Baby's First Year · Parenting

Play & exploration lead the way to language development

Dad catching bubbles with toddler outside

Your baby is experiencing the world using their senses and growing physical ability. A blanket is something they look at, touch, feel and smell. During the first several months of infancy, they explore and experience but are not yet able to describe what they see, hear, feel and smell with real words. Your child is constantly learning about the world they live in through exploration and communicating their experience through a series of cries, screeches, vocalizations, facial expressions and body language.

As the father of two young children and a paediatric speech-language pathologist, I have watched how exploration and curiosity give birth to play and its different stages. Research tells us that time spent playing helps the development of self-regulation, creativity, problem solving and various social skills (e.g., partner awareness, turn-taking, empathy, and motivation).

Here are the basic Stages of Play:




Sensory Develops exploratory skills  and experience Sand box, water
Cause & Effect Develops anticipation/expectation and establishes rules Bubbles, balls
Constructive Improves motor-coordination, pattern recognition and sequencing skills Blocks, oversized simple puzzles
Functional Improves functional use of objects Cars, trains
Symbolic Develops representational use of objects and


generalization of skills to other environments

Feeding dolls with utensils

Although an infant is not yet able to imitate the words we speak to them, their brains are beginning to store the experiences shared in play. Not simply how a toy looks, feels, tastes, sounds and smells – but also with the words we use to describe it. Our developing child needs to hear those words repeated often in familiar contexts to build their comprehension: a strong understanding of vocabulary.

Since you know all the words to describe your child’s experiences, be sure to use them. For example, if they see a cat and point or look at it, you can introduce the important words that explain it: “Cat!” “Meow,” “Wow, a cat!” “Cat says, Meow!” With this approach of labeling during play (instead of asking questions) your child will begin to learn how to match the object with the words you say.

Diagram of the pathways for normal speech and language

If your child is not meeting their expressive language or speech milestones, tell your child’s doctor and call Early Abilities to refer your child for a speech and language assessment at (416) 338-8255 or visit our website to make an online referral.

Since you know all the words to describe your child’s experiences, be sure to use them.

If you would like more information on play, check out Have a Ball Together.

As of April 1, 2022 the Preschool Speech and Language, Blind-Low Vision and Infant Hearing programs have moved from Toronto Public Health (Early Abilities) to Surrey Place. To register for services or learn more about the programs, please visit Surrey Place or call 416-925-5141.

One thought on “Play & exploration lead the way to language development

Leave a Reply