Great Toys for Language Development: Birth – 3

I have worked at least partly  in early invention for my entire career as an SLP. There is such a range of interests (and attention spans) in little ones but I have developed a “go to” list of therapy toys for them based on my experience and now I want to share it with YOU so you can prepare those birthday and Christmas lists! 🙂

(You know your child best. If they cannot handle smaller pieces, please use your best judgment with what toys you give them.)

  1. Toy barns with animals: Not only can you practice specific vocabulary like animals and their noises, but the barn is also great for prepositions (on, in, off) and following simple directions (“Put the cow in.”)
  2. Baby dolls: This is a great activity to target a child’s typical daily routines as well as age appropriate verbs (eat, drink, sleep, change). The baby can also “participate” in activities that may be more averse to the child to work on desensitization (for example, learning to diversify what foods they eat).
  3. Mr. Potato Head: This activity is perfect for learning body parts and colors. It also is great for following directions, fine motor skills, and targeting prepositions.
  4. Bubbles: Who doesn’t love bubbles?? Not only are they motivating for continuation of an activity but they also work on oral motor strength if the child takes turns blowing. The sounds /p, b, m/ are typically the first consonants children acquire so BuBBles, PoP, Blow, etc. are wonderful words to target. (For bonus blowing activities you can blow cotton balls across a table, squirt a blob of fingerpaint on paper and blow on it to spread it out, etc.)
  5. Songs/music: I love to use songs with repetitive verses. One, because the repetition helps the language to stick and two, because it’s easy to pause the song after verse one and wait for the child to request “more”. Singing also activates a different part of the brain which can add to greater retention of sung vocabulary. Not to mention….what toddler doesn’t love dancing? Hello gross motor skills and direction following! I would also add finger play songs to this part (Itsy Bitsy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle, etc.)
  6. Chunky puzzles: I especially love puzzles with vehicles or other items that have a noise you can create/imitate. Environmental noises are a pre-cursor to verbal speech so targeting these is a perfect way to help open the gateway to language. There are great puzzles out there with handles on each piece, too, for assistance with fine motor skills.
  7. Stringing Beads: I like to use very big beads for safety. I target colors, fine motor skills, and vocabulary with this. I have a set that is made of giant boats, airplanes, cars, and trains and it’s a big hit!
  8. Books: Board books tend to be your best bet if you want them to last. My personal favorite are the “Bear” stories by Karma Wilson. I love the repetition and the use of core vocabulary throughout. Books are great for modeling as well as having your child point to named vocabulary. They can also work on pre-reading skills such as book orientation and turning the page.
  9. Wind up cars: Motivating, fast, and easy. It can’t get much better. You can target describing words (fast, slow) and action words (go, stop) as well as give directions and prepositions.
  10. A safety mirror: Using a mirror to model with little ones is SO FUN! You can sit side by side and look in the mirror together. Practice making silly sounds and silly faces. Odds are your child will copy you for the sheer fun of it! Make sure you’re using a non-breakable mirror. Bonus points for mirrors that have attached soft toys!

I hope this list helps guide you! Really ANYTHING you do with your child is great because YOU and your voice are the best examples out there. Narrate while you bake, narrate while you get ready, play and read and sing often, get outside and talk about what you see. The opportunities for modeling are endless and you are your child’s best teacher!

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