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Typical Communication And Play Development In Early Childhood

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The aim of this essay is to outline current literature relating to typical communication and play development from birth to 5 years. Communication refers to the act of exchanging verbal and non-verbal information (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). Means of communication include language, a socially shared code using arbitrary symbols of represent concepts, and speech, the acoustic representation of language (Owens, Metz & Ferinella, 2015). Play can be defined as behaviours that are enjoyable, intrinsically motivated, process orientated, freely chosen, non-literal, and involve active engagement (White, 2012).

Birth to 12 Months

Between birth and 2 months, infants’ speech consists of reflexive vocalisations, such as crying (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). From 2 months, infants will ‘coo’, producing consonant sounds similar to /g/ and /k/ (Owens et al., 2015). At 4-5 months, infants engage in vocal play, such as squeals, and begin babbling (Roth & Worthington, 2015). At 6-7 months, infants produce reduplicated babbling consisting of consonant-vowel repetitions (Owens et al, 2015). From 10 months, infants utter strings of syllables with stress and intonation patterns similar to conversational speech (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018).

Receptive language refers to language a child can understand (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). Between 2 and 4 months, an infant will understand and respond to tone, for example, they may cry if a parent raises their voice (Speech and language development from birth to 12 months, 2016). From 6 months, infants will start responding to their name (Sharma & Cockrill, 2014). By 12 months, infants will understand up to 10 words (Roth & Worthington, 2015). Expressive language refers to the language a child can produce (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). By 3 months, infants have learnt stimulus-response sequences, for example, that crying will result in attention from caregivers, beginning expressive language (Owens et al., 2015). At 8-9 months, infants develop intentionality in interactions through gesture (Owens et al., 2015). Many children will say their first words by 12 months (The Communication Trust, 2015).

In the first year, infants engage in exploratory play by placing toys in their mouth, waving them in the air, and exploring them with their hands (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). Exploratory play refers to play to access factual information about objects or concepts (Howard, 2017). Through play, infants explore object properties, practice motor skills, and engage in simple problem solving (Parham, 2007). Bigelow, Maclean, and Proctor (2004) found 12-month-old’s will exhibit functional play, typical of older children, when there is joint attention between the child and parent.

1-2 Years/12-24 Months

By age 2, children will produce the consonants h, m, n, w, b, and p (Sander, 1972). When attempting to produce adult speech, child adapt words through phonological processes (Owens et al., 2015). Preisser, Hodson, and Paden (1988) found child aged 18-21 months exhibited phonological processes on 55% of words tested, with cluster reduction observed most frequently. At 2 years children are typically 55% intelligible (Coplan & Gleason, 1988).

In relation to receptive language, at 14 months children will respond to simple verbal directions (Roth & Worthington, 2015). At 15 months, they will point to familiar objects when named (Owens, 2015). By 18 months, children have a receptive vocabulary of up to 50 words (Roth & Worthington, 2015). By 21 months, children understand some personal pronouns, and by 2 years with understand the prepositions ‘in’ and ‘on’ (Owens, 2015; Communication milestones: 12 months- 5 years, n.d). Children’s receptive vocabulary typically consists of 200-500 words at 2 years (The Communication Trust, 2015). 14 to 16-month-olds will produce 4-7 words and communicate using gestures accompanied by words or vocalisations (Roth & Worthington, 2015). From 18 months, children begin using two-word utterances (Owens, 2015). Expressive vocabulary consists of 200-300 words at 2 years (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018).

From 15 months, children participate in functional play, where they use objects in an appropriate way, such as pushing a toy car (Sharma & Cockrill, 2014; Parham, 2007). At 18 months, children will engage in simple pretend play directed towards the self and will demonstrate imitative play by copying the actions of adults (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). By 18 months, children will participate in parallel play, where they play alongside others without interacting (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014; Howard, 2017). As children approach 2 years, they will begin to play in groups and take turns (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2012).

2-3 Years/24-36 Months

By 3 years, children will produce k, g, d, t, and ng sounds (Sander, 1972). Speech becomes more intelligible, but children will still demonstrate some immaturities (The Communication Trust, 2015). Phonological processes in 2-3-year old’s speech include cluster reduction, final consonant and weak syllable deletion, stopping, fronting, gliding and deaffrication (McIntosh and Dodd, 2008). However, children will eliminate reduplication, assimilation, voicing, and stopping of /f/ and /s/ by 3 years. (Grunwell, 1981). At 3 years, children are approximately 75% intelligible (Coplan & Gleason, 1988).

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In relation to receptive language, by 3 years children will follow two-step commands with four linguistic elements and will understand simple wh-questions (Roth & Worthington, 2015). Children will also recognise some basic colours and understand the concepts of ‘same’ and ‘different’ (Roth & Worthington, 2015). In relation to expressive language, between 24-30 months, children will begin to use the grammatical morphemes -ing, in, on, and plural /s/ (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). Between 30 and 36 months, children will talk about the present using present tense auxiliaries, however, will show over-regularisation of past tense, such as ‘goed’ (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). 3-year-old’s sentences are more adult-like with a mean length of utterance of 3.0-3.3 morphemes (Owens at el., 2015). Expressive vocabulary is typically 900-1200 words at 3 years (Roth & Worthington, 2015)

Between 2 and 3 years, symbolic play emerges (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). Symbolic play refers to play where one thing stands for another (Howard, 2017). Children link multiple ideas into sequences of pretend play and use objects to represent pretend ideas (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). Children begin to engage in constructive play, such as drawing and puzzles, and gross motor play, such as jumping (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014).

3-4 Years/ 36-48 Months

Between 3 and 4 years, children will begin to produce the consonants f, y, s, r, and l (Sander, 1971). Children typically eliminate weak syllable deletion, final consonant deletion, cluster reduction, fronting, and stopping of /z/ and /v/ (Grunwell, 1981). By 4 years, children are typically 100% intelligible (Coplan & Gleason, 1988). However, they will continue to struggle with a small number of sounds (The Communication Trust, 2015).

By age 4, children have a receptive vocabulary of 5600 words (Roth & Worthington, 2015). They will begin to understand some abstract concepts, such as ‘before’ and ‘after’ (Sharma & Cockrill, 2014). Children will understand most wh-questions and will respond correctly to most questions about daily activities (Roth & Worthington, 2015). Between 36 and 42 months, children begin to use irregular past tense, articles, and the possessive -s in their expressive language (Prelock & Hutchins, 2018). They will recount stories and the recent past, and ask many questions (Owens, 2015). Children will begin to use conjunctions, such as ‘and’ or ‘but’ (The Communication Trust, 2015). Therefore, mean length of utterance increases to 3.6-4.7 morphemes (Owens et al., 2015). By 4 years, expressive vocabulary consists of 1500-1600 words (Roth & Worthington, 2015).

Between 3 and 4 years, children engage in complex imaginary play, constructive play, and rough and tumble play (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). Imaginary play typically involves dramatic make-believe play and dressing-up (Sharma & Cockrill, 2014). At age 4, children are more social in their play and participate in group activities (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). An increase is social play is accompanied by an ability to show a sense of humour in talk and activities (Sharma & Cockerill, 2014).

4-5+ Years/48-71 Months

Between 4 and 5 years, children will begin to produce ch, sh, z, j, and v (Sander, 1971). Children typically eliminate the phonological processes stopping of /sh/, /ch/, and /j/ (Grunwell, 1981). Children may eliminate stopping of voiced and voiceless /th/ and gliding of liquids, however, these may persist in typically developing children until 6 years (Grunwell, 1981).

Between 4 and 5 years, children expand their receptive vocabulary to 9600 words (Roth & Worthington, 2015). This increases to 13,500 words by 5 ½ years (Roth & Worthington, 2015). Children will follow three-part instructions without pausing to look at the speaker (Communication milestones: 12 months- 5 years, n.d.). In relation to expressive language, children will produce 2100-2000 words at age 5, and 2600 words as they approach 6 years (Owens, 2015). Children will use well-formed sentences and take turns in longer conversations (Communication milestones: 12 months- 5 years, n.d.). By age 5, children have acquired 90% of grammar (Owens, 2015). From 5 years, children continue to master irregular morphological and syntactic forms (Roth & Worthington, 2015).

Between 4 and 5 years, children begin to participate in games with rules (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). The emergence of games with rule coincides with children developing more self-regulation, making them more sensible and independent (Sharma & Cockrill, 2014). Children continue with constructive play, creating more realistic and complex constructions (Parham, 2007). Imaginative play is social, with groups of children joining together cooperatively (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014). From 5 years, children expand their participation in games with rules, for example by playing board games, and will continue with dramatic play, placing greater emphasis on reality (Case-Smith & O’Brien, 2014).


In conclusion, this essay summarises the available literature relating to communication and play in typically developing children from birth to 5 years.

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Typical Communication And Play Development In Early Childhood. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from
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