By Lauren Travis, MS, CCC-SLP
All children develop at different rates, but parents can promote speech and language development from birth, as it serves as a foundation for a child’s communicative abilities throughout life. Exposing a baby to speech helps them to distinguish language from other noises in their environment. They absorb the sounds and words they hear around them prior to vocalizing independently. As infants become toddlers, speech is highly important as they must develop language skills so they can relate with individuals around them; they must put words together to form sentences with meaning, understand directions and follow commands given by others. For school-aged children, speech and language is central to the child's interaction with the world around them.
In my practice, I've found children's speech and language skills are enhanced when they are having fun while simultaneously learning. Here are some of my favorite toys to promote speech and language development:
(Portable) Speech Mirror. This is a great item to have in the house. It is good for children of all ages. Babies can see themselves and babble/talk which invokes curiosity and self-awareness. For older children, it helps to develop speech and language skills as they can see themselves forming sounds and words. It can also be used by a speech language pathologist when working on articulation. It helps to provide visual feedback for the child. Lightweight and transportable is convenient as well.
Ages 6 months+
Farm Set. A farm set is an excellent toy designed to nurture creativity and imagination while promoting speech and language skills as well. A farm set usually includes a barn and many realistic plastic animals and perhaps a tractor as well. Children learn by interacting with the animals. Most children like animals and have fun incorporating them into play. This is good for vocabulary, comparisons and categorization skills. A farm set can grow with your child.
Mr. Potato Head. Mr. Potato Head is a toy that consists of a plastic model of a potato which can be decorated with a plethora of plastic parts. These pieces attach to the main toy and often include: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, shoes, hats and many more. This toy encourages both creative play and many communication opportunities. Children can learn about body parts while playing this game. It sparks verbalization while having fun at the same time.
Boggle Jr. This is a wonderful game which provides many learning opportunities while playing. The flexibility in this game is instrumental for both pre-readers and young readers. Boggle Jr. promotes basic letter and words skills that are essential for reading. The game adapts as each child grows and meets many developmental levels. Boggle Jr. focuses on object and word recognition as well as letter recognition. It functions as a matching game or a spelling game, depending on the child’s present level of functioning. Concentration and memory are also key components for this game. Boggle Jr. also encourages turn taking, an important skill for any child.
Zingo. This is a fantastic game for 2-8 players. It is a fun matching game that is good for both pre-readers and early readers. It uses both pictures and words as it promotes both speech and social skills. Zingo focuses on image/word recognition. It uses vocabulary words related to the child’s surrounding environment and encourages verbalization in addition to learning about similarities and differences among items. This game also is important for both concentration and memory skills in addition to pragmatic skills of turn taking, winning and losing.
Lauren Travis, MS, CCC-SLP is certified by the Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (ASHA) and is licensed in the State of New York. She earned a Master's Degree from NYU in psychology and a Master's Degree in communication sciences and disorders from Adelphi University. Lauren has experience working with children and adolescents with varying delays in the areas of speech, language and communication.