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What is language play? Language play is when children creatively manipulate words and sounds in their native languages, second languages, or invented languages. Examples of language play include making up songs and rhymes, creating nonsense words, imitating or inventing sounds, and telling jokes.

Girl toddler happily singing

Research shows that during the process of language acquisition, children’s brains form connections between neurons. These connections form when children are exposed to verbal language like rhymes, stories, songs, written language (like books), and nonverbal language (i.e. body language and facial expressions). Experimenting with sound not only exposes children to a variety of examples that lead to healthy brain development, it also fosters creativity and critical thinking skills that ultimately strengthen neural connections.

How can you incorporate language play into your life at home?
Playing word games with your children is a great way to weave language play into your daily routine – in the car, at home, or walking down the sidewalk. Integrating language into daily activities builds language skills and make the day more fun!

Below is a list of some word games you can try out at home:

Woman holding a toddler and laughing outside.Go on a sound hunt. Take turns identifying sounds in the world around you. Then imitate them together! Pay attention to the shape your mouths make, where your tongue is, and where you feel the sound in your body. (Is it in your throat? Your chest? Your mouth?) This activity develops active listening skills necessary for all types of learning and also helps them learn imitation and pronunciation skills, which are necessary for lifelong language learning.

Sing songs and nursery rhymes together. Teach your children rhythms and songs you know, then work together to make up new ones. Stuck for ideas? Sing about what you’re doing in the moment, or make a rhyme about tasks like going to bed or brushing your teeth. Research shows that learning and reciting nursery rhymes helps children develop everything from expression to attention to pattern recognition to working memory.

Create nonsense words. Don’t have a word for something? Make it up! What’s the word for the smell of cookies coming out of an oven? Or the sound a dragon makes? Or the feeling of wanting to bounce on the bed? As children get older, extend this by writing down these words phonetically. This is a great way to practice creative thinking and develop phonetic understanding of words.

Play rhyming games. Take turns naming words and then coming up with rhymes for them. For example, if someone says the word cat, rhymes might include mat, rat, sat, and zat. What’s a zat? Extend the previous activity and make up definitions for all the words!

Tell jokes. Jokes are more than just fun – researchers agree that telling and understanding jokes requires children to integrate a variety of language skills. You can read joke books together, tell knock knock jokes in the car, or make up funny puns at mealtime The skills children develop range from recognizing patterns and learning vocabulary to understanding the subject matter. If at first your children don’t understand basic joke structure, don’t be discouraged: like anything else, practice makes perfect!