Play and Language: Exploratory play


Exploratory Play

Exploratory play is the first stage in play where the child explores objects around them using their senses.

selective focus photography of baby holding wooden cube

Why is it important?

Play is important for language development and imaginative thinking. As children play they explore the world, and begin to understand more about how things around them work.

Initially a child will put everything in their mouth.  Through mouthing, handling and observing others, a child will learn what to do with different objects.  This is known as ‘defining an object by use’ and usually begins at 9 months.  During this time, a child begins to understand the meaning or concept of different objects.   A concept is an internal awareness of an object or an idea.  Each concept has a ‘file’ of information about the object in the mind.  This file will contain an internal picture of the object, information such as what you can and can’t do with it, what it is made of, what it is associated with but also, with time, the word.

Being able to play appropriately with real objects is an important step in preparation for learning language.  It is like a jigsaw; the first pieces involve knowing what an object is.  This creates a framework so that, in time, the child can add other crucial pieces which include how to recognise and understand a word and then how to say the word.  Without this vital framework, the child has nothing to ‘hook’ the word onto.

Top Tip

It is important to provide access to a collection of everyday objects as well as ‘toys’ when trying to encourage exploratory play. This is particularly important for children with delayed language who are not ready to play in the role-play corner or do not use objects appropriately. Offering your child a range of different objects will offer you a richer opportunity to share new vocabulary while you are exploring the items with your child. To learn more about heuristic play with everyday objects that offer open ended learning, use the link in the sidebar
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Age Groups

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Games & Resources

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Frequently Asked Questions

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