Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Just last week in this blog I took a detour from baby sign language to talk about how important pretend play is to children’s cognitive development. The point I made then is that playing pretend encourages a form of mental “gymnastics;” the child is learning to keep in mind not only what he or she is doing in the present (e.g., feeding a bottle to the doll) but also that the doll represents a real baby and the pretend milk represents real milk. That’s not something a 12 month old can do, but by 18 months, the development of this kind of mental flexibility is underway.
Well, here’s another benefit of pretend play for your child’s development. Research shows that helping children engage in pretend play is an easy way for parents to support language development. In this case, what we’re talking about here is participating with your toddler or preschooler in pretend scenarios—like talking to Grandma on a toy phone, pretending to make and eat imaginary foods, playing with dolls or trucks in ways that involve imagination.
Why does not only encouraging but actually participating in this kind of play with your toddler or preschooler benefit language learning? The answer is because pretend play is language rich when parents are involved—both in terms of language you say to your child while playing and language your child says to you in response. For example, a tea party with your child might introduce new vocabulary words like cups and saucers, tea and teapot, the names of friends or new foods, etc. Or play with a toy plane might involve words like take-off, landing, pilot, the names of destinations. In addition, your questions to your child (for example, “Who are you inviting to our party?” or “Where is the plane going?”) require your child challenges your child to draw from his or her existing vocabulary to provide appropriate answers. In other words, these kinds of pretend interactions help children learn to both understand more language and to talk themselves.
So, whether your child is into tea parties or trucks, baby dolls or train tracks, make it a point to get down to his/her level (both figuratively and literally) and join the fun. Who knows? You might actually have fun exercising your own imagination!
Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis