Learning language happens every waking moment – definitely not just in your child’s speech therapy session! Here we talk about five everyday (and easily purchased) toys and how you can use them to focus on developing and extending your child’s communication skills.

You will notice that the toys suggested are decidedly low-tech – it’s best to throw away those batteries. They are also open-ended toys – they don’t have a beginning, middle and end, so give both you and your child more freedom to be creative. Forget also the specific letter and number toys for now as these are not important if your child has a communication delay. Last, but not least, try not to think of certain toys as just for boys or girls. Boys can play with baby dolls and grocery trolleys and girls can enjoy cars and construction toys – they can benefit equally from the play materials and the experiences.

 

Shape Sorters

Always a favourite, shape sorters can help your child learn many cognitive and language skills such as:

  • Prepositions such as  in, out  and
  • Concepts including empty, full and colours and shapes.
  • Counting skills.
  • Turn-taking if you join in too!
  • Yes and no concepts – deliberately try to put a shape in the wrong hole and exaggerate your “no!” while shaking your head. Then when it’s right, exaggerate your “yes!” while nodding your head. Make it like a game and keep it fun.

 

Balls

Hopefully we can find these in every household and most children love them. Here’s what you can target:

  • Size concepts with various-sized balls – smallest, big, bigger.
  • Adjectives like soft, hard, bumpy if you have some with different textures.
  • Prepositions such as top, bottom, in, under, next to, behind.
  • Colours and counting.
  • A really easy game you can play with your young child is to sit on the floor and roll a ball back and forth between you. So simple but you will be developing all of the following skills: watching another/ understanding non-verbal language such as gestures/facial expression (is the ball about to come back to you?) / rolling the ball/ waiting/ catching. This is so basic but a great turn-taking social game.

 

Doll’s House

  • Vocabulary – sofa, bedroom, shower, dog, bed.
  • Verbs – You can make the dolls sit, stand, run, cook, sleep, bath, eat, go out, go up etc.
  • Concepts – in, out, above, on top, on, behind, under, numbers, shapes of the doors, windows.
  • Following directions – you can practise giving your child directions appropriate to their language level. One-step -” put the mummy on the chair” or two-step – “put mummy in the kitchen and daddy on the bed”. Alternatively, target vocabulary you are working on “put baby on the big bed” or “put the dog under the table”. This can also work the other way – get your child to give you instructions too!
  • ‘Wh’ questions – practise a variety of different questions “where is baby?”, “who is sleeping?”, “when is it time for dinner?”
  • Of course, this is also a toy where imagination can be developed as well as social communication skills such as eye contact, keeping on topic and asking and answering questions appropriately.

 

Mr Potato Head

This is such a versatile toy and always a favourite. You can buy small and big versions as well as different types such as knights, mermaids and Santa.

  • Body part names. Make sure your child can identify the body part on themselves also.
  • Clothing items. There are bags, hats shoes etc in different colours making it easy to work on colours and labels together.
  • As well as the basic concepts you can add left and right, first , next, last
  • Turn-taking. Mr Potato Head is a great toy for this as well as for practising following and giving directions.
  • Get a Mrs Potato Head too and practise the personal pronouns – he, she, his and

 

Play dough

Buy this or make you own. Play dough is something we think of as a slightly messy activity which develops your child’s fine-motor skills. But there are many language stimulation opportunities too.

  • Before children have the fine-motor skills to use the rollers, cutters and moulds that come with play dough they can manipulate it by pulling, squeezing and banging it. As your child does each action tell them what they are doing as they are doing it: ““squeeeeze!”, “pull, pull, pull”, so that they learn the word as the action is happening.
  • Concepts – colours, in, out, through, counting, shapes, size.
  • Vocabulary – the things you make and the tools you use.
  • Questions – as you make things together your child can answer many different types of questions.
  • Social communication – turn-taking, waiting and sharing can be easily practised along with other skills such as personal space and eye contact.

 

You can see from the above that there are no special, expensive or high-tech toys needed to help with your child’s speech and language. Whatever engages them is the very best thing. Most of all keep it as “play” and have fun together!