The magic of play in social language and communication!


Communication is something every person on this planet need to do in order to survive and thrive. It is the one ability all intelligent life forms on this planet possess.

Infants and children when they enter this world sometimes have a difficult time connecting with and learning from adults in their lives. Children first observe adults when they communicate via gestures, words and sentences. They often even see adults use of combined gesture and words or even phrases to communicate. It all can appear very complex.

Learning language is analogous to a baby eagle who learns to fly. The eaglet must first learn how to use it’s legs and wings for taking off. It must also learn how to manipulate its wing parts to rise, soar, descend, accelerate, slow down and land safely. Each task may take months or even years to perfect. Children face a similar challenge. Learning to communicate is sometimes made even more challenging when children are born with developmental problems like autism or one of the childhood developmental syndromes.

Play is setting and manner by which most, if not all intelligent life on this planet learn and acquire skills needed for survival in adult life. During play real communication often begin. Here’s why…

First, in the context of play there are no set rules. The child has the ability to engage when they want to, for as long as they want and in the manner in which they want to. The child is free to use gesture – which is earliest and easiest form of communication to connect.  The child may also choose to use other means of communication (i.e. words, phrase etc.) during play. The child can choose to share his interest in a toy or object in any way he or she likes. Ultimately there is no pressure on the child and studies have shown children are most likely to interact and develop language during play.

Second, during play there is opportunity to explore. The child is able to use any form of communication he desires. He has the chance to practice gestures, words or even phrases he’s seen adults use. He can also rehearse combined forms like gesture + word and see what works! Through trial and error the child can see which forms of communication bring about desired results or even undesired reactions.

Third, during play there is enjoyment and learning. During play a child is able to see communication as something that is fun and rewarding on many levels. Play can be a multi-level learning experience. A child engaged in play learns simultaneously about other aspects of language. He may learn how eye contact or an engaging smile enhances and builds or enhances communication. He learns language is a a very efficient way to get what a person needs or want. He learns language can evoke very exciting feelings. Most importantly the child learns to associate communication with pleasure. He gets to see communication as a means where needs can be met on both a physical and emotional level. The child may even learn that there are limits of social engagement – like certain types of touch are not required or not helpful when communicating.

Hence we have seen  how play can be magical in developing language, speaking and communication. When a child has the context of play as a launching pad for speaking and communication he can achieve great things. With play the child has the opportunity to explore varioius forms of communication on his terms. He gains an understanding of why communication is beneficial  and how it helps him and others around him make meaningful and magical connections!


I've been a speech therapist for 18 years now. I've worked with children and adults in a variety of settings and have found the work very fulfilling. I am married and have 3 children. I am also a musician.