Language and Symbolic Play

Key Words: Instructional Strategies, Language, Pre-K

Jessica Soltesz

Kent State University

Spencer, P. E. (1996). The association between language and symbolic play at two years: Evidence from deaf toddlers. Child Development, 67(3), 867-876.

Summary:

Three groups of 2-year-olds were studied while they were playing with their mothers to identify the relationships between symbolic play and language development. Because of the fact that there are two subgroups of deaf children (deaf children born to hearing parents and deaf children born to deaf parents) "permits investigation of potential effects of delayed language development on the development of play behaviors while controlling for potential effects of deafness itself" (p. 868). The differences between play of the deaf children whose language was developing normally and play of hearing children would indicate effects of deafness on language development.

The subjects included ten mother-child pairs in each of three groups: deaf children with hearing mothers, deaf children with deaf mothers, and hearing children with hearing mothers. The children had no medical or developmental problems beyond delayed language acquisition. The children were also divided into three language levels. The lower group consisted of children with a knowledge of 50 or fewer expressive words or signs and rare use of two-word or two-sign utterances. The middle group was made up of children who used more than 50 words and occasionally produced multiword or multisign utterances. The high group had an excess of 200 words in their vocabulary and frequent expressions of more than one word or sign.

The data were collected inside the subjects' homes. The children were videotaped playing with various toys while mothers were interviewed. Mothers then played with their children. The first 20 minutes of each tape were coded. "Measures were obtained of duration and frequency of symbolic play behaviors as well as the presence of prompting or demonstrating behaviors from the mother" (p. 869).

Results of this study were varied. The frequency of maternal prompting and demonstrating did not differ significantly in the three hearing status groups. When the subjects were grouped according to hearing status, the only difference on play was of the duration of the activity. There were no significant effects for language level groups on total duration or total frequency of symbolic play. However, the analyses did show a consistent pattern of association between language level and several measures of symbolic play but not between hearing status and play.

The findings of this study "suggest a strong link between expressive language and play around the age of 2 years as language development is accelerating" (p. 874). This shows that language plays an important role in developing and demonstrating higher levels of symbolic play.

Key Points:

Uploaded by: Jessica Soltesz, Kent State University, Deaf Education Major