Holiday shopping? Find the best toys for speech and language development

As the holidays are approaching, the most popular question I get from parents is:

“What toys should we be getting to help with our child's speech and language development?”

I love getting this question. It shows me that these parents understand the importance of play for their children! It also re-opens the discussion of what type of play we’re looking for at different developmental phases and what toys will and won’t support that. Furthermore, as a home care speech-language therapist, it is my job to use what my clients have in their natural environment to facilitate their development. I don’t bring a huge bag of toys to each home, both for my shoulders’ sake and for the sake of the family. I work with what each client has to promote generalization and carry-over, and so the caregivers understand that it’s not some magic toy or tool that’s creating progress but rather our collaborative work together!

So when a parent takes advantage of the time of year when their child has lots of new toys coming their way, nothing making me happier.

My client base is primarily children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, expressive and receptive language delay and other pragmatic language disorders, so my first request for parents is to find toys that will promote interaction, reciprocity and engagement.

Let’s start quickly with a category of toys we would want to avoid.

Any guesses?


That's right! iPads, tablets and other electronic based toys, although a generous gift idea, are not ideal for promoting language and play development. In fact, the excessive use of “screen time” often limits any opportunity for interaction and promotes restrictive play. Even the use of educational games can be misleading, as the memorization of letters and numbers doesn’t translate to meaningful language development. Find more information about the use of electronic-based toys in the following articles:

Now, for the fun part! Here are the toys that I recommend that my clients have at home. You might be surprised how simple they are. (hint: click on the underlined words to link to the toy!) Leave a comment and let me know if you were surprised by any of these suggestions.

Stacking Blocks :

The most simple toy that can grow with your child at the various stages of play development. At the earlier stages, your child can explore their understanding of “in-ness” by nesting the blocks, putting objects in and dumping out. Later on, they can create various structures (towers, pyramids, ramps etc). At the symbolic level of play, your child can include toy people or animals and build them a house, hide them in the blocks, play peek-a-boo with them etc. Stacking blocks are a natural context to promote social interaction and engagement between you and your child.

Magna Tiles / Mega Blocks :

Similar to stacking blocks, Magna Tiles and Mega Blocks are great toy options that grow with your child developmentally while promoting social interaction, engagement and reciprocity. For instance, at the earliest stages, your child can explore the tiles and blocks by sticking them together and pulling apart with you, creating a colorful game of peek-a-boo or building very simple structures (squares in a line). And later, creating complicated structures in various ways and hypothesizing different storylines around them.

Daily Routines:

Children begin to explore pretend play with things and ideas they’re most familiar with, for example, sleeping, eating and bath time . Making pretend food, baby dolls and pretend bath toys "must-have" toys for each child! At their earlier stages of development, children may just simply pretend to eat, pretend to go to sleep and enjoy water play in the bath tub and later their play schemas can become more elaborate with preparing to cook, cook , serve and eat the meal, bathing a doll and putting them to bed. Most pretend food toys (as in the link above) provide the added fine motor element of practicing to cut and slice the food with a wooden toy knife.

Less familiar routines:

As children develop, their begin to explore less familiar experiences through play. Some common examples are visits to the doctor, grocery shopping, and fun at the playground.

These toys all offer the opportunity for children to expand their ideas and experiment with different scenarios during play.

Fantasy play:

Finally, at the later stages of play development, your child is developing fantasy-based play schemas that they haven’t actually experienced! Think superheroes, princesses, dinosaurs , and community helpers. This provides your child an opportunity to role play, an integral part of social development.

Surprise bonus:

Save all of those large amazon boxes! My favorite sessions are when we come across an empty box and get creative! We’ve built rocket ships, made cozy beds for favorite dolls and had an elaborate game of peek-a-boo among endless other play ideas.

I hope this was helpful for you! Please keep it in mind when you’re buying toys for those special little ones this season and always. Want to learn more about how to play with your child? Check out my blog post from this summer!

Happy holidays from We Say Play! Wishing you a joyous season and a beautiful 2019!

#play #childdevelopment #holidays #speechandlanguage #specialneeds

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