Over the years, while working with my own children and children with speech-language impairments, I have developed a list of toys that I believe are good at fostering and improving speech and language development. I have compiled the list below (in no particular order).
1. Mr. Potato Head
This must-have toy for SLP’s is great for little kids, along with preschoolers to work on language skills, such as labeling and understanding body parts, prepositions (e.g. on his head, under his body), and basic concepts such as ‘in’ and ‘out’.
2. Matchbox Cars
These were (and still are for my 2 year old), an all-time favorite in our household of 3 boys. They are inexpensive and provide opportunities for children to make sounds that will improve oral motor coordination, such as making raspberry sounds with lips. They are also great motivators for working on any speech and/or language task. (My husband and I used them as rewards during potty training our sons.)
Blocks are another one of our favorite toys when the kids were very little (9 months-3 years). They can encourage learning colors, counting and not to mention hand-eye coordination. Children can learn to count from 1-10 by imitating and counting blocks repetitively. Counting and talking about stacking the blocks can teach prosody and turn taking, which are key components of communication.
4. Baby Dolls/Stuffed Animals
Dolls and Stuffed animals are great for feeding, changing and using ‘everyday’ basic language, such “night night”, “more” and “please”. Many children will ‘talk’ to inanimate objects when they won’t talk with others. It’s always interesting to hear what they have to say and how they say it. It’s amazing how you will sometimes hear your own voice!
For younger children, the board puzzles with knobs are good for talking about spatial concept, such as “in”, “out” and “on”. Talking about the theme of the puzzle can also be fun! Animal and transportation puzzles are good for encouraging sounds, identifying colors and counting.
6. Farm Set with Animals
This is a great set to use in Speech Therapy to elicit sounds in very young, nonverbal or children with limited communication, and sounds. Play farm sets can promote turn taking skills, sound development and labeling different animals and farm components.
7. Play Kitchen
With some opposition from my husband, Santa brought a play kitchen to our boys when they were toddlers. Imaginative play is important for a child’s development. Talking about the daily chores and activities we perform helps to encourage speech, language and pragmatic skills. Play kitchens are even better if a child has another young playmate, or even a parent, to engage with.
8. Mad Libs
This one is a huge favorite of mine for older kids (7+). My older 2 sons love doing Mad Libs. In the beginning, it can help teach parts of speech and correct grammar. To add articulation drills, children can read aloud the silly and funny mad libs they have created (which they love doing). Discuss proper grammar and parts of speech with your kids to promote good language skills.
A staple for encouraging many aspects of a child’s development, books can be used in many different ways. My mother was a reading teacher, so I was surrounded by books growing up. Once I become a Speech-Language Pathologist, I began to see books in another way. While literacy is an extremely important skill, books can be used to teach so many language concepts before a child can read. For younger kids, books can be used for labeling basic items (either receptively by having the child point to the item you name or expressively by having the child verbally identify the objects), forming sentences, working on individual sounds, phonological awareness, and literacy skills. I like the board books with flaps that can open to reveal a picture. This teaches object permanence, cause and effect, categories and early inferencing skills.
10. Coloring Books and Crayons
Probably for the reason you’d expect, coloring books and crayon are a great gift. They can help with sound development, counting, identifying shapes, colors, and objects. Coloring is also good for positive reinforcement after working in Speech Therapy or at home.
That’s a list of my favorite gift ideas. What will Santa bring your child?