With holidays approaching parents often ask me what toys will help their child to improve speech skills. I love this question and figured I'd share some of my thoughts. The truth is children learn through play so pretty much any toy works as long as your child is engaged and actively playing! Try to avoid toys that talk (let the child do the talking!) and apps that limit hands on experience and interaction with others. I am sharing some of my favorites for really building engagement and why I like them.
BLOCKS! There are so many varieties! Basic wooden blocks are a classic toy that I use with children everyday. Starting with toddlers filling and dumping, banging together and knocking down. So much engagement, so much discovery. Toddlers often seem to love filling buckets and dumping them out. They are learning about objects and spatial concepts when they do this. There are sound effects to model and so many words! boom!, all gone!, dump! and pour are fun words to say during this activity and can lead to shared experience, joint referencing and so much more! dump away!
As your toddler grows and develops lining blocks up, stacking, building towers and choo choo trains invite creative thinking, joint reference, problem solving, and again many, many sounds and words! These same blocks can lead into pretend play building roads for cars to ride, walls to jump over and buildings for little people. There are so many block choices. Wooden, alphabet blocks, soft plastic, large and small, Bristle blocks, Mega Lego and Lego. Lego blocks offer unique challenges and can grow with your child well through his or her school years offering language expansion ideas all the way. Blocks give tactile opportunities to learn about shapes, sizes, spatial concepts and number sense all while having fun. When a building falls down a child learns to deal with consequences and to ask for help, or to try new ideas. These concepts lay a foundation for social skill development.
PRETEND PLAY SETS! Kitchen sets, doll houses, gas stations, dress up clothes and barns. These play items are limitless and give great opportunity for a child to imitate actions and words they see in the world. They can be gender neutral, most children boy or girl like to play with them. These types of toys lend themselves to cooperative play. I like to use these toys in therapy to target use of words, following simple directions, concepts and expansion of language. "Put the cake in the oven", "the horse is eating hay", " people go to sleep, wake up!" ,"look!" , "The car is fast!"
Children truly develop social skills and functional communication when engaged in interactive pretend play. As a parent you can engage the child in play by following his or her lead, and responding to his or her actions and ideas. Avoid asking too many questions. Have fun!
Simple turn taking games such as memory matching, children' charades, and classic board games offer opportunity to increase attention to structured activity, turn taking, question asking and answering. Just think about the child's developmental level and try to avoid games that cause frustration and are too demanding for the child. Don't be afraid to simplify rules or let your child have a "helper" when playing in a group. What matters most is that it is fun! Bottom line if your child is actively engaged and having fun, your child is learning!
I hope this gives you some ideas! Always feel free to ask your child's speech language pathologist for a suggestion, we're all about play!