As a speech-language pathologist, I am often asked to recommend toys or books that enhance speech/language growth and development. When I look for toys I tend to stick to these guidelines/rules. Take a look at this list to help you chose the best toy for your little learner.
1. Ditch the Batteries
My first recommendation, is to skip the batteries. If the toy requires batteries, you probably don’t want it. OR…if it takes batteries, you can take them out. One good example is a the really cute farm set from a very popular toy maker. The toy set itself is great! But the barn has batteries so that it can make noises. You don’t need the barn to make noises. You want your CHILD to make the noises! So…do like I do and just take them out.
2. Go Back to the Basics: Pick Traditional Toys
Traditional toys are my favorite! Think back to when you were a kid...chances are you did not have all the bells and whistles some of these toys have today! These traditional toys allow your child to use their imagination and engage in pretend play that is so vital to development. Here are some go-to's:
Cars, trucks, transportation toys (they do NOT need to make noise! That is what your child is for. Take the batteries out!)
Simple train tracks and trains
Play kitchen and play food
Farm Set (no noisy ones!) or other animal sets that suit your child’s interests (dinosaurs for example)
Mr. Potato Head
Dress up clothes
Baby doll/baby blanket
3. Don’t Worry About Gender Specific Toys
Here is some research on The Impact of Specific Toys on Play from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). “What set the highest-scoring toys apart was that they prompted problem solving, social interaction, and creative expression in both boys and girls. Interestingly, toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented—construction toys and toy vehicles, for example—elicited the highest quality play among girls. So, try to set aside previous conceptions about what inspires male and female play and objectively observe toy effects to be sure boys and girls equally benefit from play materials.”
4. Use Toys That Get Them Moving
It is so important to get your kids moving! Even when indoors. Making forts and tunnels are great ways to keep them moving indoors, without actually having to specific “toys” for that purpose.
5. Explore the Great Outdoors
Exploring your neighborhood, park, or a local hiking trail can be one of the best and cheapest "toys". Kids often find the most non-toy like item and turn it into their favorite thing. The list below are some of my favorite outdoor "toys".
Water table (A big bucket will do, or a small pool)
Buckets, cups, spoons (again, these can just be from your kitchen…tupperware works well!)
Small shovel/hoe for digging
Ride on toys
My biggest tip to parents and toys is this...no toy can ever replace you. PLAY with your kids. If only for 10-15 minutes a day. Your interaction, undivided attention, and speech/language modeling will provide your little one with more knowledge and growth than any toy ever could!