Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Talking It Up: Play, Language Development, and the Role of Adult Support

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Talking It Up: Play, Language Development, and the Role of Adult Support

Article excerpt

Play helps children learn language, the authors claim, and they review the evidence for it. They suggest that play benefits children's language development because it incorporates many of the socially interactive and cognitive elements known to enhance language skills. Although much of this evidence proves correlational, they point to a series of recent intervention studies that offer evidence of a key variable linking play and language: adult support. In particular, guided play during which adults scaffold child-initiated learning seems ideal for developing language skills. Based on this evidence, they argue that understanding the efficacy of play for learning requires paying careful attention to the type of play involved and to its results. Key words: guided play; language skills; play and language development; scaffolding; sociodramatic play; symbolic play

Play as a Context foi* Language Development

Language is the currency of social interaction and school achievement, so it is hardly surprising that thousands of pages have been devoted to understanding and encouraging optimal language acquisition in children (Clark 2003; Clark and Clark 1977; Dickinson et al. 2012; Frank, Goodman, andTenenbaum 2009; Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek 1999; Golinkoff et al. 2000; Harris, Golinkoff, and Hirsh-Pasek 2011; Hoff and Naigles 2002; Hollich, Hirsh-Pasek, and Golinkoff 2000). Many of these investigations find that language thrives when children are interacting with adults and peers in a playful manner (Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff 2003; Smith 2010; Vygotsky 1967; Zigler and Bishop-Josef 2004), suggesting that play can make important contributions to the learning of lan- guage. Evaluating just how play influences language, however, is a relatively new enterprise.

In a recent and influential paper, Lillard, Lerner, Hopkins, Dore, Smith, and Palmquist (2013) describe three categories of potential links between pretend play and other cognitive or social skills, based on Smith (2010). The strongest link one could posit is that play constitutes a unique and crucial component in the development of cognitive or social skills, which would not develop with- out it. This causal view holds that children cannot achieve, say, a kind of self- control if they do not engage in play; this skill would be impossible to acquire otherwise. Another claim suggests the link between play and learning is one of equifinality: play has a causal effect on the development of such skills but is only one of many activities that do so. In this case, play would help children gain self-control, but other activities would, too, and equally well. The third-and weakest-claim holds that play has no role at all in such development but is merely an epiphenomenon or a byproduct of learning the skills. This means that children's development of self-control involves play but not because of anything intrinsic to play itself. Rather, something connected to the play situation-such as increased social interaction-aids the development.

Although the categories Lillard and her colleagues present clearly delin- eate several relationships that play could have with cognition and, in par- ticular, with language development, phrasing the options in such stark terms may inadvertently lead researchers to discount the more complex relationship that exists between language and play. Put simply, asking whether play causes language development may be the wrong question. Instead, we rephrase the question to ask: "What aspects of play might promote language development?" In answering this question, it becomes clear that play contains many of the ingredients necessary for optimal language development even though there maybe no single element of play that does the majority of the work. Although this means we must accept the view Lillard and her colleagues call equifinal- ity, it does not make play's role in language development unimportant. To the contrary, even if no single aspect of play is a necessary or sufficient condition for developing a particular language skill, various aspects of play-when taken in the aggregate-link play and language. …

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