“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
As a speech-language pathologist, I often get asked which iPad apps, DVDs, and flashcards are the “must have tools” to help young children learn language. The short answer? None.
The long answer? The single most effective way to help children learn about their world, including learning language, is through PLAY. The benefits of play are wide-ranging, covering physical, emotional and cognitive domains. When children play, they are learning new concepts, learning how objects feel and move, and building their imagination. Play also allows for learning crucial pre-language skills such as joint attention, eye contact, turn-taking, and referencing. When we play, read books, or sing with our children, adding simple language to the play that is going on, we are providing them with the key to learning language in a fun and interactive way.
Creative, imaginative play also builds children’s self-regulation skills. Self-regulation is the ability to control our impulses, either by stopping an action that we want to do, (e.g. not reaching for that second serving of dessert), or by starting an action even if we don’t want to (e.g. going for a run). A child’s self-regulation skills are linked to academic success at all levels of schooling and this link carries over into success in adulthood as well. The problem we are facing in our current digital age is that more and more children are spending more and more time in front of a screen, and less time playing.
So, to those well-intentioned parents I say: The best tool to help your child learn language and be successful in school and beyond is not found in an app, DVD, or set of flashcards. It requires no fancy equipment (other than a bit of imagination). It does not cost anything, and is available right now wherever you may be; and it’s a whole lot of fun. So get out and PLAY!