Kids Learning to Communicate Through Play

Play is an important part of a child’s learning and development journey. Our speech therapist Lynnette shares how parents can support their child in understanding and using language through play.

Play is an important part of a child’s learning and development journey. Children learn about the world and themselves through play. It also aids in the building of their cognitive, social, motor and communication skills. SPD speech therapist Lynnette Teo highlights some tips on how parents can support their child in understanding and using language through play.

What is Communication?  

Communication skills refer to the ability to understand language and use language. Children use language skills to converse with others, request for things, tell others their needs, describe what they see, and ask or answer questions. As such, children have to be exposed to many new words, the rules of language, how words sound and fit together in order to communicate.  

When a child learns how to communicate, they learn to interact with different people so that they could get what they want. Communication can be through vocalisations, gestures, and words, which need not always be spoken words. It can also be through pointing, sign language, pictures and communication boards or devices.  

Two young girls playing blocks with their mother
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Using Play to Promote Language Development

Language is one of the things that children learn through play. When parents engage in play with their child, it provides the child with opportunities to pick up new words, interact with others and learn the concepts of turn-taking, sharing and conflict resolution. Here are some ways that parents can facilitate language skills through play. 

1. Following your child’s lead 

Your child learns best when they are interested in an activity or item. When adults follow their lead, we take the chance to leverage what they are interested in to help them learn something new. Observe how your child is playing, wait and respond to what your child says or does. Use your child’s interest as the starting point of communication – describe what your child is doing, describe what you are doing and join in their play.  

2. Describe your/your child’s actions 

Talk out loud to describe you or your child’s actions, whether it is through using single words like ‘ball’, short phrases ‘big ball!’ or sentences such as ‘Mummy has a big ball, you have a small ball’. This allows them to learn the different vocabulary for various action words (e.g., kick, squeeze, tickle), object words (e.g., ball, playdough) and descriptive words (e.g., big, red, soft). 

Child: (Playing with the ball) 

You: “Wow a BIG ball!” 

Child: (Playing with playdough) 

You: “Squeeze the playdough.” 

You: (Tickle your child) “Tickle tickle and stop!” 

3. Add new information to what your child says 

When your child is attempting to say a word or is using some words, repeat what they have said and add on to it. They can be new vocabulary or grammatical additions. This builds on what they have said and provides an example for them to learn from. 

Child: “Mmmm” (after mum gives him a biscuit) 
You: “Mmm-more! More biscuit!” 

Child: “I play train.”
You: “You are playing with the trains.”
A mother with her young daughter who is holding on to a toy bear and blocks
Photo credit: Shutterstock

4. Create communication temptations 

To entice your child to communicate – whether to ask for something, to say no, or to ask for help.  

  • Give them a choice between two activities – “What would you like to play with? Blocks or trains?” 
  • Pause in the middle of a repetitive and predictable song and look expectantly at your child – “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go … (stop).” 
  • Give them something that they did not ask for so they can refuse. 
  • Place their favourite toys out of their reach or in closed containers so they would need to ask for help to get it. 

Remember, play does not have to be stressful, it is meant to be fun! Get down to their level and play with your child. Sit on the floor with them, join in their play, mimic their actions, add on new actions, and enjoy the interaction. 


Anderson-McNamee, J. K., & Bailey, S. J. (2010). The importance of play in early childhood development. Montana State University Extension, 4(10), 1-4. 

Vicker, B. (2008). Communicative functions or purposes of communication. The Reporter, 14(1), 13-17. 

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