Playtime is always a great learning opportunity for toddlers, especially considering that for the most part all waking hours involve play. Below are some of my favorite toys for eliciting and teaching speech and language skills to young children and strategies for educative play.
First, let’s review some recommendations for all toys.
Encourage your child to make choices. When it is time to play, give him/her a choice of two or three toys. Begin by labeling the items and then encourage your child to choose by pointing, naming, using a phrase, or simply imitating the first sound of the item requested (i.e. if saying “Mr. Potato Head” is too hard, suggest verbalizing “puh” or “tato”), or a combination of any of the above.
Keep toys out of reach or in containers that the child cannot open (especially your child’s favorites). This will help to support your kiddo’s initiation and spontaneous language/communication. Encourage your child to ask for “help”, ask to “open” the container, or name preferred items. This can also help to keep your space organized and keep toy parts together!
Don’t forget to play WITH your child! Toddlers’ spongy brains are ready to soak up what you have to teach them. Model the language you want him/her to use. Don’t be afraid to be silly and creative, toys do not have to be used in the exact way they were intended. If your toddler wants to use Mr. Potato Head’s hand as a shovel, go with it. Have fun!
Mr. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head is a great toy for teaching body parts. Encourage your child to ask for body parts or choose the correct item out of two or three different parts. Tell the child to “push.. (push.. push)” pieces “in.. (in.. in)” and “pull” them “out”. Mr. Potato Head is also great for working on fine motor skills. If your kiddo has trouble getting the pieces in the holes, remind him/her to ask for “help”!
Animals with a Barn
Animal Planet Barnyard Playset is great for teaching animal names and sounds. Make the animals climb “up” the roof and “whee” go “down”. “Open” and “close” the doors while saying “hi” and “bye” to the animals inside. Can also work on action words by having the animals “run,” “jump,” “fly,” “eat,” “sleep,” etc.
Reusable Sticker Books
The Melissa and Doug reusable sticker books are great for encouraging creativity, working on following directions/comprehension, requesting, and learning to describe/give directions. Plus, kids love stickers! Encourage your child to request the sticker he/she wants (using the above requesting/choosing suggestions). Tell him/her where to put the sticker using location/color words (i.e. “put the girl on the blue train,” “put the hippo in the water” or “put the cow next to the horse”).
Other great toys include:
- Gum-ball Machine (B. Sugar Chute)
- Play Doh
- Velcro food cutting set
- Baby Einstein Treasure Box
- Fisher Price Piggy Bank.