Choosing toys for therapy

As a speech pathologist, one of the questions I am asked most often is “What toys will help my child talk?”  The toys on this list include many of my “must haves” for working with early language learners, as well as those that I would generally recommend to parents of young children.

You may be surprised that you will not find any toys on my list that are designed specifically to teach basic academic vocabulary e.g. Shapes, Colors, Letters, and Numbers.  Language is SO much more than just vocabulary!

The best toys for early speech and language development are those that set the stage for language rich play in meaningful context. In other words, toys that inspire children not just to memorise words, but to use those words functionally in a variety of ways – requesting, showing/sharing/commenting, role play, problem solving/asking for help, making plans, etc.

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 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… just take them out.

Pick Open Ended Toys
What are open-ended toys? They are toys that have no beginning, middle or end. They can be used in a variety of ways and allow your child creative freedom in how to manipulate and use them. These toys tend to be the more basic and traditional toys.

Go Back to the Basics: Pick Traditional Toys
As mentioned above, the more traditional toys also tend to be more open-ended in nature. Here are some examples of open-ended, basic traditional toys:

  • Wooden blocks
  • Lego
  • Cars trucks, transportation toys
  • Trains and train track
  • Play kitchen and play food
  • Farm set
  • Doll house
  • Mr Potato Head
  • Play dough
  • Dress ups,
  • Tool set, doctors set
  • Baby doll and pram
  • Tea Set

Skip The “ABCs and 123’s”
When walking through Target or any big chain store’s toy department there is an aisle with shelves stacked high with toys that say things like “Teaches the ABCs!”, “Educational!”, “Teaches Colors and Numbers!” and on and on.

These toys tend to do ALL the “doing” with their lights and music and flashing lights. If your child has a speech and language delay, those skills are not at the top of my list of skills we need to target.

Use Toys that get Them Moving
It is so important to get your kids moving! Even when indoors. Making fort and tunnels are great ways to keep them moving indoors, without actually having to *buy* specific “toys” for that purpose.

Don’t Forget to Get Outside
You don’t have to *buy* outdoor toys. Heading to the park is great and FREE!

  • 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
  • Play house

Less is More
The truth is that less is more. Your child does NOT need toys upon toys! In fact, too many toys can actually be a big negative. Believe it or not, children can get overwhelmed with too many toys and can end up moving quickly from one toy to another which can actually limit their play (and language) opportunities overall.