Activites for Families


How Play Develops Language

The Importance of PLAY for Speech and Language Development (With Tips)

“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

As quoted above play is the work of childhood. Even when your child is playing silently, they are learning important information that they will carry with them and use later. And this starts the day they are born! Those little finger plays and games of peek-a-boo really do help your child learn. As they grow and develop, they begin to learn more and more complex ideas through play. Here are 5 ways children learn speech and language through play, from infancy on.

They Watch
Your children WATCH others’ actions. This starts as soon as they are born. They start watching your face first, taking in your expressions. As they get older, they watch more and more of our actions- they will watch your play, their siblings play, and other children’s play and LEARN. In terms of speech and language development….
• Your child watches your mouth as you talk, starting as an infant. She files these movements away for later use.
• Your child watches your facial expressions during all sorts of experiences and moods and starts to correlate which facial expressions go with what moods/feelings.
• Your child watches your body language when you speak and communicate and will start to learn what your body language means.
• Your child watches you, siblings and peers play and will later imitate (see below) these actions in her own play, including language that goes along with the play.

They Listen
While they are watching us, children are also LISTENING to us as well. Again, this starts the day they are born (actually, this begins BEFORE birth!) They listen to all the sounds we make, the words we say and the sentences we form. In the beginning, they won’t mean anything but soon all these words will begin to make sense to them. They will be listening to YOU play with them, siblings and peers and will begin to imitate (see below) those words.
They Explore
Here is where PLAY really gets important. Your child will begin to explore. They explore the things around them and manipulate them. They “play” with them. As he does this, you are sitting with him and you are playing and talking with him. He is watching you and listening to you. When you put the block on the tower and say “Look at my block!” He is learning the word for “block.” When you place the block in the basket and say “Let’s put the blocks away!” he is learning the word for “away.” He is also watching you do these actions and taking note so he can try them too. This exploring and playing goes on through childhood, both while you are playing with him and while he is playing with peers, siblings and even during solitary play.

They Imitate
All this watching and listening is going to start to pay off. Your child starts to IMITATE your actions and the sounds he hears around him. Though you may not realize it, the gross motor imitation your little one starts doing in the form of clapping, waving, moving, etc as an infant is actually a prelanguage skill! Yes! Believe it or not early gross motor imitation is a precursor to language!
Specifically in regards to speech and language imitation, this begins as the coos you hear at just a few months of age and then will move to babbling and soon real words. So those silly little rhymes and finger plays that you do with your infants and toddlers? They are helping to lay the foundation of your child’s speech, language, communication and social skills! All those times that you are sitting with your child, narrating your actions and their own…you know, the times you fell like a crazy person talking to yourself sometimes? This is teaching your child LANGUAGE.

They Create/Formulate and Use Language for Purpose
Now your child is going to put it all together. All those skills he has been working on…all that watching, listening, exploring and imitating is going to help your child begin to create and formulate his own words and sentences. Then, he will be using this language for purpose. He will use these new words to communicate his needs and wants and share information. He will use this new language in his play with you, siblings, peers and even in solitary play. I remember my oldest son at just age two, would make many sound effects and would talk about what he was doing during his solitary play.

As my children got older, they continued but with much longer and more complex utterances and ideas. All of my children use their language during play with each other and with their peers, all the while creating and formulating new ideas and sentences and using that language to communicate and share. The more they do this, the more they are learning!
Strategies to build language skills while playing
This is where YOU come in. How can YOU best help your child expand his speech and language skills through PLAY? Here are my 5 tips.

1. Pick Open Ended Toys (And Ditch the Batteries)
When looking for toys for your child to play with, pick toys that provide OPEN ENDED PLAY. You want toys where your child “does the doing” and not the toy. And…please, ditch the batteries as much as possible. It is ok to have a few toys with batteries (a few in my own home include a couple cameras that take real pictures, a toy vacuum, and a play lap top) but make this the exception, and not the rule. For some of my toy recommendations, check out my four part series HERE
I also love this post Free Play With Loose Parts: 

What, Why How by Cathy at Nurture Store. She shares how you can use random household things to inspire open ended play (comes with a free printable too!).

2. Don’t Worry About Gender
When picking toys for your child, don’t stick to gender specific toys. Let your girls play with trucks and trains and your boys play with toy kitchens and baby dolls. Here is some research on The Impact of Specific Toys on Play from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
“What set the highest-scoring toys apart was that they prompted problem solving, social interaction, and creative expression in both boys and girls. Interestingly, toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented—construction toys and toy vehicles, for example—elicited the highest quality play among girls. So, try to set aside previous conceptions about what inspires male and female play and objectively observe toy effects to be sure boys and girls equally benefit from play materials.”
I contributed to a great post all about why all children (even boys) should have a baby doll. You can read it at Mama OT.

3. Set up Open Ended Play Schemes
Setting up your child with some open ended play schemes is a GREAT way to help his/her language skills and introduce him/her to a wide variety of vocabulary and concepts. For example, you can set up some train tracks with trains, cars on a track, some play food in the kitchen, a pretend restaurant, a pretend post office, grocery store play, super hero play, etc.

4. PLAY and be PRESENT with Your Children
There are times when children need their independent play time. However they also benefit from your presence. Read my post HERE where I explain more on why being PRESENT with your children and playing with them is SO important.

5. Use These Tips on How to Help Your Child Talk
I’ve shared these tips/tools in my post Top 10 Summer Activities to Encourage Your Toddler’s Speech Development {A Summer Challenge}. While getting down with your child and PLAYING while being 100% PRESENT, you will have the opportunity to really help expand your child’s speech and language skills. For additional tips, check out my How to Help Your Child Talk page.

More Reading Regarding PLAY and Overall Development

Here are some additional thought provoking articles on play and development. Ditch the flashcards and PLAY.

Want to Get Your Kids Into College? Let Them Play 
by Erika Christakis and Nicholas Christakis on

Einstein May Never Have Used Flashcards, but He Probably Built Forts by Lory Hough from Harvard Graduate School of Education

The Power of Play in the Early Learning Environment 
by Deborah from Teach Preschool (MUST READ)

Don’t Let Your Preschoolers Forget How to Play by Janet Lansbury


Create a Rich Language Environment for Your Child

Like a plant growing healthily in the sunlight, a child that has access to a rich language environment develops beautifully. Language learning among babies and infants has confounded researchers for many years, with little to no agreement on what works best in raising our children to speak and understand languages well. Most research and basic behavioural observation has shown that our children imitate us to best learn the language. However, the latest research has shown that building a rich language environment greatly increases the speed and proficiency with which a child can learn a language. Here are a few tips to create a rich language environment for your child.

The Environment is as Much Mental as it is Physical

You don’t need elaborate word walls or flashcards to make your child aware of what words are. Labeling everyday objects with words will slowly help children associate the word with the object but that is more of a long-term result. Let children explore the environment around them and try to say things. Children need time to express themselves and use the language to do so, as a parent, you need to patiently listen. Let your child speak and you must listen and react to what he/she is saying.

Keep Talking

The most important source of language learning for a child is the parent. Spend a good amount of time speaking directly to your child, try to have a full conversation. Children learn by mimicking their parents as they see them the most every day. It’s not just the words that you use that are mimicked, they pick up on body language and context as well. As important as it is to learn a word and know what it means, it is even more important to know when and where to use the word. Encourage your children to express their needs and wants through their words. This will minimize the tantrums and frustrated noises that children make to try and get what they want. If your children don’t know the words for certain concepts, identify those for them and help them express these thoughts.

React and then Correct

Every time your child addresses you, the first thing you must do is respond. The response should be positive, try and smile and be open to hearing what your child has to say. Give your child your attention when they are addressing you, so they feel encouraged to talk. You can try to gently correct any mistakes later and don’t worry about them learning something new right away.

Variety and Depth

Children need to be exposed to many different words and sounds to develop and use a language. There is a window in the early development of a child’s brain, where learning language patterns and vocabulary take on an advanced level. Parents can take advantage of this fertile time by reading new words to their children. Studies have investigated how a large vocabulary (15,000 words) that have been introduced at this time to result in much smoother future learning of the language. Introducing your child to 10 words a day from the ages of 2 to 6 will help to build up that huge vocabulary.

Encourage Play and Imagination

Language learning doesn’t have to be work either, it can really take off when you play with your child. When you read a story, let your child ask all the questions that he/she wants to. Be patient and answer everything while leaving some room for the child to contribute to the answer as well. You can even start to visualize the story by drawing pictures together. Things can get even more interesting when you encourage your child to tell you a story. This role reversal can yield some funny and endearing results, with your child taking the story in many different directions. Don’t ask too many questions about why or how the story is taking place as that might stop the flow or confuse the young storyteller. Instead, tell your child what you like about the story or share small details that you think he/she might appreciate. Let your child’s imagination play as much as possible as this makes them very active and engaged in using language to further their ideas. All of this really helps with self-confidence and self-esteem.

How to Raise a Truly Bilingual Child

Growing up in an environment where one or both parents are not native to the country can be confusing to children. Language, especially, tends to be a huge part of a child’s development and as we have discussed before, raising a child to be very proficient in one language takes a lot of consistent effort.

The effort can lead to some tangible benefits as well, since bilingual children have many cognitive, social and emotional experiences that single-language proficient children do not. Bilingual children routinely do better in school since they have the ability to multi-task better, their cognitive perception is faster from learning two languages and they have a unique perspective since they have the different cultural views of the two languages.

However, growing up as a bilingual speaker means that the child has to achieve a level of proficiency that approaches near-native levels. It is incredible that this expectation falls on a child, even at such an early age, but this is precisely why it is important to start early.

Starting Young Leads to Adult Proficiency

Children are much more flexible mentally when it comes to learning new concepts and language fits this mould. People say that speaking two languages confuses the child but that is not true at all.

On the contrary, starting with two languages early makes the child far more aware of the nuances and differences from a nascent stage. This benefits their brain development as well as they are effectively learning two vocabularies and different cultures that go into their languages.

For instance, if each parent wants to the child to learn their native language, then each parent must commit to speaking to the child in that language. An English-speaking parent will converse and speak in English and the Thai parent will do the same in Thai.

Language crossovers between parents are understandable but to a very large degree, the parent must be responsible for the child’s understanding of the chosen language.

It sounds more difficult than it is but in reality, it is a commitment that you make to increase your child’s bilingual aptitude.

Consider the Environment

Sending your child to English-medium education institutions means that he/she will be formally schooled in English and that will dominate their language areas. However, if you live in Thailand for the long-term, it is not a guarantee that your child’s Thai language proficiency will be naturally good.

This has the opposite effect in some cases, as your child will feel alienated from Thai society despite growing up in it. You can address this from the very beginning of the language learning by finding a way to make Thai immediately accessible on a daily basis.

Following up on our previous example, an important method for your child to learn Thai is to surround your child with Thai language cartoons, get him/her to speak to native Thais daily and find out how Thais expose their language to their children.

The key here is to develop a daily routine through which your child will always have exposure to both languages. If both parents speak English but are committed to living in Thailand for the long term, speaking English at home but encouraging Thai outside the home is a great way to approach this as well.

Formal Exposure Helps

You can actively pursue the learning of a second language for your child as well. Popularly known as ‘Saturday Schools’, the basic curriculum of these classes is get the child to speak, read and even sing another language with a group of peers.

You’ll have trained teachers working on improving the basic mannerisms, nuances and unique cultural aspects of the language with children. This happens to be a great way to give the child more than one perspective on learning the language.

So it is clear that proficiency in a language is the clear goal for any parent. We want our children to have the best path to success and if being bilingual really helps then, the work should start early. Daily routines, immediate early exposure and variety are very important to nurturing a bilingual speaker, especially because you don’t want language learning to be a task or a chore. Make learning rewarding and fun and you’ll be pleased with the progress of your bilingual child.

Language and Literacy Development in 0-2 Year Olds

Your child's language skills will develop rapidly between 0- and 2-years old. Learn how you can help foster this growth.  PRINT

There is possibly no greater shift in development than the advancement of language abilities from birth to three. While researchers disagree about the extent to which we come pre-wired to learn language, there is no dispute that the ability to learn to fluently speak one or more languages is a uniquely human ability that (barring another complication) we are all capable of doing. It is an amazing process to behold!

Children do not arrive in the world understanding language. It is a skill they must develop over time. However, they do arrive primed to tune in to human voices and the units that make up any of the world’s languages, including sign languages. Babies will understand language (receptive language; comprehension) before producing language themselves (productive language; language output).

Long before they utter their first word, babies are developing the necessary sub-skills for language: participating in meaningful interactions with a caregiver, making vocalizations, coordinating gestures with utterances, making word approximations, etc. The road to demonstrating a basic level of language mastery is long, about 18 months for hearing children who are not using signs for early communication. Research done on children whose parents used select American Sign Language (ASL) signs in our Signing Smart programs demonstrates significant linguistic advantages tied to strategic sign use. In fact, many of our signing babies are able to demonstrate a relatively advanced level of linguistic mastery with signs, or a combination of signs and words, by 12 months. 

Of course, the best way to facilitate language development is face-to-face interactions with your child. However, utilizing online resources expands the set of interactions you and your child can have. Be sure that you are talking and interacting as you experience some language development websites, together:

  • Peekaboo game that rewards baby’s banging with a friendly pop-out. Hang a mobile for visual stimulation — if your child's mobile has animals, you can enhance language development by talking about them, making the animal sounds, etc.

  • Toddler games that you can use to get your child thinking and talking. With this game, can kids guess the animal by its eyes and sound? Can they imitate the sounds?

  • Baby Animals: Use animal sounds along with words and signs to help your child’s language development with cute animal photos.

  • Body Parts: For a fun game where your baby can just bang on the keyboard and learn parts of the face, try

  • Online Animated Stories: Simple online animated stories can be found at

  • Color Festival: Let your child drag the mouse across the screen making different size lines and circles. Clicking will change the color…ask your child questions and engage him as he explores this online color “playground.”

  • Talking Tom apps: Support your child’s talking at almost any stage with the Talking Tom series of free apps (e.g., Tom the Cat, Gina the Giraffe, Pierre the Parrot, Ben the Dog, etc.): They will repeat back any vocalization your child makes!

  • Animated Nursery Rhyme “games": Make nursery rhymes super fun with these simple interactives. You can foster language development and literacy as you visually engage your child in these playful experiences!

After 18 months, children’s language will typically skyrocket. Children using signs tend to have larger vocabularies than non-signers, and talk in advanced sentences. As these children expand their spoken language skills, they tend to transition fully to spoken language, with signs simply serving a clarification or learning function. There is a close relationship between children’s vocabulary and the kinds of cognitive problems they are able to solve, demonstrating how language abilities influence many aspects of learning and development.

Between the ages of 1½ and 3, grammatical markers begin to come in (e.g., -ing, plurals, articles like “the,” etc.), children begin to use prepositions such as “in” or “under,” and they use pronouns like I or you. They typically produce more and more short sentences, reaching an average of 3 words per utterance by the time they turn three. Their articulation becomes clearer, with 2/3 – 3/4 of their speech being understandable to someone outside the home by the time they are three. They begin to ask questions and the famous “why?” after every parent statement makes its appearance.

On average, 2-year-old children have a vocabulary of approximately 150-300 words, with some children’s being considerably larger. By the time they are three, their vocabulary is between 900-1000 words on average. Children continue to struggle with rhythm and fluency, as well with the volume and pitch of their voice. They begin to combine sentences with conjunctions like “and,” and they begin adding details to their descriptions. Children with larger vocabularies can more easily engage parents and the world, allowing them to extend experiences.

Continue to support your child’s language development with engaging interactions, playful reading sessions, and ad-hoc language games. For example, try to trick your child by saying incorrect information, such as telling her that lions say “woof!” See if she can correct you, and then try to trick you. Use photos and images to engage your child and invite him into conversations about family members or remembrances of past adventures. Tell your child stories about herself, real or made up. Continue talking about colors and other adjectives (big, small, etc.). Make reading an intimate time and continue to engage your child in rhymes and word play, inviting her to sing along with you. Engage her thinking by asking her what she thinks will happen next, what the character is feeling, etc.