In working with toddlers, I get this question all the time: “what are some good apps I can download for my child’s learning?”
Boy, are they always surprised with my answer: NONE. Try functional play instead.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief of serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” -Fred Rogers
Mr. Rogers sure was a smart man– I couldn’t have said it better! Functional, or proper, play is essential to learning, language development, and future learning skills.
That begs the question: what is functional play?
1. What is functional play?
Functional play is defined as the typical or “correct” form of play. For example, a child would be expected to play with cars by rolling them on the floor, as opposed to lining them up or piling them on top of each other.
2. How do children learn speech and language through play?
Children begin to watch facial expressions and listen to words and tone of voice as soon as they are born. So when they begin to explore their environment and manipulate toys, your child continues to watch and listen to what is modeled for them. When you put a block on a tower and say “block on”, they are learning the word for “on”. When you put a block in a basket and say “block in”, they are learning the word for “in”.
3. How is listening involved?
While listening helps build a child’s receptive language, or understanding of language, it also helps to build the child’s expressive language. Initially your child may just watch you play or imitate your actions, but eventually they will begin to imitate the words and sounds they hear while playing, such as car and animal sounds, or simple words.
With early functional play, your child begins to use objects the way they are meant to be used. For example, your child may begin to push cars, stack blocks, use a washcloth to wash things, or hold a toy phone up to their ear.
4. How do I encourage my child?
To encourage play development, provide objects and toys appropriate to your child’s level of play. The toys or objects should allow your child to complete the actions (which typically means: the less batteries, the better!). Setting up your child with some open-ended play schemes is a great way to help develop their language skills and introduce a variety of vocabulary and concepts. For example, you can set up a track with cars or trains, play food with bowls and utensils, a pretend grocery store or restaurant, or a baby doll with bottles, diapers, and wipes.
5. Be involved!
Finally, get down on the floor and be present with your child when playing. Children watch, listen, explore, imitate, and eventually start to use their own language skills based on what they learn while playing!