On a stressful or busy day, don’t you wish you could just spend your whole day playing, like most preschoolers do? Well, it turns out, those preschoolers are actually doing a lot of learning while they play, and one of the areas that they develop most by play is language. So it’s okay for you to take a break from your household chores and get down on the floor to play with your preschooler. It’s time well spent because you will be helping him learn to use and understand language in more complex ways.
You have probably noticed your preschooler’s ability to pretend developing now that he is older, bringing you meals he has cooked in his kitchen or steering his spaceship, otherwise known as the laundry basket. Three- and four-year-olds are able to engage in multi-step pretend play, and they enjoy when parents join them. Pretending gives children a chance to practice voice inflection and use vocabulary they may not have used in other situations. It also helps them think about and plan a scenario, while understanding the different roles the players will take on. Parents can prompt their thinking if they get stuck, by saying things like “Oh look, your baby is crying. Do you think she is hungry?” or “My car is broken and I need someone to fix it. Can you help me?”
You may be sick of reading the same book each night before bed, but stick with it because you are helping your child’s language development. Just as you feel like you can recite it without even turning the pages, your child enjoys being able to engage in a familiar story. To make it more fun for both of you, try acting the story out together, using props, stuffed animals or puppets. This will allow your preschooler a chance to retell the story in his own words and to sequence events from memory. Storytelling helps him practice communicating a beginning, middle and end to a story, and allows him to use new vocabulary within a familiar context. With each retelling, your preschooler will use more complex and sophisticated language and you will not dread the same bedtime story each night.
Play with Peers
Preschoolers enjoy being able to play and interact with children their age, and it can also be a nice break for you to sit back and watch how they get along. Children develop purposeful language to communicate while they play. They have to ask for a toy, express their ideas to their playmate and maintain the play scenario. They also get practice with listening to others, since their own ideas will not always win out. Play with others helps develop the language they need to resolve conflicts and cooperate as well. Just make sure you are close by to support that need when it arises by saying things like, “I see you both want to use the toy phone. Maybe you can take turns calling people.”
How You Can Help
If your child is one whose language is developing more slowly, there are some important tips you can remember during play time. It’s natural for you to ask questions as you play with your child, but it is more helpful to comment on what your child is doing or what he is touching, so that he can learn the vocabulary in context. Repetition is beneficial, so even though it may seem boring to you, use the same phrases again and again. For example, when playing with a farm set, say “The horse is going in the barn. Now the cow is going in the barn. Now the pig is going in the barn,” and continue using the same wording so your child hears the words several times. He may even begin to imitate you doing this. Varying your pitch and inflection will also help because young children pay more attention to the words when they sound different than normal. This is why you may hear your preschooler mimic some of the inappropriate words you don’t want her to–because you likely said them with lots of expression.