How can play help my child learn new words?

Moments of play can be fun, but they’re also a chance for your child to develop their language skills. Ask your child questions about their games or get involved to help them learn new words. 

Remember that every child will prefer different types of play, so see what they enjoy. Communication charity I CAN offers some ideas.  

Toddlers with crayons

Messy play  

Messy play helps your child to explore different senses, like touch, sight and smell. Let your child play with various textures and objects. This could be water, sand, chalk, paints or playdough, for example. Talk to your child about what they’re doing with the materials – use words like “pour”, “squash”, “squeeze”, “pull” or “rub”. Ask them to describe different colours and textures.  

Encourage pretend play  

Children start to pretend from about 12 months. They learn from watching what we do. You might see them pretending to cook, or make-believe that they’re driving. This play will get more involved and complicated over time. Pretending is helpful for building early language skills on different topics.  

Read books more than once  

Repetition helps children to understand and remember the words they hear. So don’t be afraid to tell a story more than once. Your child may also join in with the bits they remember. Books that have repetitive words or phrases are good for this.   

Build imaginary worlds  

Have you noticed your child pretending to feed a toy, put it to bed or tell it stories? Toys will often become the focus of a child’s imagination. Play along with their imaginary worlds. Ask them questions about it. This should help develop creative and language skills. 

You can also read our advice on using everyday activities to help develop your child’s language.  

Go back

How can I help my child’s language skills?


How can I help my child’s reading skills?


Communication milestones for young children: speech and language


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