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Every child is unique and develops and learns in different ways and rates. Early years practitioners can only support children’s individual learning and development if they know about their personalities, interests, developmental levels, skills, and their learning dispositions. Dispositions must be included among the goals of early childhood education. Practitioners must demonstrate sensitivity so that children can go on to enjoy learning. The first five years are critical in a child’s growth and development.
This is the time that a child learns some of the basic things in life such as communication, reading, writing and being independent. He also learns to take care of his personal hygiene and health. This is the time when the parent and practitioner should join hands in bringing up the child. Play and stories have been found to be important activities in the growth of child.
They help him to develop speech, language, and communication which form the basis for the child’s education. Children who are allowed to play during their early years are believed to learn faster than those who were denied this opportunity. In plays children become creative and they imagine things as they were happening in a rear life situation.
This paper looks at the different stages of play, how play helps in the development of language, and communication, and the relationship between stories and language development in children. It will also look at how imaginative plays help in development of language, and conclude by highlighting the importance of parent’s participation in plays.
Different Stages of Play
Play can be defined as the most natural form for children to interact with others and for them to learn about the world around them. During play a child uses a variety of skills such as thinking, communicating, listening, attention, and seeing. Play is important not only in children but also in adults. It helps in the development of communication, speech and language. Children’s play can be analyzed in different stages.
The first stage in referred to as the exploratory stage, during this stage, children learn how to explore things using their eyes, mouth or hands. They can be able touch or shake objects that they come across. At this stage children hearing and sight senses (Wenner, 2009).
They can be able to see an object, touch it and even shake the object. During this stage children learn how to play with objects especially those that make certain sounds. They learn how to pay attention to the sound from the objects and they can even be seen shaking their heads. It is at this early stage that children start to development their listening skills.
The rational stage follows the exploratory stage. During this stage, children become more rational and try out different things. For instance, they can be found arranging blocks or putting things together. It is during this stage that children like emulating what is done by adults. For example one can find a child putting a spoon in a cup, putting a plate on the table among other things.
A child at this stage learns the different functions of each object, he understand that a spoon is used for eating and most of the time he will try to put it in the mouth. Through playing with objects, a child starts to develop his communication skills.
During the symbolic stage, a child learns how to use objects for doing different things. For instance, a large box can be used to represent a car or a house and a spoon can be used as a phone. There is a time I watched some two girls playing. They were both holding spoons on their ears and standing in different locations. I could not help but laugh when I followed their conversation.
They were actually talking as if they were using phones and assumed they were far from each other. This is one of the ways that a child develops speech and communication. Through communicating with her peers, a child learns to appreciate how other people think and reason while he develops his communication skills (Andressen, 2005).
The last stage in play is referred to as role-play. This is the stage when a child is able to take another person’s role in play. For instance, children may assume a hospital situation where some children act as nurses, others as patients, and one as a doctor. When observed from a distance, these children will actually assume a real hospital where the patient is taken to the doctor.
The “doctor” examines him using a spoon tied with a rope which is then put in the ears as he tries to measure the patient’s temperature. This does not only help the child in developing his communication or speech, but it can also help the child accept the profession he is acting in and this can even influence his choice of career at a later age. Role plays helps children to be creative in coming up with new ideas that may even help them in class.
This is the most crucial stage in the development of a child and forms the basis for the development of speech, language, and communication. The language learnt at this stage becomes the child’s primarily language. Parents and teachers should assist children in their role play; playing with adults not only make the children feel appreciated but also value what they are doing.
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Play and the Development of Language and Communication
Play is important in the development of language and communication in a child. Communication and language are critical tools for social interaction, education, personal identification and cognition and should be supported from infancy. Mastery of oral communication is integral to all areas of learning. I observed a child in two activities, one adult-led group play activity and two free play activities.
As I was observing the child’s communication and language learning, I realized that, children do not develop in just one area but learn holistically. The first thing that I noticed about the child’s behavior was that she talked to herself in the observed free play situations. This is called private speech and is an important step in the child’s cognitive development because practical activity and speech come together.
According to Pound (2008), children talk to themselves to regulate or guide their actions. Children use language for thinking, which also means that language plays a significant role in the abstract thought development. In free plays, children do not take much attention of the others in the group but concentrate on their own activities; this behaviour is typical for parallel plays.
Parallel play occurs after unoccupied, solitary and onlooker play and before associative and cooperative play. It is a typical part of the cognitive development within the pre-operational stage, and one of the steps in learning how to interact with others (McFadden, 2010).
Children have the ability to engage in imaginative play and to use symbols, which is typical for the pre-operational stage. One of the hallmarks of this stage is the language development.
The imaginative play situation enables a child to playfully practice her language and communication skills. Britain (2009), observed that, “pretend play provides a fun, secure environment for children to develop, practice, and refine their language skills”.
The children’s communication, language and literacy skills are supported by stories, conversations, nursery rhymes and songs happening in several activities.
They also develop an understanding of numeric when counting the dots on the dice and learn about science when observing insects, talking about animals and playing with water. Through a variety of art, music, movement and dance activities, the children’s creativity is being extended (Wenner, 2009).
A child is also able to hold conversations. He uses self speech to regulate or guide his actions and behaviours and shows comprehension skills by retelling stories and following directions. During story telling, a child shows high concentration span; his listening skills allow her to follow conversations and directions and to build up her vocabulary. A child’s listening skills are supported through several daily activities, such as story time.
By reading a story to a child, his brain neurons connect. These connections become permanent if used repeatedly. Storytelling is a central aspect that enables children to talk and to think out of context. Stories are a powerful medium for learning. They foster a child’s thinking by allowing him to work on experiences, by acting as a vehicle for possibility thinking and by developing metacognition.
Through stories, a child experiences complex language (Bruce & Meggit, 2002). Sharing stories with adults and other children helps a child to talk about his feelings and to understand other people’s actions and motivations. When an adult, or a teacher in this case, shares a story with a child, he enables him to form a healthy and secure relationship with him.
When talking to a child, he gets skilful answers and able to ask questions which give him the opportunity to explain further and to reflect on what he said. There are other ways that also help in the child’s communication such as gestures or sign language.
By taking a child to a playground and a story reading group, he is able to participate in group play activities of which some may offer challenges and problems than can be approached collaboratively (Hurley, 2010).
In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play, it is as though he were a head taller than himself”. According to Vygotsky (1993), “The young child is not able to organize complex thought, so when he dresses up and acts as a doctor he is organizing his thoughts and coming to understand the doctor’s role.
Through such play roles he is slowly beginning to think about what it would be like to be someone else, so that by the time he’s about four and a half he has some understanding and awareness that other people have their own thoughts and feelings”. However, even though they engage in imaginative play earlier, children are not able to take another person’s perspective in the pre-operational stage because of the egocentrism.
It is possible that imaginative play situation helps a child to develop empathy as he exposes his mind to a different character, which forms the first step of developing knowledge of how others might think. By recreating a daily experience, a child learns to think things through, and to use language to express her feelings and memories.
When children play with each, their interaction appears to be complementary rather than reciprocal (Howe, 2005). However, it can still be seen as associated play because both children communicate with each other and are engaged in the same activity. While communicating and interacting with each other children practises their social, listening, speech, and concentration skills, as well as pre-reading and pre-writing development..
Communication plays a great role in child’s social interaction and education. It is through communication that a child identifies her/him self and gets the nerve to interact with others. Adults influence the growth and development of children.
As a parent or a practitioner, we are supposed to help these children grow and recognize their potential in life. Children can not learn how to communicate unless they are guided by adults. This can be through reciting of small phrases, songs, and mastery of the alphabets
Parents’ participation is important for the child’s growth in communication. They should work hand in hand with the practitioners to ensure continuity of the child’s education. According to Bowles (2010), “Most babies are born with good hearing and the ability to discriminate sounds such as their mother’s voice, familiar television theme tunes and voices of siblings.
They can also distinguish the sound system of the language of their own family from that of an unfamiliar language”. They argued that right from birth a child gets a sense of communication as he expresses himself to the parent through various means like crying, facial expressions and smiling. At this point the child is deriving confidence on the best person to share his frustration.
If this is well done the child in later life is more likely to share issues of life with the right people because it was instilled initially in him during his early age. That is why if a child cries the right person to comfort him is the parent. Therefore, parents can assist the practitioners incase of difficulties because they have a better understanding of the child’s needs and have knowledge on how they respond to different experiences.
Plays form the basis for the development of speech, language, and communication in a child. Through plays, a child is able to imagine and act in different roles that help him to be creative as he develops his communication skills. Children should be allowed to play right from their infancy; there are different stages of plays occurring at the different stages in the child development.
The first stage is known as the exploratory stage where a child learns to use his eyes, hands, and sense of feeling as he explores different things. Then we have the rational stage when the child starts playing with object and the symbolic stage when a child uses different objects for something else.
In role-play, children become imaginative and take up different roles as they play. Stories are another form of play where children learns to be attentive, to what is being said and this helps in the development of speech.
Parents have a big role to play in the development of the children. They are the first teachers to the child and should therefore assist their children in role-plays. Practitioners also have a great role to play when it comes to the development of language and communication in children.
They should involve them in imaginative plays and story telling. This does not only help the child to develop his communication skills, but also his social interactions improve and he is able to appreciate and respect other people’s thoughts.
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Howe, N. (2005). ‘Sibling Relationship’, Journal of Family Psychology. Vol 19(4), p.497-502)
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