Want to know the secret to promoting language development in toddlers? Play! Child-led play is important, which is following what the child’s interested in (even if it’s not what you originally planned for!). Although it is recommended to utilize the toys (or objects) that the child gravitates towards, there are reliable and affordable toys that speech-language pathologists always have nearby. These toys are both popular with the little ones, and also provide ample opportunities for communication. Find out about 4 Toys recommended, and how to use them to create language opportunities, below: BUBBLES – Not only are bubbles one of the most affordable tools, but it also is one of the most effective. If you look into any speech-language pathologist’s bag of toys/tools, there is an extremely high probability that you will find a bottle of bubbles. How to use: The key with bubbles, and all the other toys listed below, is to control the environment. In this case, for example, make sure to hold the bubbles bottle and wand, as opposed to just giving it to your child. Begin by blowing the bubble and observe your child’s reaction – more often than not, you’ll see your child fascinated and has a big smile on his/her face– BINGO! That is when you will want to ask your child, “do you want more?”, and either via gesture or verbalization (“more”, “mo”, “m” – any vocalization, really!), that’s when you blow another bubble. Your child will then start to get that push and realization of, “Oh, I have to communicate to get what I want”. Additionally, when using bubbles, model popping the bubbles, while saying “pop!” and your child will want to do the same. Not only does this help with pointing (an important prelinguistic skill that precedes talking), but “pop” is an easier syllable structure to imitate. In fact, “more”, “pop”, and “bubbles” are easier sounds to imitate, as bilabial sounds (/b/, /p/, /m/) are the first to emerge when following the hierarchy of sound development. FARM ANIMALS + BARN: There’s a reason why “Old McDonald’s Had a Farm” is such a popular song – most children love animals and learning about them! If you have farm animals and a barn set, this is a fantastic tool to help your child imitate syllable structures. How to Use: If you enroll your child in speech therapy due to a language delay, you’ll commonly notice farm animals and a barnset being used. Why? Animal sounds are not only fun and easy to imitate, but it helps the child begin to associate and attach meaning of sounds to objects. Perhaps, your child won’t be able to say “cow”, and is more comfortable saying “moo”. As long as your child consistently attaches the same syllable structure to the same object/concept, it is considered a word. Play with farm animals using the animal sound (e.g., Pick up the cow and say, “MOOOOO”). Biggest tip is to get into it – although tempting, try not to tell your child “say ‘moo’” or frequently ask, “what does the cow say?”, just show your child the cow and say, “MOO!”, play with the cow, and repeat, repeat, repeat. CRITTER CLINIC If you don’t have the “Critter Clinic” in your toy closet, definitely go grab it on Amazon. The Critter Clinic is an excellent toy. It comes with animal toys hidden behind six doors that your child will need to open with a set of keys. How to Use: Children love opening doors, drawers… you name it! This toy involves opening up six different colored doors. Hold the keys and have your child request to “open” each door, either via gesture or verbalization. The key with promoting language development is to find what motivates your child. There’s a high chance that this particular toy will motivate your child to open each door, as there will be a toy inside. Play with your child and model the word “open” every time you open the door, encouraging your child to do the same. Remember to allow enough time… the more anticipation, the better. Praise any attempt! BLOCKS Blocks are some of the most old school toys, yet some of the most useful! How to Use: Rather than laying out all the blocks, begin with 4-6 blocks in front of your child. It is important for the environment to not be too overwhelming. Model yourself stacking blocks and note if your child imitates the act of stacking blocks. Prior to imitating sounds and words, it’s important that your child imitates action and play. Before functional language development emerges, functional play skills are essential. Once your child imitates the action of stacking blocks, can promote words/verbalizations by modeling your child to imitate the gesture of “more” (every time your child wants another block to stack). Additionally, while stacking blocks, model the spatial concepts of “uuuup” and “dooown” using exaggerated intonation. Even if your child is not ready to imitate those words, perhaps your child can imitate the intonation pattern, which is an important first step.
While these toys and strategies may help to elicit words/verbalizations from your child, remember that it is okay if it doesn’t work right away. Keep trying; it may take time and patience. Most times, imitation of words comes when you least expect it. So, remember to have fun! The more you have fun, the more your child will have fun and learn new skills. Additionally, don’t hesitate for extra help. Your child may benefit from receiving speech-language therapy for that extra push. If you live in Florida, please call Exceptional Teleherapy(786) 717-5649 to receive a full speech-language evaluation, where speech-language pathologists and their team can determine an individualized plan to meet your child’s specific needs.
As always, wishing you and your little one success and joy.
-Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer