How Play Boosts Communication and Literacy Skills in Children
Before children begin school, they’re introduced to their local playground. Besides their parents and siblings, a playground can be a child’s first encounter with the world and other children. Playgrounds are a crucial facilitator of development, allowing kids to practice their physical and social skills. As they play with others and try new things, they can hone their communication skills.
Children play in many different forms and locations. No matter where they are, play has a critical role in shaping their communication techniques. As they share toys, explain the rules of games, or invite friends to join in, kids practice their ability to put feelings and thoughts into words.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- The Communication Benefits of Play
- Different Types of Play in Child Development
- Different Stages of Play
- Role-Play Aids Language Development
- How to Encourage Pretend Play
- Learning Through Play at Your Playground
The Communication Benefits of Play
By engaging in play, children develop the language and communication skills to listen better, understand facial expressions, and read body language.
Here are some examples of children practicing their speaking skills while playing:
- A game of make-believe at the playground could involve a discussion of roles and objects
- A game of Simon Says requires hierarchal assignments and direction-following
- Children might correct each other based on the knowledge of grammar and pronunciation they know from home
In each of these instances, kids practice putting their thoughts into words. By using communication tools, they connect with peers and share in play together. Shared play leads to friendship development, where kids have even more opportunities to develop communication. These interactions teach them the value of relating to one another.
Different Types of Play in Child Development
Play is found in both humans and animals. Human children play, and so do monkeys, rats, and dogs. Even creatures under the sea, like octopuses, engage in play. As a universal activity, everybody in the world can understand the desire to play.
The importance of play has been ingrained in many social institutions, such as kindergarten. The concept of kindergarten was coined by Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century. By using the word “garden,” he wanted to emphasize the importance of the complementary relationship between humans and nature in playful learning. Over several decades, kindergarten spread to institutions that recognized its educational value.
Playful learning categorizes two different types of play in child development: free play and guided play.
Free play is what you would normally associate with traditional outdoor play. Playing outdoors is unstructured, and children choose to do so of their own free will. Still, the activity promotes imaginative minds and an enthusiasm for discovery amongst children. Each child gets to use their creativity to decide how their play will continue. Free play helps children develop physically, socially, cognitively, creatively, and emotionally.
While playing is always fun, guided play is designed to focus specifically on pre-determined learning goals. Simultaneously, guided play must maintain all the other enjoyable aspects of free play. Guided play is defined by a constructive set of principles. The first is that guided play features child agency. The second is that guided play allows for gentle adult guidance. Together, both principles ensure that the child progresses towards the learning goal. This play type is seen commonly in daycare or other school settings.
Guided play allows for extended discovery. This approach to learning helps children learn through adult feedback that’s both sincere and prompt. An example of guided play in action might be instructing children to set up a farm, play out the scene, and encourage them to use vocabulary words along the way.
Different Stages of Play
As well as different types of play, there are different stages of play. Depending on their age, personality, and maturity, children display a diverse range of behaviors that can be categorized scientifically. In 1929, sociologist Mildred Parten observed six different stages of free play in children ages 2 to 5. As fellow playground inhabitants, you need to stay tuned in to what the children around you experience in everyday literacy and play activities.
These are the six different stages of play:
- Unoccupied play: Exploration is the crux of unoccupied play. The child may not look like they’re playing at all. Rather, the child is simply looking around, observing their surroundings. Very young children exhibit this behavior, and it’s the base for all other stages of play. Through watching, the child learns patience and how to operate in the world without direct interference.
- Solitary play: Also called independent play, solidarity play is largely defined by its title. The child is alone and not particularly interested in what other children are doing. This is most common in 2- to 3-year-old children. As an adult, you may worry about children who play alone and don’t seek out social engagement. However, this is a normal stage of development. It allows children to learn motor and cognitive skills thoroughly before interacting with others.
- Onlooker play: Onlooker play activities may seem similar to unoccupied play, but the child is in fact, looking at other children play instead of just looking around. The child might even talk with others about the play without actually engaging in it. Again, at this stage, children can benefit from onlooker play by learning more about their surroundings by observing social organization and relationships in addition to learning new ways of playing.
- Parallel play: At this stage, the child is starting to progress onward from the non-participatory stages of play. Parallel play, alternatively known as adjacent play or social coaction, occurs when a child imitates the play of other children but plays separately. This type of play demonstrates how children can warm up to each other without actually coming into contact with one another.
- Associative play: In associative play, the child doesn’t express interest in a specific organized activity. Instead, the child expresses interest in the children themselves. For this reason, activities are not synced as one, but the child still has the opportunity to learn social skills from the experience.
- Cooperative play: Cooperative play is when the child expresses interest in the people playing and the activity itself. Kids work toward a shared purpose, assigning roles and organizing activities. Children might work together to build a block tower or role-play a scene. Cooperative play requires advanced social and organizational skills, so it’s more commonly seen in school-aged children, such as ages 5 and up. Sharing, taking turns, and leadership disputes are normal among children of a young age, but if disputes arise, kids can express frustrations and work toward a compromise.
Benefits of Cooperative Play
As the final stage of play development, cooperative play allows kids to practice advanced communication skills. These skills, such as problem-solving and emotional regulation, are crucial tools for later in life. When they play with others, kids can often create more complex and imaginative scenarios. They can realize the value of sharing playtime with others and how rewarding it can be.
Cooperative play also gives kids a way to practice communication skills like:
- Empathy: As they work with others toward a goal, kids become attuned to the needs of others. They can begin to understand that other kids experience the same feelings as them — excitement, happiness, sadness, and all other emotions. This knowledge helps kids consider others’ feelings while communicating and helps them with concepts like sharing.
- Attentiveness: Cooperative play also helps with sustained focus. Kids can build their attention span while engaging in long-term scenarios or projects with their friends. The longer they play, the more they can practice communication skills with others.
- Compromise: Progressing toward a shared purpose often means a bit of compromise. Usually, everyone involved can’t get exactly what they want. Kids can begin to realize this concept through cooperative play and use language to arrive at a compromise. This is an advanced skill, but it’s critical for healthy communication and emotional regulation. Kids can discover that, even when they lose a part of what they want, sharing success with a friend is often even more fun.
- Conflict resolution: Working through conflicts is an essential tool for all areas of life. Through cooperative play, kids can try resolving disagreements firsthand. Using language, they can express frustrations to one another and try to resolve them. Before using cooperative play, a child might have gotten upset and stormed off. But cooperative strategies show them the benefit of working through conflicts instead, such as the joy of a finished project or playtime together.
Role-Play Aids Language Development
The importance of play for language development can’t be stressed enough. Communication development happens effectively during dramatic play, or role-play. Three characteristics of role-playing offer the optimal conditions for practicing language. Your “gentle adult guidance” could be paramount in children’s understanding of relationships during role-play.
The three features of role-play are:
- Props and objects: Using different objects in role-play permits children to practice vocabulary by identifying the materials or items they have in use. They may, for example, designate a rock as a cellphone and a stick as a stethoscope.
- Roles and themes: Role-play creates the need for multiple roles and a central theme. Whether the game is doctor or construction, children need to familiarize themselves with industry language that would otherwise be useless in their daily lives.
- Pretend play: Pretend play in and of itself launches children into an assortment of situations and scenarios that — with actual tools out of the picture — need language to resolve. A child playing doctor doesn’t simply use a defibrillator. They propose a need for one and narrate the operation.
How to Encourage Pretend Play
Pretend play is composed of real-life representations of everyday roles and relationships. Children have been known to emulate various behaviors at the playground, from reading a book bound together with leaves to playing doctor with a friend. With pretend play, children can have a meaningful understanding of certain skills before learning them in the classroom.
Drawing, playing, or talking are all symbolic forms. These activities, like building experiences through the creation of imaginary worlds, strengthen children’s visionary insight. Secondly, these innovative performances forge meaning in the acts for the children involved. Therefore, the symbolism involved in reading a book or playing doctor becomes more than just pretend play. It serves as a bridge to literacy.
When children become familiar with these roles, the roles become more accessible in real life, despite the role’s inauthenticity during pretend play. You shouldn’t take this interest for granted. Encourage pretend play among children by making the children in your life aware of what you and others do, from grocery shopping to going to work. In addition, you can use guided play and props to make sure that these roles are executed appropriately and with set learning goals in mind.
Learning Through Play at Your Playground
Children are the future. No matter how we decide to phrase it or how many times we’ve heard it, we all know it’s true. That’s why the development of our next generation is crucial to our own. And if we care about our children, we must care about their learning. Outdoor play is a vital part of the learning process of children everywhere. While playing on the playground and other outdoor spaces, kids have many opportunities to practice their communication skills.
Little Tikes Commercial hopes to highlight the benefits of playgrounds by equipping schools, parks, early childcare centers, daycares, and others with custom-designed, safe, and rigorously tested outdoor playgrounds. We do more than sell playgrounds. We want to help you with a range of services to ensure the children in your vicinity are engaged and happy. Contact us to see how we can help you help your children.