Promoting Language Through Play

Mar 26 , 2019

Research suggest that young children learn best through play (Vygotsky, 1933).  Therefore, it is important to engage and interact with your child during these play activities.  Following your child’s lead can help to increase engagement.  Below are simple techniques that can be used to promote early language development.

  • Imitation: With this technique, you can imitate your child’s actions, sounds, and words. It acknowledges that your child is being heard, promotes turn-taking, and encourages him/her to later imitate you.  For example, if your child babbles “ma ma ma,” then you would repeat “ma ma ma.”
  • Expansion: When your child produces an utterance that is incomplete, simply expand it to a complete and grammatically correct utterance.  For example, if you and your child are playing with toy airplanes and he/she says, “plane fly,” you can expand the utterance by responding “Yes, the airplane is flying.”
  • Extension:  This is similar to the strategy of expansion; however, you also add additional information.  For example, if you and your child are playing with a ball and he/she says, “Green ball,” you can respond by saying “Yes, you have a green ball.  We are playing catch with it!”
  • Parallel Talk:  This is when you simply narrate what your child is doing and/or describing the objects he/she is interested in. For example, if you are playing with toy animals, you might say “You are giving the muddy pig a bath” or “That sheep has curly white fur.”
  • Self-Talk:  This occurs when you narrate and describe what you are doing as you play with your child.  For example, if you are playing with cars, you might say “Look, I’m making the blue car slide down the ramp.”

If your child is struggling with their language abilities, contact our office to speak with a speech therapist or schedule a speech evaluation.


McKibbins, C. R., & Hegde, M. N. (2011). Language disorders in children.  An Advanced Review of Speech-Language Pathology: Third Edition. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Vygotsky, L. (1933, 1996). Play and its role in the mental development of the child.Psychology and Marxism Internet Archive. ( 2002 (Translated by Catherine Mullholland). p. 1-18.