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  • Niki Klein

Toys That Promote Speech and Language Development

Updated: Mar 31, 2020



As a speech-language pathologist, I am frequently asked what games and toys to get children for their birthdays or the holidays to enhance their speech and language development.  In honor of my own birthday, May’s newsletter is all about what toys best support child language development!Before I get into some of the tangible toys, I want to point out that YOU are the best gift you can give to your child.  As a parent, you are your child’s first and best teacher! Your time, attention, and dedication is what is going to enhance your child’s speech and language development the most.  A child can have every toy on the list below, but without your support, he or she will not make the same kind of progress. Keep your play light and make it fun! When playing with your little one try following his or her lead.

You’ve also probably noticed that some of your child’s favorite toys aren’t even toys at all — cue the salad spinner.  Some of my favorite non-traditional toys include nesting bowls, blankets, cotton balls, masking tape, cardboard boxes, and plastic tupperware.  When appropriate, allow your child to explore common objects at home and use them in play. If your little one isn’t already playing with household objects, you’ll be amazed how long these things can peak your child’s interest and curiosity.How to select toys and materials to enhance your child’s speech and language development:

Choose toys/games that:

1. Don’t require batteries (of course there are some exceptions to this)!  Toys that have batteries typically light up and make sounds, taking away from the language experience.  For example, instead of buying a cow that “moos”, make a “moo” sound yourself and encourage your child to imitate.

2. Are open-ended.  Open-ended toys have no beginning, middle, or end and can be used in a variety of ways over time.  Some of my favorite open-ended toys include Mr. Potato Head, playdough, puppets, dress up materials, kitchen play set, etc…  What’s great about open-ended toys is that they often grow with your child so he or she can explore and create new ways to play with them.

3. Are meaningful!  Does your child really like going to the zoo or love riding on trains? Choose toys that your child is interested in and can relate to his or her experiences.  What works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for all children and it’s important to keep your child’s unique interests in mind.

4. Encourage social interaction.  This includes toys/games that encourage pretend play with multiple people or are early turn taking games.  Interacting with adults and peers provides immense opportunities for sharing ideas, learning new concepts, and building speech and language skills.

5. Are developmentally appropriate.  This means selecting something that is suitable for your child’s current skill level and not necessarily based on his or her age.

6. Encourage problem solving.  Whether playing with blocks, building toys, or puzzles, children begin to learn about cause and effect relationships, take risks, and develop independent ideas providing countless opportunities for discussion and development of new vocabulary.

7. Books.  Your child is never too young to start reading!  Reading with your child daily provides repetition of familiar words, exposes him or her to new concepts, and builds early literacy skills.

In addition, some examples of my favorite toys for various young language learners include:

3+ months:  At this age, your child is beginning to make a few sounds and laughing.  By 6 months, your child is localizing sound (turning head toward sound source) and recognizing his/her name.  Some great first toys include: rattle, teether or easy to clean objects with different textures, mirror, instruments, and picture book of family and friends

9+ months:  Your child’s babbling will start to sound more like “mama” and “dada”. These sounds will emerge randomly at first, but soon your baby will learn to associate them with mom and dad.  Your child is also starting to use familiar gestures like pointing, waving, and clapping. Some ideas for toys include: stacking toy, bubbles, push pop-up toy, and shape sorter

1 year:  Your child is starting to use their first true words and understand simple directions and questions, like clap your hands and where’s mommy/daddy.  Some ideas to promote your child’s further language development include: baby doll, puzzles, blocks, flap books, and farm animals 

2 years:  It’s amazing how much your child’s language has exploded in this last year. Your little one may even be combining familiar words to make comments and ask questions. Some of my favorite toys for a child this age include: kitchen set and food, Mr. Potato Head, Play dough, school bus and people, and puppets

3 years:  Your little one is now having real conversations with you and can probably tell you what toys he/she wants. Some of my favorite recommendations for this age include:cash register, doctor set, markers, Don’t Break the Ice, Go Away Monster, and Lucky Ducks  


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