speech and language skills

How can play help your child communicate?

Posted on
November 30, 2022
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By understanding how play can benefit your child's development, you can start incorporating positive play into daily routine. Play can support your child's speech and language skills to be able to read body language, facial expressions and listen better. Play can support children at any age. In this blog, we'll learn more about how does play help your child, why it's important and how to create opportunities in your daily routine.

How does play help my child speech and language skills?

Children at any age can learn through play. It is one of the most crucial ways to help your child develop and increase their communication. “Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain. Unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10-20 repetitions.” - Dr. Karyn Purvis. Play will be fun for the child and therefore help them to absorb and retain the speech, language and communication skills you are feeding them. The activities you carry out with your child should be engaging to them.

Play can help build a child’s attention and listening skills e.g. eye contact, smiling and laughing, shifting their attention from the object to a person. The child will develop anticipation skills e.g. be able to wait for what is coming next or indicate to you they want more of the activity. They will increase their turn taking skills e.g. playing a game and expecting you to respond and engage with them. Children will watch and learn to imitate actions of their parents or peers through play e.g. if you are playing with bubbles, they will be learning words and concepts “pop!” “up!” “blow!” They will match what they hear to what they see. If you are creating purposeful play, this will create purposeful language. Your child will learn to communicate their wants and needs and share information with intent.

Why is it important to play with your child?

  1. It shows your child that communication gives purpose and teaches the child that interaction is fun.
  2. It encourages your child to engage with others in play and take turns.
  3. Communication can be through non-verbal (without words) means e.g. eye contact, gestures - this is still an attempt to communicate!
  4. It creates positive relationships between the child and the adult as it allows you to spend quality time with your child and bon.
  5. It increases language development.
  6. It increases their creativity!
  7. It can help develop their problem solving skills e.g. a cause and effect toy such as a music box.

speech and language skills
Creating opportunities for play

How to create opportunities for play?


  • Position yourself so your child can look directly into your eyes.
  • Get down on the floor/lie on your stomach so you are within the child’s space and down to their level.

Following your child's lead:

  • OBSERVE what you child is doing with the toys e.g. are they using it in the way it was intended? They may be exploring the toy in novel ways!
  • WATCH and WAIT to see what you child does, you should wait until the child looks or asks for help before you ‘fix’ it.
  • LISTEN! Go with the flow and respond to your child’s play and language if they use words e.g. if you child is playing with a teddy and they say “Teddy and apple”, reply “Yes! Teddy is eating, teddy is hungry”.
  • JOIN IN and support the child your child is carrying out. Comment on what they are doing and provide them with the language e.g. “push the car down!”
  • **BE REPETITIVE –** you will get bored before they will! Keep using the same language, until they foster the language you're trying to teach them.

Ideas to create opportunities for play

Play does not have to mean using toys. You do not have to spend money on the latest toys for you child! Try these simple activities at home with your child:

Everyday routine:

  • Engage your child in routine tasks throughout the day e.g. cooking, making tea, tidying, shopping, hoovering, bath time. Everyday routine is the perfect opportunity for natural engagement that creates meaningful communication that isn’t scripted. Guiding them through the directions for doing daily routines. For example, first we’re going to set up the bath with opening the water. Then we’re going to let the bath fill up. When it is filled up we will get to play in the bath using our favourite words and bath items.

Using household objects:

  • Use items from around the home to engage your child and explore items together e.g. pots & pans, empty plastic containers, water play in the bath.


Diane Frome Loeb, Eric S. Davis and Tara Lee (November, 2021) Collaboration Between Child Play Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology: Case Reports of a Novel Language and Behavior Intervention

PAL (Play and Language) Strategies intervention programme developed by a play therapist and SLT completed on 5 preschool children DLD and challenging behaviours took part in a 2 week daily intesnive intervention. Majority of children increased intelligibility and number of different words.

American Academy for Home Schooling

Chloe Crudgington
Speech and Language Therapist
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