Tips to Promote Healthy Play Patterns to Enhance Infant and Toddler Language

Follow your child’s lead in play.

Letting the child lead the way in play is a nurturing way to foster concept formation and language learning.

Observe what kinds of play activities your child shows an interest in.

A young child’s play is a window to her imagination and her ability to make sense of the world.

Provide rich opportunities for your child to interact with the people,
places and objects in his or her world.

Exploration of his surrounding world is the work of the infant from birth through toddlerhood. What an exciting way to build mental concepts and learn about the relation between people, people and objects, and between objects as well.

As you follow your infant or toddler’s lead in play, accompany your actions with simple and loving language.

This will gently enrich the play and facilitate language growth on the part of your child.

Be tolerant and understanding when your child experiences separation anxiety.

Through experience and play, your child will learn that, although a toy may be hidden from view, soon it will be found again and available.  Similarly, ‘mother permanence’ or ‘separation anxiety’ represents a cognitive accomplishment that tells us that the child is beginning to know the difference between his caretaker and a complete stranger. With time, your infant or toddler will cry less when you leave because he or she will  have mastered this concept through play, and will begin to realize that the parent is sure to return. This concept will need to be re-learned several times during development. (Your child is only getting smarter!)

Be sensitive to the sensory preferences that your young infant or toddler expresses.

It is important to allow the young infants to experience the world through their sensory modalities: vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, as well as body movement and position in space. It is the fortunate child that can make sense of the world this way; she is capable of experiencing its exquisite features through the range of sensory modalities.  Nevertheless, each child has his own unique sensory limitations and preferences. For example, some
children prefer soft voices and less stimulation, while others prefer more intense sensory experiences, e.g. louder voices and more exaggerated facial expression. When they let you know their preferences by their reaction, be sensitive and responsive.

Support and encourage some repetitive or imitative play, as this provides the foundation for learning to be creative and symbolic with language!

As crazy as it can make us, when babies repeatedly shake that rattle or request that we work that busy box, do not necessarily interrupt or divert your child, as he is learning to make the connections between means and outcomes and causes and effects in this complex world of ours!  Eventually, it is only natural for us to provide a new means of entertainment if the ruckus is getting much too loud.

When your toddler is beyond object exploration, encourage and support pretend or symbolic play with simple everyday objects, or toy farms, houses, schools, garages, figures, blocks, Legos and other building toys.
The toddler, who is beginning to engage in pretend or symbolic play, has found yet another way to represent the world and ready himself for language use.

In addition to playing with toys and objects, promote play with sounds,   words, melodies, songs, and language in general.

Since play is the basis for learning, and language is the basis for literacy (or learning to read and write), playing with sounds, words, and melodies will highlight a child’s awareness of the important units in reading and writing. While mastering rhyming will enhance an awareness of the meaningful sound units in oral and written language, playing with rhyme is a perfect example of an activity that young children can learn to love as they reap the long range rewards.

Ultimately, when young children engage in personal or fictional story-telling, participate in any way that your child will allow.

As a willing participant in your child’s fantasy, you are allowing him or her to initiate the fantasy, assign the characters, create a plot, and play-act a scenario that is a golden opportunity for language-learning and learning about the planet on which we live.

While play and language are foundations to literacy, read the next installment to find out about the value of story-book reading: The 10 Tips to Follow for Effective Storybook Reading!

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Dr. Lorain Szabo Wankoff, an ASHA certified and New York State licensed speech-language pathologist, is in private practice in Manhattan and Forest Hills. Formerly on faculty at the Windward School in White Plains, Queens College of the City University of New York, and LIU/Brooklyn Campus.  Dr. Wankoff does home visits in order to work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are at home during the day with their parent or nanny or she can be hired privately to go to a school to treat school-age children with language-based learning challenges or articulation deficits that impact their reading and/or writing. In her spare time, Dr. Wankoff teaches Anusara yoga one night a week in her community in Forest Hills.  Website: T: 917-686-8472 E: [email protected]

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