Photos taken in collaboration with Matthias Chong and Kerry Cheah

Is playtime just about fun? Not so, according to the research. Play can contribute enormously to language development in children, because in the process of playing, they are naturally learning new words and ways of expressing themselves.

language skills

Here are ways to make the most of every moment of playing together as parent and child.


1. Play pretend games

Enter the land of make-believe with your child! Pretend play helps children understand the power of language.

When children engage in pretend play with each other, they learn that words allow them to create imaginary scenarios and tell a story. This process will help them make the connection between spoken and written language – a skill that will later help them learn to read.

language skills

Research by Elaine Weitzman and Janice Greenberg has shown that pretend play and language both involve the same underlying ability to represent things symbolically.

During pretend play, children typically use an item they can easily find to represent something else. For example, a tablecloth can become a cape, and a stick becomes a witch’s broom.

This type of symbolic thought is also needed for language, as our words are symbols that represent our thoughts and ideas.

language skills 

Does your child have a favourite make-believe game? Join them in their imaginary world by role-playing different scenes. Beside expanding their imagination, it allows you to model new vocabulary and sentence structures.

2. Make music together

language skills

Listening to songs and singing are fun, interactive ways for your child to learn language. For one, singing songs provides exposure to vocabulary through repetition.

Music and singing also stimulate "auditory discrimination", which helps your child develop an ability to express ideas in words, music and actions.

language skills

According to Anthony Brandt, a Professor of Theory and Music Composition, babies first learn the sounds of language, rather than its meaning.

This means babies can dissect parts of sound like pitch, timbre and rhythm, which is why exposure to music trains babies’ brains for language comprehension and speaking.

language skills 

Photo taken in collaboration with Kerry Cheah, featuring one of our ParentWise families

Make up songs for your child using familiar tunes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to describe activities you are doing together. Singing the songs with actions will also help your child practise listening and motor skills at the same time.

3. Bring stories to life

Reading books with your child brings about opportunities to develop your child’s speech, language, and memory skills, which are enhanced when incorporating play elements into the stories.

Besides engaging your child by asking questions and relating the story to real life, you can enhance his understanding of stories using props or finger puppets to illustrate what is happening. You can also act out the story with simple costumes or things at home.

For example, you can line up a row of cushions to build a fortress, or use a kitchen container as a drum. Have fun with props and your voice as you act out the stories, and your child will become more eager to participate, all while acquiring language skills as they watch the story come to life.

language skills

As they say, playtime is your child's first playground, so make play a priority – for both your little one and you!