Parents often ask me to recommend toys that will support their child’s language. Rather than recommending specific toys, here are 5 good principles to follow when choosing toys:
1. Look for toys that promote pretend or symbolic play. According to F.P. Hughes (2010), language and make-believe play go hand in hand as they both rely on a child's ability to represent the world internally to himself.
Pretend play creates a language rich environment and is more likely to be led by the child who has plenty of opportunities to comment, respond and interact in this context. It stimulates the imagination and allows the child to recreate and explore real life situations. Children with language delays can have poorer pretend play skills than early talkers. A doll house, a doctor’s set, plastic figurines and animals are all great ways to get into pretend play.
2. Think of games the whole family can play together. There is no beating the fun of playing a good old fashioned table game with family and friends. There are plenty of very interesting and creative games to be found on the market but you can also go for the old classics like Snakes and Ladders or Uno. These games are still popular today for good reasons. They reinforce basic concepts (counting, colours) and teach social skills such as taking turns, understanding the rules of a game/seeking information, negotiating conflict when people don’t agree on rules. They also teach children to have fun, even when they are not winning.
3. Think also of non-competitive games and cooperative games. With "Hop, Hop, Hop" by Djeco or "The Little Orchard" by Haba, all the players have to work together for a common goal. Kids can learn that you don't need to win to have fun.
4. In kind presents: how about an activity rather than a toy? Some of my children with language difficulties have amazing knowledge about some favourite interests of theirs. Special interests are highly motivating for children and they tend to learn specific vocabulary a lot more easily in such contexts.
5. Avoid toys with flashing lights and beeping sounds, especially with younger children. They tend to be fascinated by the visual and sound effects, and stop talking altogether. If the train says “choo-choo”, why would the child say it? This cookie shape sorter is an example. It makes music and sounds and tells the children the name of the shapes as they put them in… If the cookie sorter does the talking, the child won’t!
Looking for language tips, activities and ideas? This blog is for parents, speech pathologists, teachers, educators and anyone with an interest in speech and language.