Make any toy a language enriching toy!

This time of year, SLPs are often asked for input on gift giving. Most questions are typically about what toys are best for language development. The truth is that there is absolutely no toy on the planet that will help your child’s language development on its own. However, with the use of parent strategies, any toy can be a language development tool!

Last December, I wrote a blog post on how to make any toy into a language development toy. I thought I’d take some time this year to add a few more tips for enriching play time with your child. That way, no matter the toy, any activity can be language enriching.

  1. Get on the floor with them! By now, I think I’ve made my point pretty clear – no toy is language-enriching on its own. The conversation, the modeling, the vocabulary, and the overall interaction during play time is what builds your child’s language. Get on the floor and play with them!
  2. Take out the batteries. Save yourself the headache and remove the batteries from your child’s electronic toys (ahem, you’re welcome!).  Blinking lights and loud sounds can be overwhelming to a developing sensory system and attention span.  Moreover, allowing the toys to “talk” or “do” takes away opportunities for your kiddo to communicate their wants or needs. In other words, it does all of the communication heavy lifting for your child. If you want to make toys more language enriching, take the batteries out (or focus on non-battery operated toys).
  3. Rotate the toys. You may have heard of toy rotation already, but in case you haven’t, it is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than having all toys available to a child all the time, select 10-20 to have out and rotate toys in and out as needed. Having a smaller selection of toys decreases distraction and increases the depth of a child’s imaginative play, a big early language skill. Increased attention allows children to focus on language models during play. Reduce the clutter and increase the language!
  4. Limit the questions or forced repetitions. I’ve spoken before about the 3-1 ratio – in a conversation with your child , make three comments for every one question you ask. The same holds true during play. As adults, we are inclined to make conversation with kiddos rather question heavy. Try to comment more than question. Comment on how things look or feel, or narrate what you and your child are doing during play.

    It’s also adult-nature to ask kiddos to “repeat after me.” A lot of times, this turns into a skill-and-drill type activity. As a speech-language pathologist, I have learned that the absolute fastest way to get your child to clam up is to tell them to say something! Kids have a funny way of doing the opposite of what we ask. So, asking your child to “say COW!” or “say PLEASE!” or “say ______!” over and over is probably not going to get you too far. It also makes them dependent on you telling them when to say words. Instead, model words and sounds and give lots of wait time. Modeling is powerful, especially during a fun, play activity.

  5. Take their lead. One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents is that they don’t have time to do extra activities in their day to help build their child’s language. Please listen! You absolutely do NOT have to do anything extra. Do not plan anything extra! I mean, you can, but you don’t have to at all. Join your child in their chosen play activities. Not only is this easy-peezy (hey, no planning!), but this means that you will have the full attention of your child. They will enjoy the activity, and be engaged in what it is you are saying to them.

This holiday season, focus more on the time you spend playing with your child rather than the toys themselves. You are your child’s most powerful language-learning tool!

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