February 9th, 2012 by

Top Toys & How They Can Support Speech & Language Development (Part One)

As a speech pathologist, I am asked all the time by parents what toys I recommend they buy for their children to help expand their speech and language skills. When I became a mother, I became even more interested in children’s toys. So for the month of February, I’ve decided to write a series of posts all about my personal top pics of toys I wish every child could have, and how they can support language development and overall learning. Welcome to part one of four in my series!

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I have been working with children in  professional capacity for over 15 years and have had the pleasure of working with children of all abilities in a wide variety of settings (preschools, elementary schools, middle and high schools, child care programs, recreation programs, homes, etc.). Working in these settings over the years, as well as my experience as a speech pathologist and a mother of two, has given me a unique perspective on the use of toys as learning tools. Particularly how toys can help (or even HINDER!) speech and language skills.

As I share with you my personal top picks for toys for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, I will also be sharing the areas of speech and language that these toys can help support. However, it is important to know that for these toys to help support speech and language development you, as the parent or caregiver, must help to facilitate that language. What I mean is this: You can’t just give a child a shape sorter and expect him to magically know and use the names of shapes and colors! You need to sit with your child and facilitate his learning. You need to use some strategies that I have mentioned before including:

Parallel Talk, Self Talk, & Descriptions

Expansions, Extensions, and Repetitions

Commenting and Asking Questions

If you are a fellow speech pathologist and work with infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, you may also find this series of posts valuable for choosing therapy materials.

OK, let’s get started! My first five top pick toys (in no particular order):

Stacking/Nesting Toys

Stacking/nesting toys are by far one of my most favorite toys for infants and toddlers. I have personally found that our stacking/nesting cups have been the most used and longest used toys that we have ever bought. Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with stacking/nesting cups:

  • Preposition concepts of in/out as he nests the different sized cups
  • Preposition concepts of on, under, next to, in front, behind, top, bottom, on, off, and between as he stacks and builds with them.
  • Color concepts
  • Shape concepts (especially if you have different sets of cups in different shapes)
  • Size concepts of big, bigger, biggest; small, smaller, smallest; small, medium, large
  • Concepts of full/empty (by filling some cups up with other things like rice, beans, etc)
  • Counting skills
  • Problem solving skills: Figuring out which cups stack on others best, or nest within other best.
  • Fine motor and motor planning skills
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • If the stacking/nesting cups have pictures of animals/letters on them you can also teach these vocabulary words.
  • Other activity idea: Take another small toy (like an animal) and hiding it under a cup and have your infant or toddler find where the toy went.
  • Other activity idea: If you are using plain plastic colored cups, you can draw or tape pictures of any target vocabulary on the cups and use the cups to target this vocabulary (i.e. You can play following directions games with the cups by saying “Put the horse cup on top of the pig cup.”)

Wooden Blocks

Every child should have access to blocks! I prefer a simple set of colored blocks of different shapes and sizes, however I also love the square blocks with the letters/numbers on them as they provide the opportunity to also target letter and number recognition (and later on, even some word recognition or spelling practice!). Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with blocks:

  • Preposition concepts of on, under, next to, in front, behind, top, bottom, on, off, and between as he stacks and builds with them.
  • Color concepts
  • Shape concepts
  • Letter and Number concepts (if you are using blocks with letters/numbers)
  • Size concepts
  • Counting skills
  • Problem solving skills: i.e. How to create a stable tower that won’t fall down
  • Hand-eye coordination/Fine motor skills and visual processing
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • When at school or in a play situation, children can practice their sharing, cooperation, problem solving skills and more while building with their friends.
  • Math and science principals like gravity and balance (not my expertise! Ha!)

Balls, Balls and More Balls

My little Everett loves balls. He just started Gymboree classes this week, and his first class he must have carried some sort of ball around with him the entire 45 minutes. I remember my daughter liked them too (though not as much as EV!). Balls can help teach so many concepts. Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with balls:

  • Concepts of in, on, off, through, up, down, next to, in front, behind, top, bottom (while using the balls in different activities and with other items like basketball hoops, baskets, tunnels, cups, boxes, etc.)
  • Color concepts (using different colored balls)
  • Size concepts like big, medium, small, biggest, smallest, etc (using different sized balls)
  • Tactile concepts/vocabulary like hard, soft, bumpy, smooth, etc. (when using balls made of various materials).
  • Counting concepts
  • Problem solving skills (i.e. which balls can fit in which containers?)
  • Gross motor, motor planning, and hand/eye skills while throwing, catching, and rolling
  • Social skills: Believe it or not, the simple act of rolling a ball back and forth to another person takes quite a bit of social skills! In order to roll  ball back and forth, you need to 1) Watch your friend 2) Read your friend’s non verbal language indicating whether or not he is ready to “catch” the ball (facial expressions, body position, gestures) 3) Roll the ball 4) Wait patiently for your turn to catch 5) Read your friend’s non verbal cues that he is ready to roll the ball to you 6) Catch the ball.

Shape Sorter

Shape sorters can teach many of the same concepts and skills that blocks can, with some added bonuses. Here are just some of the language, cognitive, and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with a shape sorter:

  • Shape concepts (Obviously, right? Ha!)
  • Preposition concepts of in, out, through.
  • Color concepts
  • Concepts of full and empty (full of shapes after all the shapes have been put in).
  • Fine motor and motor planning skills
  • Counting skills
  • Problem solving skills

Toy Phone

Yes, toy phones are by FAR one of my favorite toys. They are low cost and grow with your child. And think about it… What is it that we do on the phone? WE TALK! We use LANGUAGE! So a toy phone is a GREAT toy that can be used to support speech and language development. Here are just some of the language, cognitive, and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with a toy phone:

  • Social skills/pretend play: Your child can use the play phone to “practice” her speech and language skills and “talk” to an array of different “people.” ;) Grab yourself another play phone, and have a conversation with him!
  • Social skills/turn taking: Many times, your child will talk on the phone, and then will want YOU to talk on it. This is a great foundation for turn taking!
  • Speech/Language practice: I have had some clients who have not been, lets say, “in the mood” to participate in speech and language activities either with me or with their parents (like when doing homework). However some kids will do the activities if we are doing them in the phone! It’s funny what will motivate a kid! ;)

There are my first 5 recommendations! Make sure to check in every Tuesday for the month of February to read the other 15 toys I recommend to help support speech and language skills.

Cheers!

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