to hear a word 500 times before they attempt to use it.  This means, we need to be talking with our children all day long. We can use short phrases to talk about what we are doing and what our children are doing.  Play time is an extraordinary time for language development.  When we sing those familiar songs, such as Pat-a-Cake (with hands and also with feet!), Peek-a-Boo, and This Little Piggy, over and over again, we are training our children’s  auditory and visual attention,  teaching them to pair sound with motor movements, and encouraging social interaction, all crucial skills for developing receptive and expressive language.  When we imitate our child’s babbles during play, they are learning the skill of imitation and will soon begin imitating our sounds, and later our words and phrases.  Mutual imitation is also the basis for future verbal dialogue between us and our children.

Playtime offers structure to open-ended questions, allowing reciprocation in your child’s language development.

Examples of open-ended questions:

Tell me about your picture…

What else can we make for breakfast…

Why do you think this happened…

How should we fix dolly’s hair…..

Where will the people in the truck go today….


As we strengthen expressive language with open-ended questions, we are also working on cognitive skills such as problem solving and reasoning.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Fred Rogers

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