Gift ideas to support speech and language development
Holiday season is upon us and if you are like many parents, you are swimming in a sea of to-do lists that includes shopping for gifts. You may also have a variety of friends and family members asking for gift ideas for your children.
The holidays are a perfect opportunity to reflect on the true purpose of toys - to play; and the true purpose of play - to learn, explore and engage in purposeful interaction.
When contemplating toys that will support your child’s development of play, here are a few questions to ask yourself (or your child’s teacher):
- What is my child’s current level of play development?
- Do they engage in any of the following play types?
- Independent play: playing alone with little interactions with others
- Parallel play: playing next to other children often using the same items
- Collaborative play: playing interactively with another person using the same materials
- What is their play preference? Do they like sensory exploration, building, drawing, cooking, music, sports, puzzles, etc? Do they enjoy pretend/dramatic play? Are those preferences conducive to furthering their learning or play skills?
- Is the toy designed for just one purpose or can it be used in a variety of ways?
Now that you have thought about the type of play you would like to support, here are a variety of toys that can be used to develop a child’s speech, language, social, fine motor and cognitive development.
Blocks/building toysToys such as wooden blocks, Duplos, Legos, Magnatiles, Tinker Toys and marble runs encourage constructive and dramatic play, and can be used in a variety of ways to support independent and collaborative play.
Play food/kitchenPlay food or a pretend kitchen encourages dramatic play and can be used to support individual and collaborative play. Playing with pretend food can also help expand a child’s comfort level with a variety of real life food items and may lead to an increase in food preferences. Using pretend food to act out social situations such as grocery shopping or dining out may also support a child’s social comprehension in public by giving them opportunities to practice “expected” (as per Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking® Approach) behaviors that give other’s “good thoughts”, and engage in perspective-taking. Perspective-taking is the ability to understand things from another person’s point of view. This skill is essential for children to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings and how they may differ from their own.
Playdough and art suppliesManipulation of playdough through pounding, rolling, smashing and pulling provides deep sensory input and builds fine motor skills. Deep sensory input refers to tactile input that provides strong feedback typically given through firm touches, in this case by pushing hard into the playdough. Deep sensory input is frequently calming and can increase focus. Using a variety of art supplies also supports development of fine motor skills.
On top of those benefits, playdough and art supplies offer open-ended, creative activities with ample opportunities for language expansion. Parents can discuss actions, colors, shapes, numbers, sizes and a variety of new vocabulary words. Playdough is frequently an independent play item. However, it can lead to large opportunities for parent-child connection.
Board gamesTraditional board games such as Candyland, Guess Who, Headbandz, Uno, Go Fish, Creationary, Checkers, Operation, Memory, Chutes and Ladders and Spot all provide an opportunity to support a child’s social and cognitive development.
While engaging in board games, a child must learn the basic rules, take turns, deal with disappointment and maintain social attention to the game. A variety of these games also support language skills such as using descriptions, asking questions and considering the thoughts of others.
Toy animalsAnimal play sets like zoo, farm or ocean creatures can lead to a variety of play schemes, including feeding the animals, making their homes, assuming the role of veterinarian or pretending to be one of the animals too. This encourages perspective-taking skills and also increases vocabulary skills.
BooksBooks are a classic, tried-and-true gift for children of all ages. Books are a great way to step into new worlds, learn new vocabulary, address narrative skills, work on answering questions and understand different perspectives. Parents can expand a child’s favorite book into pretend play by acting out the story. With a few simple prompts, the story can come to life!
New experiencesExperiences provide opportunities for developing new vocabulary and build connections from concepts to form deeper understandings in a hands-on way. Examples of experiences include trips to the zoo, museum, batting cages, cooking classes, art classes, camping or a trip to the beach.