Boston Babies is happy to introduce a new featured writer who will have a post published monthly, discussing best practices, specifically in regards to speech, language and your little one.
Lori Donovan, Speech Language Pathologist, will be regular writer on Boston Babies, offering families information, suggestions and tips to take home. She will introduce hot topics, bringing with her both a theoretical and practical knowledge as a specialist in the field of language and learning.
Lori will provide you with ways to understand the language milestones that your munchkin meets, in addition to behavior that will encourage, support and foster first words, and later, developed language skills. Read below to learn more, as Lori tells you which toys to love, and those to leave!
I love to play with toys. In fact, I spend about 25 hours a week sitting on the floor playing. It’s part of my job. As a speech language pathologist, I’m using toys to help children improve their communication by building vocabulary, increasing problem solving skills, and modeling language routines. These toys aren’t magical or even expensive – what’s the most important is the way that they’re used. Playing with your child and modeling rich, creative language can help them learn to express their wants and needs, comment on their environment and make requests. My favorite toys help children act out routines that happen everyday including bed, bath, and meal time.
In all of my playing, I’ve also found some types of toys that may seem attractive, but fall short when it comes to building language skills. These toys may keep your little one entertained, but aren’t bringing anything to the table. Although they might be a good to use in a pinch, think of them as the junk food of the toy box.
After hundreds of hours of playing with toddlers, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite toys to help elicit language from the littles in your life.
House or Farm Sets
These sets are excellent tools to act out routines that your little sees every day, especially for family dynamics. Use familiar language such as “Time for bed,” “Sit down” and “Wash your hands” when playing.
Food and Kitchen Sets
Buy and sell foods, practice cutting, cooking, washing, and preparing pretend foods for yourself or dolls. Make sure to label the foods, but don’t feel the need to test your little one. Focus more on the pretend aspect (and don’t forget to ask for seconds!)
Dolls (yes, even for boys)
Dolls allow children to try on the parental role for size. They get to feed, dress, and bathe the baby, exactly the same way that you take care of them. This is especially good practice for toddlers who are expecting little brothers or sisters. This kind of play can also be used to address difficult times of day in your household, such as bedtime. Practicing and reinforcing these routines can help to make it more predictable and ultimately, more successful.
Crayons, Markers, Clay, or Play-Dough
In addition to honing fine motor skills, using this as an open ended, guided activity helps kids connect with you in a creative way. Draw family pictures, illustrate while you sing a favorite song, or create a tea party with play dough ice cubes and cookies. The fun is limited only by your imagination.
The language you can use with train sets is incredibly limited, and after a while, the play tends to become repetitive. If your little loves the railroad, try to expand the play by delivering a variety of items to new and exciting places. Ask what they’re doing and try to get involved in their play. Even use other toys (such as farm animals, pretend trees, or legos) to create a new pretend element to the play.
Light Up and Musical Toys
Ah, what to say about flashy, musical toys. These toys are typically pricey, without a lot of variety in how they can be used. Not to mention they will probably drive you crazy from hearing the same song ten thousand times. In my opinion, these are best used for babies discovering cause and effect (usually 8-10 months old). They can be fun, but are not a replacement for interactive play with an adult.
These are great when going out to eat, but as a language activity, there’s not much there. Sure, you can discuss what body part you’re coloring, but for toddlers, the pretend element is often more engaging. Try to mix it up with some construction paper and stickers, and don’t worry about staying in the lines!
ABC, Number, and Color Flashcards
When it comes to quizzing your toddler, take it easy. These might seem like important skills, but there are more natural and effective ways to introduce preschool readiness activities. Try pointing out words in books and the environment (such as bathroom and stop signs), writing “letters” back and forth, or having your child keep a pretend planner or journal. Take your child’s lead, and encourage them when they start to show interest. For numbers, think about route counting (1, 2, 3, go!) and using 1 to 1 ratios to count items in books or toys.
Lori Donovan, MS, CCC-SLP is a certified Speech Language Pathologist who specializes in working with children who are deaf and hard of hearing. She has recently started working with children and families through Early Intervention.
In her spare time, she loves playing card games and experimenting with pinterest projects. She also loves to travel, and has visited over 15 countries including Switzerland, Greece, and Thailand.