WordPLAY: Do your kids play with trucks, dolls AND words?

According to Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research” but does this just refer to water play or pretend play?
No! WordPLAY, the ability to understand, use and play with language, more specifically vocabulary, will have a significant impact on your child’s success in school and in life.

In fact, as Stahl and Nagy (2006) report, the size of children’s vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to how well they will come to understand what they read.

It may seem like we are stating the bleeding obvious but if you don’t have a good vocabulary, you won’t understand what you have read. So while learning the letters and sounds is crucial to actually cracking the written code, your child will merely be ‘barking at print’ if they don’t have the vocabulary knowledge to support their comprehension.

Studies (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Scarborough, 2001) have shown a substantial relationship between vocabulary size in first grade and reading comprehension later on.

What is WordPLAY?

Just like all the other types of play, playing with words is about learning through meaningful interactions and fun games. This keeps the learning age-appropriate, engaging and meaningful for your child. The concept of WordPLAY may be foreign to many families so our Little Birdie Book Boxes give fun ideas and tricks for how to play with words to increase your child’s vocabulary.

Weaving Word Webs

It seems like a strange analogy to talk about webs in a brain. It could make you think of an unused attic that’s filled with cobwebs; stuck in time and space with nothing coming in and nothing going out. However, building webs (semantic webs not cobwebs) in your child’s brain is actually the way that you can help them strengthen their vocabulary skills.

These semantic webs are in the left hemisphere of our brain and make up what is known as the lexicon. All the words in our lexicon carry specific meanings that distinguish the subtle differences of words e.g., chair vs stool. The brain detects a word and stimulates not just that word but a number of related networks of words. I hear or read the word ‘sun’ – I think moon, day, hat, hot, yellow, planets, shade, shine”. If you know a word well, you will have plenty of links to other words plus these links will be accurate, strong and fast making them more easily retrieved. Words with fewer or weaker semantic links are heard less frequently and your understanding of their meaning is weaker. Our WordPLAY activities are a great way to strengthen your child’s semantic links ensuring strong vocabulary skills for life.

Learning the meanings of new words is an essential component of early reading development (Roskos et al., 2008).

Here is a sneak peak into our WordPLAY activities:

1. Super Smart Words

Super Smart Words expose your child to understand and use tricky words: words that are usually found in texts and have a rich, sophisticated meaning like ‘frustration’, ‘devoured’ or ‘reluctantly’.

2. Language Play

Language Play is making sense of words through meaningful interactive games: providing silly statements that have a mistake your child has to identify and fix; nonsense words versus real words; compare and contrast activities (What’s the same? What’s different?); and clue based guessing games using descriptive language or question/answer format.

3. Word Categories

Word Categories helps to build a strong network of words through a deep understanding of meaning, making them more easily accessible: brainstorming words in categories; sorting or classifying words into groups; labelling the groups; finding the ‘odd one out’ in a group; identifying and creating definitions for words; and learning and playing with antonyms and synonyms.

30 Million Word Gap

Known as ‘the 30 million word gap’, children from higher socio-economic families are starting school with 42 million words compared compared to 13 million for the child from a poorer family (Hart and Risley, 2003).

So what you say to your child really does matter. The words you use have a direct influence on the words your child knows and understands and this in turn has a huge impact on their reading comprehension and school success.

Thanks for hearing our call,
Tania and Janice


  1. Marulis, Loren.M. and Neuman, Susan.B. (2010). The Effects of Vocabulary Intervention on Young Children’s Word Learning: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, Vol 80, No. 3: pp 300-335.
  2. Scarborough (2001, “Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory and practice”. In S Neuman & D Dickinson (eds) Handbook of early literacy research. Guilford Press, New York, pp. 97– 110) cited in D Konza, 2011, Supporting Oral Language and Reading development in the Early Years. Spotlight research into practice: research monograph 5, Victorian Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, February, p.2