Language and Symbolic Play
Key Words: Instructional Strategies, Language, Pre-K
Spencer, P. E. (1996). The association between language and symbolic play at
two years: Evidence from deaf toddlers. Child Development, 67(3), 867-876.
Kent State University
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.
- The status of a child's language level affects his or her frequency and
duration of symbolic play.
- Symbolic play activities remain essentially the same whether a child is
deaf with deaf parents, hearing with hearing parents, or deaf with hearing
Uploaded by: Jessica Soltesz, Kent State University, Deaf Education Major