Parents often ask me what toys would help their child’s speech and language development, and my list is pretty short. Young children don’t need lots of fancy toys to get ahead in their speech and language skills! You won’t find electronic toys that “talk” to your child or “educational” DVD recommendations here. I don’t pass any judgement on parents that provide these things to their children, they’re just not the best way to improve your baby or toddler’s communication skills. I’ve seen so many children that could recite, “A is for apple”, but if I held up a toy “apple”, they couldn’t name it. Learning letters and numbers is great, but with babies and toddlers I’m more concerned with fostering communication! This list will have toys, books, etc. that can help build vocabulary, pretend play, and foundational social skills as you play and interact with your child.
Highlights Hello subscription
These are the best little books for babies and toddlers! I just love these baby “magazines”. They wipe off easily and hold up so well! I’ve had the same 5 that a family friend gave me to use during speech sessions since 2014! And after a good wipe down, Van’s been “reading” these since he was 6 months old. They’re still his favorites and a subscription is on our Christmas list this year! Great pictures, songs, and stories for babies, toddlers, and parents!
if your baby or toddler doesn’t have a ball please please get one!!! Balls are so important for social development! Playing ball teaches your child back and forth play, similar to the back and forth of conversational turn taking. To put it simply “I do something. You do something”, is essential for social development and a simple game of ball is excellent for building this concept! And there are so many different kinds of balls. We have a light-up ball similar to the ones listed and we have this set of small sensory-balls. But exercise balls and (Van’s favorite) my Pilates ball are fair game too!
I love that these cookies have no pointed edges! We wouldn’t let Van play with the “knife”, but we did let him start using the play cookies and sheet when he was 9 or 10 months. Back then he mostly chewed on them but now he likes pulling them on and off of the pan.
I’d recommend some with pictures of nouns rather than just letters or numbers because these are the words your child will learn first!
Car seat mobile
Again I would go for one with nouns rather than just something colorful. This is the one Van had:
Munchkin auto close baby gate
Alright this isn’t super speech-y, but y’all I love this baby gate! I have been in many homes doing early intervention speech sessions and this one is so much easier than most gates out there! I can open it with one hand and all 4 wall attachments are adjustable so it works with our thick baseboards and oddly shaped banister! The only downside is that it’s loud when it closes, but we found that if we open it all the way it stays open (see pic above). For some reason this one was cheaper than the regular auto close gate:
Books– Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You is my favorite board book for babies! As Van’s getting into toddlerhood, he really loves his Baby’s First Library books which is great for those first words. It’s important to look for books with lots of actions as well though to help encourage those 2 word phrases which should appear by 18-24 months. Press Here is a cute, interactive book for older toddlers. They make it in a board book too, but you may have to hunt!
It is best for your child to drink from an open cup when possible, but as a mom I 100% feel sippy cups are essential for day-to-day life. So if you’re doing sippy cups I’d recommend the Munchkin 360 cups and the nuby straw cups! Just please don’t do spouted sippy cups! Seriously, they are not good for oral-motor development and there are so many better options out there today!
I love this Noah’s Ark shape sorter! Your child probably won’t be able to match the animals with their shapes for a long time, but it’s great for vocal play (animal noises), learning in/out, and expressive/receptive language building. The only downside is the pieces are hard, so watch out if your little one is in a throwing phase!
Soft doll or animal
I am not trying to debate social norms and gender roles with this one. Pretend play skills correlate with language development and are something we address in speech for boys and girls. So by age 1 your child would benefit from having a soft doll to play with. Your little one should start initiating doll-directed play in which your child does a pretend activity to a doll (feeds it, brushes its hair, dresses it, etc) around 18 months. Van’s doll is similar to the one below. We call him his “buddy”.
Little People sets
Great for older toddlers! Around age 2-2 1/2 doll-as-agent play emerges. This means rather than simply feeding a doll or brushing its hair, we’d expect your toddler to begin pretending dolls are driving, cooking, etc.
Plexiglass floor mirror
Mirrors are perfect for babies and toddlers to see how you’re forming words and sounds. Encouraging your older baby or toddler to imitate faces and engage in vocal play in front of the mirror can also enhance these pre-linguistic skills. I actually bought ours from Ikea several years ago for speech sessions, and I don’t think they make it anymore! If you find a deal on a good, large one- scoop it up!
If you’re ready to go big this year…get a play kitchen and play food
We are getting Van one this Christmas! These are so great for vocabulary building, following directions, in/out, and feeding. I’d recommend foods that you want your child to eat (i.e. veggies and meats). Talking about them in a play based activity might make your baby or toddler more willing to try them during meals. In addition, play kitchens are great for learning simple verbs (eat, wash, drink, cook). Your little one will love putting foods “in” the fridge or in various pots and pans. And the best thing about it, is a play kitchen can grow with your little one. You can always add a wider variety of foods, new pots and pans, and even some little appliances. And while your child will probably make a mess with all of the pieces, most of them have storage space so you can tuck those little pieces away when you need to! Step2 makes great play kitchens for young children.
Play Food in a Basket
If you’re not ready to get the whole kitchen this year, soft veggies or fruits in a basket are an excellent alternative for babies and toddlers. And you can always let them use these with some of your kitchen-ware too!
Let me know if anyone has problems using the links! And if you have experience with these or other items that have helped your child’s speech or language improve, I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!