Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Daphne Greenberg

Second Advisor

Nicole Patton-Terry

Third Advisor

Ann Kruger

Fourth Advisor

Hongli Li


Children learn much about language through interactions with their parents. Ample empirical evidence demonstrates important correlational and predictive relations between parents’ linguistic input and young children’s oral language development and achievement. Research suggests that various aspects of parents’ language differs by linguistic context. However, there is relatively little research on parent-child language interactions during one increasingly prevalent linguistic context: digital game play. The present study addressed this gap in the literature, investigating parent and child vocabulary during three different play contexts: free play with toys, a board game (card matching), and a digital game (puzzles on an iPad).

Forty-three parents and their 3- to 4-year-old children were audio recorded in a quiet room at the child’s preschool while playing together. Parent-child dyads played with each other in each context for no more than 10 minutes each. In addition, all participants were administered a receptive (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th Ed) and an expressive (Expressive Vocabulary Test, 2nd Ed) vocabulary measure. Parents were also asked to complete a demographic survey which included questions about their typical game playing activity with their children.

The results contribute three important findings to the literature. First, parents reported spending more time in free play with their children, followed by digital games, and then board games. Second, both parents and children produced longer utterances during the board game, followed by free play, and then the digital game. Third, children’s vocabulary output during game play was related to the child’s age and the parents’ education level. Implications and future directions for researchers regarding parents’ and children’s language use during different contexts are discussed.