The idea that play is a child’s work is not new. Maria Montessori understood that play is the means by which children grow and learn. She said, “Play is the work of the child.” The well-known educator Piaget considered play to be integral to the development of a child’s intelligence as well as language development. And our beloved “Mr. Rogers” believed that not only is play the work of childhood, but through play children learn the social skills that will help them succeed in life.
We all agree that a child’s play is important, but the problem is, you only have so much money and so much space. And there are SO MANY TOYS to choose from that it makes your head spin! What’s a mama to do?
Let’s break it down: What are the BEST toys to invest in to help build your child’s language skills?
The number one question to ask is, “What delights my child?” Motivation is key, and with motivation comes the desire to communicate!
You’ll be happy to hear that the simpler the toy the better. Annoying noises and flashing lights are not conducive to language development! That’s right, the simpler the better. (You’re welcome!) When playing with simple toys such as blocks, dolls, and balls, parents tend to use more descriptive language. The imagination is engaged! Crazy battery-operated toys don’t allow for conversation like nesting toys, pullback cars, simple puzzles, and bubbles. Find the one(s) that excite your child and go with it!
When it comes to play, focus on simple, functional words, such as more, help, up/down, in/out, on/off, open/close, and name the toy with a simple noun. Action words (verbs) are important too. Here are some ideas on how you can use these simple toys to encourage interactive talk:
Such a wonderful, versatile toy! It’s not rocket science, but start by labeling the toy with the simple noun: “BALL.” Repeat this word over and over! “Throw the ball! Catch the ball! Kick it! Kick the ball!” When your child achieves it, celebrate with an enthusiastic “YAY!” and heartfelt applause. It never hurts to build a little skill and confidence while building language! Also, the ball is the perfect choice to teach those important words, “Your turn, my turn.”
A baby doll is often a child’s favorite toy. It encourages wonderful emotional and social words (and feelings) as your little one takes on the role of mama. After labeling the toy “BABY,” you can encourage your child to “hug” or “kiss” the baby. Does baby need to “sleep”? With accessories your child can “feed” her baby. “Does baby want to ‘eat’”? The nurturing aspect of playing with baby dolls lends itself to unlimited conversations as you care for baby together.
Kids love nesting and stacking toys! When nesting, they can compare sizes: “big, bigger” and “small, smaller,” and learn the meaning of “in/out,” and “up/down.” Sometimes they can identify different colors, or, if they have pictures of animals, they can associate the sounds they make. They can say “baaah!” while stacking it on top! They are organizing, problem-solving, and developing fine motor as well as language skills as they hear you say, “Up, up, up—DOWN!” Simple, yet so effective!
“1-2-3…GO!” Playing with pullback cars is a blast! Use fun exclamatory words and sounds—“CRASH!” “BOOM!” “VROOM!” And remember, repeat over and over and over again!
Puzzles are a great activity to help your little one to understand and use the word “MORE.” Take out the puzzle and give your child only one piece. When they successfully put it in the right place, they’re eager to do another. Each time your child wants a new puzzle piece, they need to either sign or say “MORE” or “OPEN.” After they communicate their need, immediately reward them with another puzzle piece. This is great motivation for kids to learn to ask for what they want!
Bubbles delight children! You have their full attention as you pull out the wand and blow, s-l-o-w-l-y! Oh, the suspense as their little mouths copy yours! Use functional words such as “blow,” “bubble,” “POP!” “more,” “help,” or “open.” It’s easy to repeat these words as the bubbles keep on coming!
These are just a few examples of simple toys that offer unlimited verbal opportunities for your child. As you play with these toys day after day and repeat the same words day after day, your child will learn and begin to participate! When you REPEAT, they REMEMBER. Yes, when you REPEAT, they REMEMBER! When you . . . okay, okay, you get the point!
When you’re playing with these simple toys, don’t be afraid to be silly and animated—your little one will love it and be more inclined to start talking!
Another thought concerning play and building language skills—your play doesn’t even have to involve toys! Sometimes the magic really happens when YOU are your child’s toy! Toyless parent-child interaction is FUN AND SIMPLE, and you might find it to be an easier way to teach new words or concepts.
This is all covered in our online courses! To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!