Christmas is quickly approaching! What are your little ones asking for this year? We’ve had many families ask us for toy suggestions for their children, so our therapists have put together a list of our favorite toys for young children that encourage speech/language and fine/gross motor development. And, guess what? This list doesn’t include any toys marketed as educational/learning/electronic toys. We love the basics! Here are a few toys we love that encourage your child’s development:
1. Farm Set. You don’t have to live in the country to enjoy playing with barns, animals, and tractors! There is so much to talk about it. Focus play with your child on the following concepts: animal names, animal sounds, and concepts such as in/on, open/close. Describe the animals. Ask questions about each animal? Where is the animal? What does it say? What color is it?
2. Baby Doll Set. Go ahead, get the accessories! Don’t just get the baby doll. Include bottles, brushes, clothes, bibs, blanket, and pacifier. Baby beds and strollers are nice too. There are so many goals you can target with this language rich toy…clothing, body parts, action words such as sleep/eat/cry/hold/hug/kiss and feelings such as hungry/thirsty, hot/cold. You do not need a brand name doll to make your children smile! Children in our clinic LOVE playing with our doll sets that we purchased at discount stores.
3. Puzzles. Young children love puzzles and doing things with their hands. Puzzles in our clinic are used by OTs and SLPs alike. Start with simple knob puzzles. Puzzles that include pictures of early developing vocabulary such as animals, toys, and foods are wonderful for improving receptive and expressive language skills. Try taking the puzzle pieces out and having your child find the one you name. Or, put the pieces in the bag and have them close their eyes and pull one out. Then, talk about the puzzle piece. What is it? Describe it! Do you have an active child? Put a few puzzle pieces across the room and have them run and pick the piece you name. Puzzles are a fun way to target both receptive and expressive language and fine motor skills at once!
4. Books. It is NEVER too early to start reading to your child! Start with board books that have mirrors, textures, and large, simple photos. As your child grows, try books with flaps and books that tell simple stories. If your child doesn’t have any interest in listening to the story, that’s ok! Point to pictures and talk about the photos and illustrations. The goal here is to encourage your child’s interest in books, and expose him to new words. Reading builds listening, memory, and vocabulary. Stop once in a while and ask questions about the book, make silly sounds and voices. Show your child that reading is FUN. You can never have too many books in your house! Keep some in each room and you will read them more often! Look for books at discount stores, thrift stores, and visit your local library. Libraries have board books for young children available for checkout too!
5. Dress-up Clothes. Girls AND boys will love playing dress up and dress up clothes have the benefit of working on motor skills (dressing, buttoning, etc) as well as language skills not limited to just clothing vocabulary but also body parts and concepts such as off/on, clean/dirty, mine/yours.
6. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. This toy has been around a LONG time and targets some important skills including body parts and clothing vocabulary, eye-hand coordination, requesting (I want…), and can also be used to target spatial concepts such as under/beside/behind/in/out.
7. Balls. Oh, the number of balls we have in our clinic is ridiculous! We have everything from HUGE bouncy exercise balls to a giant ball pit to bumpy/sensory balls and even balls that pop up! Balls are wonderful for developing motor skills as well as expressive and receptive language skills. You can target following directions/listening (“throw it! roll it! bounce it!”), concepts such as in/out, up/down, big/small, counting, and of course motor skills such as throwing, catching, and running are developed as you play! Balls also encourage turn-taking and social skills.
8. Boxes. Save those cardboard boxes your toys come in! Climbing and crawling in and out of the box targets gross motor skills, and throw those balls in the box for some additional motor activity! Where are the balls? In the box? Out of the box? Beside/behind/under the box? Grab some markers and work on proper grasp while you color on the box! Hide something in it for even more to name and talk about. If you are lucky enough to snag a really large box, turn it into a house, rocket ship, or puppet theater! Those large boxes are priceless and encourage so much creativity and imagination.
9. Mini-trampolines. Trampolines are not only good for gross motor development and spatial awareness but also used in our clinic by SLPs who have found that children are more motivated to request when this toy is around!
10. Slides. Obviously, playing on slides targets gross motor skills. You can also use slides to target action words such as climbing, sliding and spatial concepts such as on/under/in front/behind. Is your child minimally verbal or a late talker? Use repetitive words such as “weeeee! up up up! yay!” while you play. Don’t have room for a slide in your house or yard? Take a trip to the park and target these goals there!
11. Cars and trucks. Boys who are reluctant talkers may enjoy making cars go, crash, beep, zoom, and race fast/slow. Use a variety of cars to teach concepts such as big/little and to make requests (red, please). Play with cars and trucks also encourages turn taking, an important pre-requisite to expressive language.
12. Easels. Do you have a budding artist? Encourage fine motor development with this toy. Use it for painting, drawing with chalk or dry erase markers, or finger painting. Many are magnetic!
13. Blocks. Playing with blocks targets eye-hand coordination, visual processing, cause and effect, counting, colors, and the list goes on…. We also use these in our clinic to request verbally or with sign.
14. Toy Kitchens. Toy kitchens provide SO very much to talk about. Food vocabulary, utensils, dishes, stirring, baking, tasting, pouring, cleaning, eating, drinking, open/close, hot/cold, more, all done…to name a few! And what a social activity cooking can be! Encourage your child to ask others what they would like to eat. Do you have a house full of boys? Don’t shy away from a toy kitchen! Enter any preschool classroom and you will likely find boys in the kitchen fully enjoying themselves. A toy grill is a similar alternative that is popular with little boys and targets the same goals.
STOCKING STUFFER IDEAS:
1. Play Dough, Modeling Clay. Fine motor development fun!
2. Bubbles. We like the no spill tumbler pictured in the photo at the top of this post. Kids can shake it and turn it upside down and it won’t spill! Bubbles are perfect for targeting bilabial sounds /p, b, m/ in words like bubble, pop, big, mine, more, and for making requests (more bubbles, my turn).
3. Balloons. Balloons are such an inexpensive and fun way to play with and teach your child. Young children need your help to blow up balloons, so use this to work on requesting help/blow/more/please. You can talk about throwing/popping/blowing and concepts such as colors, and big/small. Obviously, you don’t want to play balloons with children who still mouth objects, and always supervise young children.
4. Crayons, Markers. Crayola Pipsqueak markers and crayon rocks target proper pencil grasp. Work on grasp and name your colors. Request the color you want! Try drawing pictures of items for your child to name such as flower, car, bird, tree.
5. Coloring Books, Dot-to-Dots, Mazes, Hidden Pictures. More fun with writing and drawing!
6. Stringing beads.
7. Craft Projects. Keep them age appropriate.
8. Toy phones.
9. Toy microphones.
And a few of our favorite games: Cootie Bugs, Ants in the Pants, Pick up Sticks, Perfection, Twister, Bop It, Let’s go Fishin’, Mancala, Connect Four, Candyland Castle, HeadBanz, Guess Who, Memory, Pop-Up Pirate.