• Hannah Song

Budget-Friendly Toys to Build Your Child's Skills

If you’re looking for some budget friendly toys to invest in, look no further!


Play is one of the most important avenues of learning for our children. They learn how to interact in their environment, discover their interests, and acquire cognitive, motor, speech, language, and social-emotional skills (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2007). Play provides the perfect opportunity for you to build a deeper relationship with your child, while at the same time giving them lots of language input! We’ve included a short list of some of our favorite toys, and ideas for how to use them at home. Check out the toys listed below to help build on pretend and symbolic play!

Disclosure: We only recommend products we would use ourselves as part of our therapeutic practices and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that, at no additional cost to you, may provide a small commission. Any commissions earned from sales through affiliate links will be applied toward future programming to benefit the children serviced by Expressive Connections and Little Explorers Therapeutic Playgroup.


1. Pretend food and tea set:

  • Label the items as you take them out

  • “Oh look! There’s an apple!” And here’s an orange!”

  • Ask which food items your child would like

  • “Do you want the apple or the orange?”

  • Pretend to eat or drink

  • “Here’s a cup! Let me pour you some tea. Cheers!”

  • Expand play by pretending to cook the food (e.g. pots, pans)

  • “I’m going to fry the patty on the pan.”

  • Expand play by making something with the food (e.g. mixing foods in the pot to make soup)

  • “I’m making soup! I’m mixing the tomatoes and peas. Be careful it’s hot!”




2. Toy Kitchen:

  • Introduce your child to different parts of the toy kitchen, especially if he or she is unfamiliar!

  • “This is the stove. It gets hot, and we can use it to cook our food!”

  • “Here’s the oven. We can use it to bake!”

  • Have your child identify kitchen utensils

  • “I want to cook some vegetables! Can you find me the pan?”

  • Help your child follow instructions. You can even pretend to cook a recipe!

  • “Let’s bake some cookies! First, we need to find the flour, then put in the eggs.”

  • Use your imagination, especially for items that you don’t have on hand!

  • You can use a folder as a baking sheet

3. Little People (or any characters like this or this or this)












  • Practice social skills by having the little people say, “Hello!” or “Goodbye!”

  • Come up with names for the figurines with your child

  • “What should we name him? Greg or Phil? Say, “Hi Phil!”

  • Let your Little People serve as play companions!

  • “She’s hungry! Let’s make her a sandwich!”

  • Take turns, or share with the characters

  • “First you can take a bite, and then have her try it!”


It takes time, effort, and intentionality to play with your children; especially amidst busy schedules, but the end results are well-worth it. Try to set aside 10-15 minutes each day to engage your child in a meaningful and exciting time of play, and don’t forget to include your self talk and parallel talk throughout! Don’t hesitate to ask your own speech or occupational therapist if you need more ideas on what you can use during these play times :-)

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