An SLP’s Favorite Toys for Language Development

Have you ever been walking through the toy store and see a toy and think, “What does this toy do?” I’ll let you in on a secret of mine. The toys that do nothing are my FAVORITE. Why would I like a toy that doesn’t do anything? Because if a toy doesn’t do anything, that means that the child has to do everything! And when the child (or parent) has to do everything, great opportunities for language development emerge!

I’ve already talked about the importance of talking to your child and narrating every single thing you do, but another important part of language development is playing with your child--with “boring” toys! So I want to talk through a few of my favorite toys and how you might play with these toys to facilitate language development.


1. Blocks

I love the plain wooden blocks--the ones with the letters and numbers on them. Why do I love blocks? There is so much to do while playing with them!

Children LOVE to knock a tower of blocks over. They just can’t resist. Build up a tower of blocks. The child will walk or crawl over and lean over. Say in the most dramatic way possible “Oh no, don’t KNOCK IT DOWN!” Of course the child will knock it down. “Uh oh, IT FELL DOWN. Let’s STACK IT UP! Do you want mama to stack blocks or (child’s name) to stack blocks?” Pause and give the child a chance to answer. Even if he’s not talking yet he might gesture for you to stack or he might start stacking. If he gestures for you to stack-- like my daughter does because she likes to reserve her energy for knocking over-- then say “Oh MAMA STACK? Let’s stack the blocks up TALL!” And this will go on and on.

This is not an exact dialogue and the phrases and words you use might be different based on the language level of your child. If your child is preschool-aged you might be working on counting as you stack the tower. You might work more heavily on the words “up” and “down.” You might build two towers and talk about which one is taller or shorter. You might build 3 towers and talk about which one is the tallest and shortest. See?? There are so many opportunities for language!


2. Bubbles

I haven’t met a child who didn’t love bubbles.

At the moment, my 1-year-old says “bubu” for bubbles, and that’s ok for her age. But as I have mentioned before, it’s important as the parent to use the correct word so that eventually the child will use the correct word. My daughter will always reach for the shelf and point to the bubbles and say “bubu!” So I’ll say, “Oh, you want BUBBLES? BUBBLES!” I’ll get them down, she’ll try and open them. I’ll say “Do you want mama to OPEN BUBBLES?” She’ll look excited because let’s be honest, she’s resisting the word yes since her favorite word is no right now. “Mama will BLOW BUBBLES!” Then she’ll start asking for “more” by signing and saying “muh.” I take that moment to say “Oh, you want MORE BUBBLES!”

I want to emphasize one thing about using the word “more” with your child. The noun, or what the child is asking for more of, needs to be included with the word “more.” The child will likely only use the word “more,” especially when the child hasn’t started putting two words together yet. But when you repeat the request back to him, always include the requested object after the word “more.” Example: instead of saying “Oh, you want more?” say “Oh, you want more BUBBLES?” The reason is that we are always wanting our children to become more effective communicators. If a child walks up to a lunchroom worker at school and says “more” or even “I want more,” that doesn’t mean anything to the lunchroom worker. The object is an important part of the message. The lunchroom worker needs to know what the child wants more of. We must teach our children this to create successful communicators.

For a preschooler who has more advanced language skills, you could work on counting the bubbles as you pop them. You could work on taking turns who gets to blow the bubbles. You could work on body parts. “Oh the bubble fell on my head!” “Catch the bubble with your hand!”


3. Pop-up toys

This toy may look really simple. And you may be wondering how to even facilitate language while playing with this type of toy. Well, for starters, sometimes these toys are a little hard for kids to figure out, so the child may need help. If he looks frustrated trying to figure it out, you might say “Do you need HELP?? Say HELP!” Then you show him how to do it. You might say, “Turn it this way,” or “Push it down.” Usually there are animals in these pop-up toys. You can work on the animal name. “Oh, it’s a zebra!” You could work on animal sounds. “Oh, a lion! Rawr!” You can work on “hello” and “goodbye” as you open and close each one. “Hello, monkey! Goodbye, monkey!” You can work on the words “open” and “close.” You can ask questions. “Where is the monkey? You found the monkey!” And when your child does start talking, pause and give him the opportunity to use the language you have been modeling for him.

A final word...

I also feel that I must mention that toys are not necessary! Toys are not the end-all be-all; interaction with you is what is most important! So no matter what toys you have or don’t have, just keep talking to and interacting with your children. For more tips on talking to your children, read this blog.

Other toys that I really like:

  1. Toy phones (the ones that don’t make music or have flashing lights)

  2. Baby dolls

  3. Play kitchens

  4. Balls and buckets

  5. Mr. Potato head

  6. Cars

  7. Little People house/farm/bus/etc.

  8. Musical instruments