Using Games and Toys to Help Your Child’s Language Development
Toys and play are an important part of a child’s development, and each has a key role in helping children reach milestones.
Playing with toys allows children to learn early skills, like cause and effect (e.g. if you push the block, it will fall), fine motor skills (turning a handle), and spatial awareness (does it fit?).
Children also learn observation and imitation skills through play. For example, if they see their sibling pushing a toy car, they will try to do the same.
Later on, they also learn how to relate to the world through play by imitating routines and replaying their own personal experiences.
If they see a parent sweeping the floor, they will want to help, and may start to pretend to sweep a floor in their own play routines.
They also have the opportunities to imitate the language that they hear within their daily routines, and repeat and expand on that same language within play.
Play also promotes social skill development: children learn how to take turns, solve problems and disagreements, and work together.
Playing with toys and games provides children with opportunities for telling what they want, asking questions, and commenting on their own experiences and opinions.
Quiet toys vs. toys that make sounds
Toys that make sounds are attractive for a number of reasons: they grab the attention of a child, offer instant gratification, and feature familiar, fun noises and songs.
However, these toys can also distract from language development and from others player in a child’s environment.
Kids tend to be quieter when playing with a noisy toy, which makes sense – the toy is the one making all of the noise!
In addition, the noise or action of the toy can become the main purpose, which in turn can limit other ways of engaging with the toy.
On the other hand, quiet toys promote engaging with a child’s environment and playing with others.
They also allow flexibility in how a child can play with the toy and provide opportunities to fill in the silence of the toy with language related to play.
Choosing toys that can support language development
When it comes to choosing a toy that can help support your child’s language development, there are a number of different things to consider.
Look for toys that help encourage language concepts or social interactions, as well as toys that imitate real-life routines or encourage the use of action words.
You can also consider toys that require your child to make requests or toys that use descriptive language.
Below, you can find several examples of toys that we, as speech therapists, like for a child’s language development, along with the speech development benefits each toy provides.
We like blocks because:
- Language concepts:
- Up, fall down
- Big, smal
- Social interactions:
- Taking turns
- Blocks grow with a child and can expand into other types of play
We like the farm because:
- Language concepts:
- Animal names and sounds
- Opposites: in/out, on/under, open/close, over/under, big/small
- Actions: eat, sleep, jump, pet, kiss
- How to play with a farm:
- Acting out a trip to the farm
- Feeding the animals
- Acting out daily routines
- Singing Old MacDonald
Similar toys include a dollhouse, zoo, car tower, or school set.
We like bubbles because:
- Language concepts:
- Requesting: more, help, my turn
- Early words for commenting: pop, yuck, fun, big, bubble, wow
- Body parts: on your nose, hair, arm, foot, etc.
- Active play that encourages movement: running, walking, standing, crawling
Similar toys include Play-Doh, a sensory bin, or a water table.
Kitchen set with food
We like kitchen sets because:
- Imitate real life routines through pretend play
- Action words: chop, cut, eat, feed, spill, clean, pour, cook, stir/li>
- Thematic vocabulary: fruits, vegetables, meals, silverware and place settings
- Descriptive language: hot, cold, small, big, more, yummy
- Learning safety through play: be careful, that’s hot, too sharp, don’t touch
- Teaches sequencing of events: chop, cook, stir, wait/blow, eat, clean
- Grows with the child to span multiple developmental milestones
Similar toys include an ice cream cart, doctor set, or tool set.