Language Play and Language Development (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Symbolic Play and Language Comprehension

Symbolic, or make-believe, play can also benefit a child linguistically. As an example, Terry, Jill, and Mark listen to a story being read to them by their kindergarten teacher. Then they are asked to assume the roles of the story characters and to enact the scenes they have just listened to. They do so with great enthusiasm under the gentle direction of their teacher. Later, the teacher asks the children a number of questions about the story, to see how well they understood it and how much they can remember. Is it possible that the story was more understandable to the children and easier to remember because of their experience in acting out the roles? Some psychologists believe so, suggesting that the strength of the language-play connection in early childhood leads to a natural conclusion: Play can help children better understand the spoken word (Williamson & Silvern, 1984). Research on the role of play in language comprehension typically takes the form described above: One group of children listens to a story and then plays out the scenes, while another group either engages in discussion of the story or becomes involved in unrelated activities. Later, the children's memory for details of the story is tested. The finding that emerges repeatedly in studies of this type is that the play group displays the greatest understanding of, and memory for, the story's details (Pellegrini & Galda, 1982; Saltz, Dixon, & Johnson, 1977; Silvern, Williamson, Taylor, Surbeck, & Kelly, 1982; Silvern, Williamson, & Waters, 1982; Williamson & Silvern, 1984). The link between play and language comprehension is not a simple one, however. Children do not have to play out a specific story in order to understand it completely. Many stories are quite understandable to children without the necessity of playing them out dramatically. However, when children regularly engage in the enactment of scenes from the stories they listen to, they seem to improve over time in their ability to draw meaning from spoken language (Williamson & Silvern, 1984).

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