The central interest of this essay is to evaluate the role of play in relation to language and communication development. Developmental psychology and theories of play are the main sources of exploring and explaining this unique interrelation, because they offer vital information about human behavior. For this reason several developmental theories have been developed by many scientists such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Sigmunt Freud, Albert Bandura and other contemporary scientists, who managed to clarify the aspects of child development from different perspectives.
Initially, this essay illustrates the importance of play by describing its categories. Play theories are briefly demonstrated and divided into classical and contemporary ones. Thereafter, it mentions the characteristics of language through the theories of two highly respected scientists, Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget, in order to understand the correlation between language and play development. It also illustrates the existence of nine basic communication skills and why non-verbal and verbal communication is so important. Moreover, this essay analyzes research which explains the direct relation between play, language and communication. Through detailed references, the idea that the role of play is salient in a child's development is supported. Next it illustrates the importance of finger, mime and rhyme play to explain that even the most common games possess a significant role in language and communication development. Last but not least, it analyzes how play reinforces the literacy development and finally demonstrates the opinion of the writer.
The Importance of Play
Arguably, play is a vital part of children's development which has many implications in their lives. Despite the difficulty of referring to a commonly accepted definition, play is a vital part of the developing child (Sheridan & Howard & Aldelson, 2011). It is a fundamental action which occurs throughout children's lives and is divided into two categories, free play and structured play. To be exact, free play is an action where the child can choose the rules and the form of play, without the participation and the engagement of an adult. Hence, the child becomes the leader of play (Tassoni & Hucker, 2000).
Moreover, many researchers have claimed that free play offers more educational opportunities to children. Whereas structured play is defined as an action which is directed by adults and limits children's learning potentials. Adults are protagonists and possess a primary role in this type of play. For this reason, Thomas, Howard and Miles proved by a study they conducted, that free play, in other words playful mode play, is capable of fostering children's ability to learn. They state that through this mode children's communication is benefited, because playfulness creates the ability to enhance various types of behaviors. As a result, educational settings use the playful method to foster children's language and communication development (McInnes & Howard & Miles & Crowley, 2009).
It is of importance to mention that there are play theories which are separated into two categories, classical and modern theories of play. In particular, classical theories consist of the Surplus Energy Theory, Recreational or Relaxation Theory, Pre-exercise Theory and the Recapitulation Theory of play (Sheridan & Howard & Aldelson, 2011 & Stagnitti, 2004 & Tassoni & Hucker, 2000). Modern theories concluded by the Arousal Modulation Theories of Play, the Psychodynamic Theories of Play, the Cognitive Developmental Theories of Play and the Sociocultural theories of Play. The last category is divided into two sub-categories which are the Play as Socialization and the Metacommunicative Theory (Stagnitti, 2004). Moreover, there are five types of play, which are cited as physical play, play with objects, symbolic play, socio-dramatic/pretence play and games with rules (Whitebread, 2012).
The above five types of play help children to expand their abilities not only in the language and communication domain, but also in the physical, cognitive, social and emotional domain (Sheridan & Howard & Aldelson, 2011). According to the constant evolution of language and communication, play and its benefits in this domain must be analyzed in depth, in order to evaluate children's developmental potentials through play.
Language and Communication
Language is a strong communication tool (Moyles, 1989) which fosters children's abilities. Through language we can live the past again, evaluate the future and use this vital tool when we face complex situations (Crain, 2000). Also, many developmental theorists have tried to explain, how children adopt primal abilities as they grow up and some of them, have given special emphasis to the language and communication development and how it is related to play. They have evaluated children's development from birth to adulthood.
Vygotsky, who was characterized as the 'Mozart of Psychology' (Gray & MacBlain, 2012, p.85), claimed in his social constructivism theory, that language is the cultural tool which facilitates the processes of thinking and learning. It was his firm belief that children must comprehend language, in order to interact in the society. Hence, according to Vygotsky, play and language are interrelated (Moyles, 2005). Due to the fact that through play children master communication skills, they interpret the use of objects and imitate the attitudes and the habits of adults (Gray & MacBlain, 2012). In addition, he stated that children gain knowledge when they participate in social communication and consequently, they adopt new meanings. Therefore, according to Vygotsky, children act in the zone of proximal development (Whitebread, 1996), which means that every child has limited potential when accomplishing an activity but he can expand his skills with suitable help (Lindon, 2001).
However, another respected scientist Piaget did not lay emphasis, as Vygotsky did, on the importance of language during children's development. Piaget stated that language mechanism is used by the young child only to express some basic satisfactions and not to foster more complex functions such as thought and logic (Gray & MacBlain, 2012). Furthermore, Piaget's opinions did not promote children's abilities; instead he undervalued them, by applying activities that were too complex for children competence (Whitebread, 1996). On the contrary, some scientists argue that children's thought, starts to function logically as they learn how to use language. This happens because language skills are difficult for children to assimilate, but when this gradually occurs, logic develops (Crain, 2000). Nevertheless, Piaget did not support the above notion by mentioning that logic derives from actions (Gray & MacBlain, 2012).
On the grounds that language is an integral part of communication, it is important to pinpoint some of the skills that children develop in this domain. In other words there are nine basic communication skills.
Initially, children learn to request reinforcement, to request assistance, to accept and reject offers. Furthermore, they respond to the order ''wait'' or ''no'', they respond to directions, follow a schedule and finally they are able to make a transition from one place to another (Frost & Bondy, 2002). For instance, when children pretend to be a patient in a hospital, they learn when they have to wait their turn in order to be examined by the doctor and they give orders such as ''wait'', "stay", "come".
Communication is a complex function. Before the emergence of words, children can communicate adequately before adopting language production and language comprehension (Sheridan & Sharma & Cockerill, 2008). The above aspect describes the non-verbal communication type which is very important. Newborn babies communicate non-verbally to express their needs. Facial expressions, body language, proto-sounds and perception of feelings are the attributes of non-verbal communication (Whitehead, 1999).
Hence, adults start to communicate with children initially non-verbally and eventually verbally. Research proves that conversation between children and adults which contains a large number of open questions is essential because children have the opportunity to respond to spoken language. In other words, when children feel that they are active participants in an adult-child conversation, they feel playful which is salient for the development of language (Howard & McInnes, 2012).
Fostering Language and Communication Skills through Play
To begin with, studies have proved that there is a strong connection between language and play. A research which was conducted in Japan in 1989, showed remarkable signs that play and language are strongly correlated. Specifically, the four children who participated in this research were observed twenty times each in a free play mode, where the adults had a passive role. The intention of the study was to analyze early language development and play development (Ogura, 1991). Thus, six features of language were illustrated in order to analyze the findings better. These were the emergence of first words, naming words, vocabulary spurts, word-chains, nonproductive two word utterances and the emergence of productive two-word utterances (Ogura, 1991 p.278). Furthermore, this research divided play into thirteen subcategories. The findings showed that children managed to obtain the ability of naming words because they had been involved in preverbal communication. Also, children began to name objects when the conventional naming act category of play appeared. Furthermore, words and sounds have a strong relationship with each other. It was proved that children through the functional relational manipulation play and the container relational manipulation play, managed to adopt the above important function and the production of first words as well. Moreover, it was stated that early language development is related to subsitutional play. Also, this study illustrated that the environment plays a major role in the development of symbolic play. As a result, language is influenced by social interaction. Moreover, children's vocabulary spurts appeared in subsitutional play. Word-chains appeared when pretend doll play, subsitutional play and pretend other play took place during the observations. In addition, the fifth language category appeared with planned play and combinatorial symbolic play. The last language category was related to planned play (Ogura, 1991). Undoubtedly, this paper shows the unique interrelation between language development and play.
Researchers evaluated the connection between symbolic play with play materials and symbolic play with play situation. Firstly, during children's play with unstructured play materials, they found that children who are at the age of three to four could imitate the activities of adults. However, in structured play children were able not only to imitate but also to engage slightly in role play. At the age of four to five children's unstructured play evolved and they started to express questions and ideas with the mediate tool of spoken language. On the contrary, in structured play they used more conversation. This study showed that in the first type of play children at the age of five to six used their body language and voice to clarify a situation. Also, both in structured and unstructured play, children preferred to play in groups of their own gender. We can notice that structured materials are better for younger children because they do not put limitations on their ideas while playing. In other words, younger children need to enhance their expressive ideas by playing with structured play materials to be adequately prepared for school (Umek & Musek, 2001).
At the same time, symbolic play related to play situation showed that phonetic imitation (Umek & Musek, 2001, p.61) is promoted and that at the age of four children use social speech. Moreover, they use social markers, in order to speak like adults (Ervin-Tripp, 1973). Later, at the age of five children use metacommunication in their play. Metacommunication is very important because children can discuss play. They stop in order to negotiate the next step of the game. Indeed, it promotes dialogue among peers. It is very important because it can be used as scaffolding to children's language development (Andersen, 2005). According to this study, metacommunication levels are higher when children are older. Moreover, the same study proposes that it is better and more helpful for children to play in mixed groups rather than in groups with members of their own age. Hence, children can play in the zone of proximal development. Therefore, they foster their language and communication skills. Again, this study shows us that play which is dependent on materials or situation is correlated with language development.
Apart from the above studies there are play activities which enhance language and communication skills. For instance, children are benefited by mime because they develop an alternative thought. This occurs by observing various children demonstrating their thoughts. Consequently, they can think of more complex situations and they are able to express their ideas with enriched vocabulary. Furthermore, finger play helps children with the counting process (Woodard & Milch, 2012). Moreover, rhymes can provide many opportunities for children to enhance their language skills. According to a study, rhyme awareness helps children to recognize phonemes which are very important for reading skills. The sensitivity to rhyme enables children to group words together with the same spelling features (Bryant & MacLean & Bradley & Crossland, 1990).
Play Fosters Literacy
Vygotsky evaluated the role of make-believe play in children's development and he argued that literacy is enhanced by play. He describes that children initially act spontaneously when they play, and the process of learning happens with their will. On the contrary, when children go to school they must change their behaviors to a planned and a structured environment. Vygotsky stated that make-believe play is the important mediate tool for children to adopt written language and to succeed in school (Roskos & Christie, 2007).
Furthermore, drawing is considered to be a necessary play for children. Research has shown that children can expand their 'graphic vocabularies' and they can represent their meanings, which means that through drawing communication is enhanced (Whitebread, 2012). Besides, Vygotsky's research has shown that drawings in early childhood are connected with the ability of writing and spoken language, which means that the meaning of children's drawings is not only the drawing as a picture but the drawing as an expressive tool of their thoughts (Roskos & Christie, 2007).
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning, that in children's play the repetition and the renaming of play materials fosters the ability of the direct relation between words and the objects they portray. The above function is called metalinguistic awareness and it has been proved that it is necessary for written language (Roskos & Christie, 2007 p.193).
It is clear, therefore, that the above essay illustrates the direct correlation between play, language and communication. Despite the fact that it has been proved that play fosters the learning process, there are still opponents of this view, who state that formal learning strategies are better than playful approaches. However, this essay contradicts the notion of formal learning methods by supporting the theory, that play does enhance language and communication by citing adequate bibliography to prove it. Children can reach high standards in the learning process of language because during play they are motivated and are not possessed by the feeling of fear (McInnes et al., 2009).
To sum up, due to the fact that play has been decreased in school settings, it is salient to ensure that play must exist in preschool and in the first school years of a child, because "a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself" (Roskos & Christie, 2007, p.199).