Play, conversation and interaction

Young children begin learning about conversation and interaction within the first few weeks of their lives. The first interaction they engage in is non-verbal – they learn to focus on faces, make eye contact, watch and use facial expressions, imitate others and take turns in simple interactions by vocalising. These non-verbal interaction skills are then used throughout life when we interact with others.

Play is not only enjoyable for a child but it also is important in encouraging the skills necessary for language development. These include:

  • Concentration
  • Listening
  • Development of concepts (shape, position, colour)
  • Symbolic understanding (toys are symbols for objects in the same way that words are symbols)

When children are playing they are also developing their social communication skills. As they get older, these skills practised in play enable them to work co-operatively in a group with others. To take part in a conversation with others, children need to be able to:

  • Take turns to talk
  • Listen to others
  • Be aware of what the listener knows and what they are interested in
  • Talk about the same topic as others, and change topic appropriately
  • Start conversations and join conversations appropriately
  • Keep conversations going with a range of people in different situations, by making relevant comments or by asking questions.

As children get older, they are expected to be able to use language to interact appropriately with others, including asking questions, negotiating, giving opinions and discussing ideas and feelings. They need to know the appropriate language for each situation they experience (e.g. when to use slang, and when to use more formal language).

Non-urgent advice: Talking tips and strategies

  • When talking, make sure you are face to face and make eye contact where possible.
  • Give the child plenty of time to respond and try to avoid anticipating and/or completing their sentences
  • Use open questions (ones that require more than a 1 word answer), rather than closed questions to encourage more than a yes/no response.
  • Children benefit from opportunities to chat on a one-to-one basis or in small groups. If they do not initiate topics themselves, start conversations about their interests, TV programmes, film, what they did at the weekend, holiday plans etc.
  • Be honest – if you have not understood them, ask them to explain again. This develops their self-awareness and gives them an opportunity to repair the conversation
  • Keep background noise to a minimum.

General resources

Resources by age group

0-12 months

1-2 Years

2-3 Years

3-4 Years

5-7 Years (year 1-2)

7-9 Years (year 3-4)

9-11 years (years 5-6)

11-14 Years (years 7-9)

14+ Years (year 10+)

Page last reviewed: 1 August, 2022