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Gifts That Promote Language Development in Young Children

Post by Hallie Bulkin, Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Therapist, MA CCC-SLP

The best way to work on speech, language and social skills in young children is through play. If you’re like me, I never know what to buy my friends’ children for their birthdays. So, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite toys to use when providing speech therapy to young children. The great thing about the toys I use is they are both therapist and child-approved! The best thing about this list is I have taken the most popular toys (chosen by pediatric clients) time and time again!

Mr. Potato Head
A few years ago, I found this at Costco. Apparently, they also sell it at Kohls. If you can’t find the giant potato head, look for a potato head family! This is great for talking about facial features, body parts and family. You can work on labeling the objects (e.g., teeth, nose, ear), describing it (e.g., red nose, pink ear, green hat), and building a family (e.g., mommy, dada, baby, etc.). This one is great for working on language skills!


Cars, Trucks, Trains & Planes
This is one of my favorites. Little girls and boys love this toy! The bucket is filled with different color cars, trains and trucks that can be attached to each other. There are boats and airplanes, too. This toy is great to work on making requests when your child needs help attaching the vehicles. I often model “go in” or “put it on” as I attach the vehicles with the child. Once we connect them, I will often make a sound effect as well (e.g., “boop!”) to show children playing with sounds and words is fun, which will encourage them to


Puppets on a Stick by Educational Insights
Another favorite! These puppets are like magic; they get any child to talk! The motion of the mouth helps kids work on speech sounds, language production and more! One of our latest activities includes making playdoh cookies and feeding the monsters. With puppets, the sky’s the limit!


Baby Jenna by Melissa & Doug & Feeding Set
This is yet another great toy for girls AND boys (yes! Boys, too)! Not only is it good for learning body parts, you can also use it to label clothing, basic concepts (colors, size, other objects to feed and care for the baby), and even talk about feelings (e.g., “baby is crying…she feels hungry/sleepy” etc.). You can combine language skills and ask your child to label body parts on the baby (e.g., “where’s babies nose?” “where’s your nose?”) while helping your child identify his or her own body parts !


Nesting Cups
Nesting cups are always a fun time and a toy that evolves as your child grows. For little ones, simply nesting them together can be exciting. As children get older, they like to put things in and take things out of containers, and you can work on “put in” and “take out” at this stage. As your child gets slightly older, stacking (“stack up”) and knocking the tower down (“knock down”) teaches cause and effect. This is also a fun toy for working on colors, counting 1-10, and size (big, medium, small…big, bigger, biggest, etc.). Nesting cups are great for sensory play (think: sand or rice table) and filling them up (“fill up”)/dumping them out (“dump out”). Last but not least, many of my pediatric clients love to turn the stacking cups upside down and create a farm with animals on top of each cup. Let your child’s imagination run wild with this one!


Farm Animals
Larger farm animals in any capacity are fantastic! Early speech and language development can be focused on making the sounds of farm animals (“A cow says…moo”) and then later asking, “what does a cow say?” while expecting the child to answer the ‘What-question’ with “moo.” There is a lot of creative play that can be had among the farm animals as well. Turn any box into a barn where the animals live and play or a train where the animals can take a trip to visit friends at the next farm! If you prefer smaller farm animals, you may like the whole barn and smaller animals you get with this toy.


Magnetic Farm Hide & Seek Puzzle by Melissa & Doug
I love to use this for a variety of goals. You can name the animals, respond to questions like “what do you see?” (e.g., response may include “I see a __(fill in animal)”), talk about what’s in front and behind the barn doors, locate all of the chicks that one of my preschoolers pointed out are in specific places on the puzzle, or play “knock-knock, who’s there?” while working on open/close. The sky is the limit with this Melissa & Doug puzzle.


Dress up clothes
From Disney princesses to community helpers to superheroes, you can’t go wrong! All children LOVE to dress up and pretend they are a character from their favorite book or show. Whether you are talking about community helpers and their very important jobs or enjoying make believe with princesses and superheroes, there is a lot of ground to cover. You can read a book and then use a costume to act it out. Bring in a friend or a sibling, and now you can role play even more and work on those social skills! When you bring in a sibling or peer, following directions always becomes an important task(especially when one of the children is dishing out those directions to the other). Have fun with this one. Playing dress up is great for the imagination!


Zingo by ThinkFun
For older preschoolers, this is a great game. You can have a lot of fun naming what you pick, taking turns, and matching pictured items. This game works on social skills (hello, turn-taking!), memory, focus and concentration, which all preschoolers need in preparation for Kindergarten.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
If you have a preschooler, you have most likely heard of the book, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” If you don’t, get it here. . This is a GREAT book and I was SO excited to see they turned it into a game. My four-year-old clients LOVE to play the game, and I LOVE to see them expand their responses to “what questions” using phrases that start with “I see a ____.” This is one to add to your game room!


I hope that you find these gift ideas helpful. They are speech-language pathologist  & child-approved. The sky is the limit when it comes to these toys. Happy shopping!

With Love,
Hallie Bulkin

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