Play time provides a natural context for early language learning and is also important for the development of social communication skills. Children learn through play and often practice newly acquired language skills and words during play time.
There are three stages of play development:
- The first stage is referred to as “self-related” symbolic play. This type of play can be observed between 12-18 months. This type of pretend play mimics daily activities using real objects. A child at this stage of developmental play typically plays alone. For example, a child will pick up a cup and pretend to drink.
- From 18-24 months, a toddlers’ play progresses to “other-related” symbolic play. The child is still using real objects, but will perform the action on multiple play toys. For example, the child will use the cup to give a drink to a doll, offer a sip to the bear, and finally have a drink herself.
- The final stage of play development is “planned” symbolic play. This stage of developmental play emerges between 24-30 months of age. Play behaviors include using one object to represent another, such as using a stick for a spoon. At this stage, the child has also begun to plan out play sequences by gathering all necessary props prior to engaging in a play routine. She might use a doll or other play toys as the agents of the play action. For example, the child will have the doll give the bear a drink.
Suggestions for Toys:
- 12-18 months– toy kitchen set, toy garage set, zoo animals. All of these toys provide multiple opportunities for parents to sequence a variety of play time routines for the child to imitate. This is where we as parents and caregivers must dive into our inner child and start using our imagination!!
- 18-24 months– puzzles, farm set, pretend painter’s/doctor set. These toys provide the child with multiple opportunities to start acting out and initiating their own play routines and to use their own imagination, as well as allowing for multiple play partners and toys to be used. Be prepared to clean up a big mess!
Following these guidelines should help you use age-appropriate play with your child. Developing play skills will expand your child’s language and social communication.