As a mother to an 18-month old baby, I’m constantly concerned whether I’m raising my kid in the best way possible, particularly by helping her ease through the transition from one developmental milestone to another. And being a writer by profession, I guess being concerned with my child’s speech development doesn’t come as a surprise.
This concern prompted me to start reading about the subject, and during my Google searches, I came across an article by speech language pathologist Sherry Artemenko In it, she points out that early language proficiency is closely linked with later performance in school – reading, writing and critical thinking skills – and influences emotional, cognitive and social growth. She further explains that from a baby’s first coo, a toddler’s first words, a preschooler’s little sentences to storytelling, children progress in their ability to express feelings, successfully connect in social situations, solve problems and make good decisions.
With that being said, what better place to start than with toys, books and games that your child is exposed to, right?
Artemenko seemed to be reading the minds of moms like me when she posed these questions: How do parents sort through this huge supply of kids’ toys? Who do we listen to? Who are the experts? How do you discern between marketing hype and the truth?
In order to guide you in your search for the best toys that encourage speech and language development, here are some points to consider from speech pathologists all over the Internet.
- The best toys for early speech and language development set the stage for language-rich play in meaningful context.
Focus on toys that inspire children not just to memorize and imitate words but to use those words functionally in a variety of ways, such as requesting, showing, sharing, commenting, role play, problem solving, asking for help and making plans – recommends speech pathologist, mom and , Twodaloo blogger Stephanie.
- Skip the batteries.
If the toy requires batteries, either ditch the toy altogether or take the batteries out. For example, a cute farm set may be cute but it runs on batteries so that it can make noises. Hanen-certified speech pathologist Katie Yeh emphasizes that you don’t need the barn to make noises – you want your CHILD to make the noises!
- Choose open-ended and versatile toys.
Let your child play with toys that can be used in different ways overtime, those that have no beginning, middle or end. Lean more towards basic and traditional toys – ones that allow your child to practice their creative freedom and imagination. Opt for sturdy and well-made ones too!
Here are some examples of open ended, basic toys:
- Wooden blocks
- Cars, trucks, transportation toys (Do they make noise? Off with the batteries!)
- Simple train tracks and trains
- Play kitchen and play food
- Farm set or animal sets
- Doll house
- Play dough
- Sensory table
- Dress up clothes
- Tool set
- Tea set
- Baby doll/baby blanket
- Don’t worry about gender
Katie Yeh suggests that you don’t stick to gender specific toys when picking toys for your child. Let your girls play with trucks and trains and your boys play with toy kitchens and baby dolls. She cites a research on the impact of specific toys on play that explains how the highest-scoring toys stimulated problem solving, social interaction and creative expression in both boys. Try to leave your previous conceptions about what inspires male and female play at the door, and objectively observe toy effects to maximize the benefits your child can get from all sorts of play materials.
- Say no to SCLANS or “educational” toys
Stay away from the aisle that houses toys that claim to be educational, “teach the ABCs,” “teach colors and numbers” and so on. These are what Kim from Little Stories call SCLANS (Shapes, Colors, Letters and NumberS) and these are what you ought to avoid if you have a little one in the early stages of communication development. (Ouch, I’m guilty of this) Your child don’t need these types of toys, as they tend to do all the “doing” with music and flashing lights.
- Use toys that get your kid moving
Whether indoors or outdoors, physical activity is crucial for your child. Make forts and tunnels (you can even fancy them out of huge cardboard boxes!), have fun with ride-on toys or just play ball! Another great idea would be to go outside and explore the park nearest you!
- Less is more
When we’re too in love with our kids, we tend to splurge on too many toys thinking we’re giving what’s best for them. But Yeh explains that the truth is less is more. “Your child does NOT need toys upon toys! In fact, too many toys can actually be a big negative,” she says. Children easily get overwhelmed with too many toys and end up shifting quickly from one toy to another which can actually limit their play and language opportunities.
But wait, don’t throw away your child’s toys just yet! You may still keep them, but do consider a toy rotation to allow your child enough opportunities for solid and meaningful play with each.
- The best toys could not be “toys” at all
Sometimes, the BEST toys are not “real” toys at all! Use pots, pans, wooden spoons, cardboard boxes, make forts out of blankets and pillows and run wild with your imagination!
My favorite take-away from my readings, however, is this: sometimes WE are the best toy for our children. Sing nursery rhymes together. Speak in a funny voice. Tell lots of stories. Play hide and seek. Whatever you do, be creative in entertaining and educating your kid and who knows, she might just reward you with words and phrases before you know it!