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Top Toys to Enhance Speech and Language Skills

South Tampa speech-language pathologist Chrissy Money shares her favorite toys for kids and ways you can play with your child to enhance their language skills.

One of the best and easiest ways to naturally enhance and expand on your child’s communication skills is through play! Your child already likely spends most of their day playing, so take advantage of these opportunities to increase their language skills. You probably already own many of the toys below that are widely used by Speech-Language Pathologists in therapeutic settings.

  1. Farm Animals

A farm set or farm animal puzzle immerses your child in a variety of language rich activities. Farm animals (and the sounds they make) typically make up some of your child’s earliest vocabulary. Your child may even be more likely to imitate the animal sound than the animal name, because those are simply more fun to say! Use different voices and sounds along with your child while changing your pitch frequently. Maybe the cow has a low, deep voice while the pig has a squeaky, high pitched voice. This draws more attention to what you are saying. The animal sounds are fun for little ones to pair with the correct animal and are great for practicing a variety of different sounds and increasing vocabulary.  Learning to identify and label these animals carries over to a variety of other common pictures and objects.

  1. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head

This toy is a favorite for learning to identify and label body parts. Try holding up two body parts at a time and see if your child can identify the one you ask them to select. Once they can identify all of the body parts, see if they can begin labeling them after you provide a model. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are full of other language opportunities beyond body parts. You can target male and female pronouns (he/she, his/her), spatial concepts (“on” and “off” with the glasses and hats) and verbs (“push” and “pull” while putting pieces together and taking them apart). You can even target comprehension skills by asking your child to follow directions and telling them which pieces to put on next. Simultaneously, you can address pretend play as well as the different feelings and emotions of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.

  1. Bubbles

Bubbles tend to be motivating in general and are perfect for eliciting language.  Your child can practice requesting “more” (verbally or by signing) and combining it with the word “please” (again, verbalized or signed) to form 2 word utterances. Bubbles are also a wonderful opportunity for your child to practice requesting “help” or using the words “open” or “go” as most little ones cannot open the bottle or blow bubbles on their own.  While playing with bubbles, you can auditorily bombard your child with the words “bubble”, “pop”, “big” and “more”, while emphasizing the initial sounds of the words. The sounds “p”, “b”, and “m” make up some of your child’s earliest sounds when they begin pressing their lips together to verbalize.

  1. Blocks

Brightly colored blocks of different sizes and shapes target many early basic concepts. Use of a shape sorter is perfect for beginning to count while teaching colors and shapes. You can practice putting the blocks “in” and taking them “out”, as well as stacking them “up” and pushing them “down”. Take these opportunities to practice imitations like “uh oh” or “oh no” when the blocks fall down!  As these tasks become simpler for your child, you can arrange blocks “on top of”, “under”, “in front of”, “behind” and “next to” each other, which will begin addressing spatial concepts. Blocks are another great activity to work on following directions as well.

  1. Baby Doll

Pretend play is one of the many types of different play your child will participate in as their play, language and social skills develop.  For children that are just beginning to explore pretend play, a baby doll (or toy dinosaur or stuffed animal) can be the perfect toy to teach your child how to pretend. The baby may feel tired, hungry or thirsty and you and your child can practice feeding the baby, combing the baby’s hair or putting the baby to bed. You can begin addressing vocabulary like “eat” or “night night” when interacting with the baby.  Once your child understands the concept of pretend play, you can work on two-step directions such as “first feed the baby, then put her to bed”.

Play and language skills develop hand and hand, and the best part of play is that children don’t even realize that they’re working to develop their language skills- you may forget too! Remember to take advantage of language immersion opportunities throughout the day and have fun playing!

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