Through play, children also enhance oral and written language skills. Garvey (1990) suggests that every aspect of language can be better understood through play. Phonology (sounds of language), grammar, and meaning are all playfully explored as children engage in their free choice activities. Garvey proposes four different types of play with language:

  1. Play with sounds and noises. Children explore the sounds used to form words and experiment with putting them together in creative and fun ways.
  2. Play with the linguistic system. In their play, children begin to understand how sounds combine to form words and recognize the structure and ordering of words in sentences.
  3. Spontaneous rhyming and word play. Through simple rhyming games, children learn about the structure of words and their meanings.
  4. Play with the conventions of speech. By using and breaking the rules for conversation, children learn how to effectively communicate.

In addition to playing with language, children use language in and around their play experiences. Metacommunication statements are used to structure and organize play. “Let’s pretend this rope is a snake.” “First we’ll go to the market, then the toy store.” Pretend communication statements are appropriate to the roles children have adopted. “Hush, baby! Mom is on the telephone!”

During the preschool and primary school years, children learn about the written language around them as well. Play can provide many opportunities to facilitate literacy development.

Cindy and Erik, both age 4, are playing in the restaurant set-up in the dramatic play area at their child-care center. Erik takes orders by scribbling on a notepad and passing the orders on to Cindy, who cooks up some imaginary foods. Anook has built a town out of blocks modeled after the story he has just read in his second-grade classroom. Once the town is completed, he writes an imaginary tale describing life in his town.

When appropriate props are available, play becomes a rich resource for literacy learning (Owocki, 1999).

Literacy learning and play can also be linked as children engage in storytelling activities.