Holiday gifts to promote childhood speech and language development

by Kristina Frimmel, pediatric speech pathology supervisor, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

The holidays are here!  And with them comes the barrage of toy catalogs in the mailbox.

beau_giftsThere are many great gifts for kids out there that will captivate your little ones for hours and hours while providing the added benefit of promoting healthy childhood speech and language development along with other important childhood skills. As you start checking things off that holiday gift list, consider the following tips from the Speech and Language Pathology Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital.

In general, when picking out toys for your child look for gifts that introduce your toddler to new concepts, like cause and effect (ball poppers, wind-up toys, hammer toys, etc.) or toys with different textures (soft vs. hard, fuzzy, squishy).

As you browse online or travel through the aisles, think too about how you will encourage your child to interact with the toys. This may be the greatest opportunity for parents to turn a toy into driver of healthy speech and language development. For example, look for:

  • ways to increase verbal expressive skills. For example, your child must say “go” to make the car go down the ramp or must say “more” to get the bunny to hop.
  • ways to increase comprehension skills. Ask your child to respond to requests or questions about the toy. For example: give me the big car, show me eat, touch the phone, what is the baby doing?
  • ways to increase functional play skills: Help your child learn about the world around us by using common objects and playing appropriately with each item (i.e. talk on phone, make the car drive).

Here are a few holiday gift ideas that lend themselves particularly well to positive childhood language and comprehension skills development:Building blocks – These are great for 18 months on up. Your child can be creative and begin to use imagination by creating different structures with the blocks. You can work on labeling things, such as big vs. little, colors and shapes. You can also work on following simple directions like stack up or knock down. Duplo are also great if your child already has building blocks and you’re looking for something that might have more accessories to add to the fun.

Car tracks – These are also great for 18 months on up, just watch the sizes of the cars. If you can’t find a car track that has large enough cars for an 18-month-old, pick a ball track. These types of toys are great for teaching cause and effect. They also are great for working on beginning words: (“ready… set…” and pausing for the child to finish your sentence with “go!”). You can also work on following simple directions: put the car on the top of the track, give me a car.

Doll house – This is great for 18 months on up. This is a wonderful toy for general language stimulation. You can teach basic everyday routines through the doll house. For example, you can teach your child about bath time while acting it out with the doll house and accessories. You can teach labeling common objects: bed, chair, fridge, table, etc.

Roll and Play – This is an early board game and can be used from around 18 months to 4 years. It is a colorful ball that you roll and then you choose the corresponding card that matches with the color the ball lands on. The items on the cards are great for language stimulation. They include things such as “knock on the door,” “give me a kiss” and “color a picture”— all things that you can help your child work on following directions, labeling and creating basic sentences.

Musical instruments – The appropriate age for instruments depends on what type of instruments you purchase. In general, they are great for teaching following directions and cause and effect.

Play kitchens – Here, ages again depend on what type of kitchen you purchase. There are even “boy-style” kitchens that have feature like toy BBQ grills. These are great for working on labeling common objects, following directions and teaching daily routines.

Common object box – This is something you could put together yourself. It will do wonders for helping your child to relate to his/her world. You can teach your child to label the objects by name as well as the function (verb) of the object. You can teach your child how to use each object (functional play skills) by following simple directions.  Common objects can include the following:

  • baby doll or teddy bear and items to help “take care” of them, such as a brush, tooth brush, wash cloth, soap, spoon, bowl, cup, bottle, clothing, hat, etc.
  • food items – apple, banana, cookie, juice, milk
  • basic toys – ball, car, boat, book, phone, simple puzzle
  • basic furniture – bed or crib, chair, table
  • animals- cow, horse, pig, duck, chicken sheep, cat, dog, mouse lion, monkey (work on imitating animal noises)

Buying holiday gifts for children is a fun experience. In addition to giving them something they’ll enjoy, by considering the developmental benefits of different types of toys and the way you and your child interact with them, you can also help your child continue to grow in many different ways.

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