The Language of Play!
Parents often ask, “What are the best toys for helping my child with language development?” Going into the toy section of most stores can be overwhelming. These days, many toys have bright lights and sounds that grab our attention, buttons to activate, and the promise of unlimited engagement. While many toys have valuable qualities, the best toys for encouraging language learning tend to be those that are simple and allow for engagement with other people.
Think about what language and communication really involve. Language and communication require a shared experience where the speaker and listener are each responding to each other. It is much more than simply saying a word or phrase and getting a response. When we communicate, we use body language, eye contact, inflection, and emotion in addition to our words. As the listener, we take in the words and non-verbal cues from the speaker as well as the context cues in the environment. Communication and language involve give-and-take much like a dance with a partner.
When we think about toys that are going to grow language, we want to think about activities where we can be highly engaged with a child. Think about the activities that you most enjoy with your child. When do you have the best connection? The most laughter? The best eye contact? Building on experiences that are engaging to both you and your child will help give you ideas about the types of toys and activities that can help to develop language. To give you some ideas, here are some toys that therapists at Monkey Mouths often use while helping children grow language.
Wind-up toys are great for asking for “help” and commenting on the action that happens.
Balls can be used to practice turn taking (throwing back and forth) and following directions (throw it to a person or location).
Play Doh is great for describing or naming actions (push, roll, squish, poke, etc.) and using descriptive words (big, small, squishy, colors, skinny, bumpy, etc.).
Farm animals are fun to use in pretend play and help to teach action words (eat, drink, sleep, run), descriptive words (big, small, spotted, etc.), and following directions.
Surprise eggs are fun to fill and open. Take plastic Easter eggs and fill them with small objects. Have fun opening them and talking about the surprise inside.
Books have unlimited potential for teaching language. For very young children or younger language learners, look for repetitive books and books with flaps to help with engagement. Remember that the best books are those that your child enjoys engaging in with you. It is fine to stray from the text to make comments and explore pictures together. As your child gains language skill, he or she will improve the ability to listen and attend to the story with you.
Most of all, in picking toys for your child, remember to have fun! Let your child guide you by observing his or her interests, and then offer what you think might be engaging. Allow yourself to be a bit of a kid again and play! Your child will enjoy the engagement with you, and you will be rewarded by taking part in his or her language development.
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