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What Toys Will Help My Child Communicate?

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

“Do you have any toy recommendations?” is a question we often get asked. And as we’re slowly but surely approaching the end of the year, what better time to talk about toys, specifically toys that promote language learning! Toy shopping can be hard for many, especially when there are so many options to choose from. That’s why we’re here to guide you find toys that are not only the best bang for the buck, but also toys you and your child will get to enjoy together!

As you probably noticed, we use toys in our therapy sessions to keep your child engaged and learn to communicate. When choosing toys to use with your child, we keep a few things in mind:

1. Toys are tools, not teachers. This means we don’t rely on toys to do the teaching. If the toy sings and recites the alphabet, we want to take it a step further and teach your child to use their alphabet-, letter-, song-reciting skills more functionally.

2. Interaction happens with the toy. It’s really not about the quantity or quality of the toy that matters, but the quality of the interaction that happens with the toy that brings true magic to learning.

3. Language is social. We want to optimize the opportunity for your child to interact with another person. Why? Because we learn most of our language from real people in real time!

With that said, toys are generally categorized into electronic and traditional toys.

1. Electronic, light-up, sing-songy toys

Imitating sounds/words/songs that a toy makes is not necessarily communication- it’s simply imitation (Not to say imitation isn’t great. It’s actually how we learn!); however, we can help those sounds to become communicative. Here’s a couple of tips and tricks to make these imitations more communicative:

- Say a simple carrier phrase, “Ready…set…go!” before your child pushes a button on a toy, spin it, whichever is the function of the toy. This helps your child attend to what you say, making this routine of pushing buttons more communicative, than simply pushing buttons and spinning gears.

- Bring the toy near your face so that you and your child can have a shared interaction. This will help your child develop joint attention, a fancy word for sharing interest in an object or activity with another person.

- Think about one or two words you can target with your electronic toy. If it’s a toy that makes animals sounds when you push them, you can model words such as “animal,” “cow,” “moo,” and “cow says moo!” If it’s a toy that lights up and spins when you push a button, some words you might model are “push,” “spin,” and “go.”

- Take back-and-forth turns while playing with an electronic toy. This helps teach your child an incredibly important skill of sharing and most importantly learn that… playing is more fun with another person!

Examples of electronic toys may include: musical barn, musical merry-go-round, ball popper, spinning toy

2. Traditional toys: toys for creating context and play

Believe it or not, the best toys are toys that do nothing! What does this mean? We’re talking about non-electronic, traditional toys that don’t light up, have music and sounds at your disposal, or have a million buttons and spinning parts designed to keep your kid entertained. You can use traditional, do-nothing toys (again, toys are tools, not teachers!) to build on your child’s play scheme. Best toys are those that will allow your child to create and pretend, and provide adults with opportunities to layer language onto play actions and gestures.

Examples of toys that do nothing: pretend food, pretend kitchen, costumes, dress-up accessories, dollhouse, bus, toy people, fishing set, barn, etc.

Whether Santa Claus brings your child electronic toys or traditional, do-nothing toys, make sure to keep one thing in mind! Join in your child’s play! Make it interactive! Play together!

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