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Top 10 Early Language Toys Recommended by Speech-Language Pathologists

We often are asked by parents for recommendations of toys to purchase for their early language learners.  In general, I always suggest toys that have no batteries, are of interest to your child, and can be played with together.  Here is a compilation of toys I use every week in my sessions and frequently recommend to parents:

  1. Puzzles:
    1. Not only are puzzles great for problem solving and fine motor skills, there are many early language skills and vocabulary that can be targeted while playing together with puzzles.  You and your child can practice turn-taking while putting the pieces in.  You can hold the pieces in your lap and have your child point to or verbally request which piece he/she wants next.  You can also work on vocabulary such as, “turn it”, “put in”, “more” and “all done”, to name a few.
  2. Mr. Potato Head:
    1. There are so many functional vocabulary words children can learn while playing with Mr. Potato Head.  Identifying and naming body parts, put on/take off, colors, and requesting for help are all some of the skills that can be targeted.
  3. Blankets and pillows:
    1. A simple item such as blankets and pillows can be so fun.  Children and parents can build forts, participate in play scenarios around bedtime/going to sleep and other types of building activities.  Sometimes we carefully wrap children in blankets and swing them (with another adult) while working on connection, requesting more swinging or rate of swinging (go fast or go slow).
  4. Things they need help opening:
    1. Any toy or household item that needs opening is a great opportunity to target expressive language!  When a child cannot get an item open, they can be shown how to ask for help or to tell us what they need.  The motivator is the item they can’t get open!
  5. Sensory bins:
    1. Sensory bins are all the rage this year and we know exactly why.  When you throw a lot of (child-safe!) items in a bin with some rice or beans, children love it!  So many words can be targeted while playing in sensory bins including:  Open, close, dig, move, find, stir, mix—the list goes on.
  6. Cars and track
    1. Cars and a simple ramp, slide, or track are excellent for targeting imitation of so many actions, environmental sounds (e.g., vroom vroom, beep beep, honk honk, etc.) and new words!  It’s easy to build in verbal routines (E.g., “Up up up…Ready, set, GO!!!! Down!!!”).  Children are often very motivated by the quick movements and opportunities for wait time are easy to build into the play routine.
  7. Bubbles
    1. Bubbles are great for our little ones who struggle with joint attention.  Most kids cannot resist the temptation of chasing and popping bubbles around the room!  Many little ones cannot yet blow the bubbles themselves so this creates an excellent opportunity for them to practice requesting.  They can simply request “more”, or practice more complex requests such as, “blow”, “more bubbles”, “lots of bubbles”, “blow bubbles high”, etc.
  8. Play food/tea set
    1. Building communication skills surrounding meal time routines is so important for giving your child the power to express their basic needs and desires.  What’s more fun than practicing these skills with pretend food?  You can work on requesting for more food/drink, requesting for specific food items by name, and naming meal time objects (spoon, plate, cup, etc.). Children love to imitate silly environmental sounds during play with food too (e.g., chomping sounds, drinking sounds, “EWW!!!” “Mmmmm yummy”).
  9. Animal toys
    1. Sometimes, children may not be saying many real words yet.  Remember that environmental sounds, such as animal sounds, are often some of the first intentional “words” your child says!  Animal toys are great for modeling various animal sounds and helping your child to imitate them during play.  Your child will think it is hilarious to hear you try to make all of the sounds.  There are also many action words you can teach with these toys, such as run, eat, drink, jump, sleep, and more!
  10. YOU!
    1. You are your child’s most valuable toy!  Remember that if you are not playing WITH your child, they are not able to develop their language skills.  Be silly and fun!  Sing songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, and Row Your Boat.  Create simple verbal routines such as Humpty Dumpty and tickle monster.  Play peek-a-boo and have them ride on your lap like a horse!  I guarantee you will see your child very motivated to use new words during these games.