As a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, I covet the toys that make kids excited to work with me. I also know the simplicity of a toy can lead to engagement and reciprocation—what kids need most to develop communication skills. As a mom, I also know it can be exhausting to play, play, play, so I try to pick toys and games that all of my children will have fun with. These tried and true toys will come in handy as you work on building your child’s social, expressive, and receptive language skills.
Nothing—and I mean nothing—gets a child more excited than bubbles. OK, maybe a lollipop. But bubbles come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. (Yes, they come flavored now!) My favorite bubbles are the thin cylinder type they give you at weddings to blow at the bride and groom at their send-off. Limiting the amount of soapy mixture is key. You have to keep them wanting more! This is a great way for a little one to request to “go” or fill in “one…two…three…” as you cover them in bubbles. Ask your kiddo where they want you to blow bubbles next.
When kids play with blocks, they get to work on fine motor skills and show off their castle building skills. I prefer the plain, wooden cubed blocked over LEGOs since they have to work on balance a bit more. Build together and count the blocks before screaming “crash!” as they all fall down. And repeat.
3. There’s a Yeti in My Spaghetti
It’s like Jenga for babies, but equally as fun and engaging for siblings ranging in ages. You can work on waiting, taking turns, and teamwork as you prevent the yeti from falling into the “spaghetti.”
4. Cooking Toys
Have you ever noticed that The DoSeum’s pretend food truck and grocery store are always packed? Playing with “food” allows your child to visually explore items they may refuse on their plate. Offer choices of two foods they can put in their “pot” and create “recipes” together. I like to use words like “hot” and “cold” and be very dramatic about the deliciousness of corn on the cob with pickle.
5. Melissa and Doug Anything
I have yet to find a Melissa and Doug product I do not like. My three-year-old son likes to sweep and “iron” his clothes, thanks to a fun home item kit he got last Christmas. Pretend play is the best play, and the dress-up boxes, pizza with toppings, and vet play encourage varied vocabulary and imagination. With these activities, I usually practice wh- questions like “where do you work?” and “what do you do there?” as well as listening comprehension skills while I tell them what toppings I want on my pizza.
I recently read that the late actor Luke Perry always kept a balloon with him on flights so he could blow it up to entertain an upset child. Turns out Dylan McKay was handsome and brilliant. One balloon can entertain a child longer than most toys. You are the gate keeper to this activity, as most little ones cannot blow them up yet (and you want to be careful with safety), so have them push your nose to add “air” and let that balloon go flying all over the room so the child can chase it. It sounds so simple, but the eye contact, laughter, and shared joy from just one balloon can help you stay present and help a child learn cause and effect. Wait and see what they want to do next—don’t guess—and only blow up the balloon again until they point, verbalize, or look at you.
Remember, when we play with our children, we’re building connection and attention. Play is a wonderful way to build communication skills. What other toys would you add to this list?