The relationship between play and language

The relationship between play and language
June 5, 2020 tlc-user

Play and Language: Different types of play

Why is it important

Play and language go hand in hand. Children need a wide range of different types of play to develop their language skills. There are different levels of play, which are developmental, and each level links with a child’s development of language.

The development of play, especially the development of symbolic understanding is really important for language development.

If a child’s language skills are delayed, observation of their play can tell us a lot about their general development and readiness for language.  It can also inform us which type of play to target in order to encourage language development.

Levels of play


Level of Play

What does this mean for the child?

Exploratory Play:

–   Exploring objects and situations,

–   Recognising objects,

–   Using everyday objects on themselves.


This stage is very important because it suggests that the child is storing information and developing an internal awareness of a variety of objects. Over time the child will gradually add more information about the object including how to recognise and say the word.

THINK: If a child is not talking, do they play appropriately with a wide range of everyday objects?

Large Doll Play:

–   Recognising dolls/teddies as representing people,

–   Involving these characters play,

–   Use objects to act out everyday events.


This stage is important as it indicates that the child’s internal concept of a range of words is developing. With appropriate adult-child interaction, this type of play provides valuable opportunities to use and reinforce everyday vocabulary and language.  This stage suggests that the child is beginning to develop more abstract thoughts because they can use objects on other people and not just themselves

THINK: Can the child use a variety of objects in their play on a doll/teddy?

Small World Play:

–  Using small world toys e.g. animals, cars, trains,

–  Understanding what these objects are by using them appropriately


This stage is very important as it is the beginning of symbolic understanding. The child realises that one object (a miniature bed) can stand for another (a real bed) just as a ‘word’ can represent an object.  The child can now begin to deal with the critical level of symbolisation to develop language and thinking

THINK: Can the child play with small world toys appropriately or do they put them in their mouth/throw them/try and do something different with them?

Imaginative Play:

–  Acting out simple sequences of play,

–  Acting out more complex scenarios and stories


At this stage the child is starting to use internal language to organise their play. They are able to link ideas and subsequently language together. This is an important step in being able to re-tell an event/news/what happened

THINK: Can the child demonstrate that they can sequence their ideas in play?

Role Play:

–   Dressing up and taking on the character of another person,

–   Using props not always for what they are intended,

–   Playing co-operatively with other children, acting out and negotiating situations.


Role play enables a child to experiment with the roles and feelings of different people in a safe environment and encourages children to interact with one another.  The child learns to empathise with others which is crucial for social and emotional development.  Role play supports the development of more complex language skills, creating roles, negotiating and retelling. It also supports complex thought processes and language needed for narrative development

THINK: Can the child engage in role play successfully with other children?

Co-operative Imaginative Play:

–   Engaging in elaborate make-believe play with others,

–   Planning and leading play,

–   Understanding that rules and roles can change quickly.



Co-operative imaginative play supports complex thought processes and language. Children use language to be part of a group; to understand rules quickly, negotiate, problem solve and sometimes manipulate!

THINK: Look out for the child who plays on their own or who is on the edge of social play.