Holiday Toy Suggestions to Promote Speech-Language Development

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By OTA Kingston-Wakefield December 12, 2019

With the blink of an eye, the holiday season is here. With that in mind, today I will be reviewing some general guidelines for choosing toys for our little ones to enhance language development. After all, children learn through play. It is crucial. Choosing the right toys for your child means setting them up for success.

Browsing through toy selections can feel daunting in this day and age. The options are endless. That being said, I feel it does not need to be this way. I love to empower parents by arming them with the right information to simplify this process. By thinking about the skills our children are working hard to master, we can make mindful choices as we shop this holiday season.

With advancements in technology, we see toys evolving and changing over time. The best trick I can teach parents of little ones is to avoid fancy lights and sounds. Play is hard work, it requires talking, thinking, problem-solving, and eventually, imagination. In my opinion, toys with lights and sounds (1) do not promote talking (2) can interfere with the social experience of playing with others (3) can distract the child from working on all those important skills.

To simplify the shopping experience, I have broken down the key milestones for children by age. And, to make things really easy, I have provided links to my personal favorites that I use in therapy sessions. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should serve as a helpful guideline for successful shopping.

6-12 months:  Babies are starting to understand some common words and phrases. They are also imitating gestures and sounds. At this stage of the game, we want to see them mastering some early cognitive concepts that will serve as the foundation for play. Laura Mize, pediatric SLP, reminds us that some important skills that babies are figuring out include (1) object permanence--an object still exists even when it can’t be seen (2) cause/effect and (3) simple problem-solving. This is also the “true mouth development” period, so we want to see sophisticated mouth play with horns and bubbles to support feeding and speech development.

12-18 months: Vocabulary is rapidly expanding during this time. We want to see play becoming more purposeful over time.

18-24 months:  We will see the emergence of pretend play, which is critical for language, cognitive and social development. We will focus on toys that promote imagination and vocabulary development.

24-36 months: Make-believe play is becoming increasingly more complex. Children’s imaginative play schemes will be centered around daily life experiences. Realistic, life-size props are utilized to support this play.

36-48 months: Pretend play is sophisticated with multiple steps (e.g. cook eggs, serve them, wash and dry dishes). Many of the toys listed in the 24-36 month list will continue to be utilized but with increased complexity. Dolls/puppets will start to become participants in the play. Props such as a cash register will help to support these more complex play scenarios (e.g. grocery store, school, etc.).

Fred Rogers wisely stated: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” As a pediatric therapist, I am constantly reminding parents that getting down on the floor with your kids is the best way to support their evolving language skills. So, whatever you do, make time for play!

Contact OTA Wakefield-Kingston to inquire about receiving an OT evaluation for your child. We’re here to help your child gain self-confidence and independence!


Note - Links are for reference only. We recommend shopping local and small whenever possible.