Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team
Symbolic play, or the ability to use objects or actions to represent something else, is a crucial part of a child’s language development. It allows children to express themselves and their ideas in a way that goes beyond simply using words.
By engaging in symbolic play, children can learn new vocabulary, practice language skills, and better understand the world around them. In this article, we will delve deeper into how symbolic play helps in language development and provide tips for parents and caregivers on how to encourage it. So, let’s get started!
What is meant by symbolic play?
Symbolic play is a type of play that involves using objects or actions to represent something else. It is a crucial aspect of children’s cognitive and language development, as it allows them to express their thoughts and ideas in a way that goes beyond simply using words.
For example, a child might use a block to represent a telephone, or use a blanket as a cape to play “superhero.” Through symbolic play, children can learn new vocabulary and practice language skills such as labeling, describing, and narrating. It also allows them to experiment with different roles and scenarios, which can help them better understand the world around them.
Symbolic play is most commonly seen in children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, as this is when their language skills are rapidly developing. However, it is important to note that every child is different and some may engage in symbolic play at an earlier or later age.
How does symbolic play help in language development in a kid?
Symbolic play, also known as pretense or imaginative play, is a form of play in which children use objects, actions, or ideas to represent something other than their literal meaning. For example, a child might use a stick as a pretend microphone or a cardboard box as a fort.
Symbolic play is thought to be an important precursor to language development because it allows children to practice representing and manipulating ideas, which is a key component of language use. For example, when a child pretends to feed a stuffed animal, they are representing the concept of “feeding” and manipulating that concept through their actions. This type of play also requires children to understand and interpret the symbolic meaning of objects and actions, which is a key component of language comprehension.
Symbolic play can also provide children with opportunities to engage in social interactions and communication with their peers or adults. For example, a child might initiate a game of pretending to be pirates with a friend, which requires them to take turns, negotiate roles, and communicate with each other about their actions and intentions. These social interactions can provide children with valuable practice in using language for social purposes, such as requesting, commenting, and asking questions.
It is important to note that symbolic play is just one factor that can contribute to language development in children, and this can be monitored by keeping a check on them through a language development milestone chart.
Other factors, such as a child’s genetic predisposition, the quality and quantity of their language input, and their overall cognitive and physical development, can also play a role. However, supporting and promoting symbolic play can be a helpful way to support language development in children.
There are several ways that parents and caregivers can support and promote symbolic play in children:
- Provide a variety of materials that can be used for symbolic play, such as dolls, dress-up clothes, play kitchen sets, and blocks.
- Encourage children to use their imagination and make-believe when playing with these materials.
- Participate in symbolic play with children and provide verbal support, such as commenting on their actions and asking questions.
- Provide a supportive and responsive language environment by talking to children about their play and using a variety of words and sentence structures when communicating with them.
- Avoid interrupting or directing children’s play too much, as this can disrupt their ability to engage in spontaneous, imaginative play.
What does the research say?
Research has shown that symbolic play can be an important precursor to language development in children. A study found that children who engaged in more symbolic play at ages 2 and 3 had higher vocabulary scores at age 3.5 and better language comprehension at age 4. Another study found that children who participated in a symbolic play intervention had improved language skills, including increased use of verbs, adjectives, and complex sentences.
There is also evidence to suggest that children who engage in more symbolic play have better social skills and more advanced cognitive development. For example, one study found that children who engaged in more symbolic play at age 2 had better social-emotional skills at age 3, such as being more cooperative and less aggressive. Another study found that children who engaged in more symbolic play at age 3 had better theory of mind skills at age 4, which refers to the ability to understand that other people have their own thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives.
In conclusion, research has shown that symbolic play can be an important tool in helping children develop language skills. Through symbolic play, children can practice using language to express their thoughts and ideas and to understand the meaning of words and symbols.
They can also learn new words and understand the relationships between objects and ideas. Engaging in symbolic play can lead to better lexicon and language skills in young children. Therefore, it is important for parents and caregivers to encourage and support children’s symbolic play as a way to promote language development.
- Orr, E., & Geva, R. (2015). Symbolic play and language development. Infant Behavior and Development, 38, 147–161. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.01.002
- Lewis, Jill Boucher, Laura Lupton, V. (2000). Relationships between symbolic play, functional play, verbal and non-verbal ability in young children. International Journal of Language &Amp; Communication Disorders, 35(1), 117–127. https://doi.org/10.1080/136828200247287
- Kaugars, A. S., & Russ, S. W. (2009). Assessing Preschool Children’s Pretend Play: Preliminary Validation of the Affect in Play Scale-Preschool Version. Early Education and Development, 20(5), 733–755. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409280802545388
- Donohoe, C. L., & Phillips, A. W. (2017). Cancer of the esophagus and esophagogastric junction: an 8th edition staging primer. Journal of Thoracic Disease, 9(3), E282–E284. https://doi.org/10.21037/jtd.2017.03.39
I am Shweta Sharma. I am a final year Masters student of Clinical Psychology and have been working closely in the field of psycho-education and child development. I have served in various organisations and NGOs with the purpose of helping children with disabilities learn and adapt better to both, academic and social challenges. I am keen on writing about learning difficulties, the science behind them and potential strategies to deal with them. My areas of expertise include putting forward the cognitive and behavioural aspects of disabilities for better awareness, as well as efficient intervention. Follow me on LinkedIn