Symbolic play is about playing with different forms of representations and starts very early in life, with children under the age of 1-year-old playing with sounds and, as they grow older, particularly playing with the sounds of the language or languages they are hearing around them.
A wealth of evidence shows its association with developing language abilities and early literacy.Later on, playing with a language can also mean playing with a creative system like when children are drawing, playing with LEGO bricks or playing a music instrument.
The role of children’s drawing, painting etc. in their development has been less extensively researched. However, what is known is that before they are fully literate, drawing and other mark-making are universal and important ways in which children record their experiences, express their ideas and communicate. In general, symbolic play supports children developing technical abilities to express ideas, feelings and experiences through language, painting, drawing, collage, numbers, music and so on.
It is important to distinguish between playing with language, which we refer to as ‘symbolic’ play, and using language to develop pretend scenarios or narratives, which we term ‘pretence and socio-dramatic’ play. Although closely related, they perform separate, but equally psychologically important, purposes.