The holidays are quickly approaching so let's talk gifts for toddlers! As a speech-language pathologist specializing in babies and toddlers and the founder of Raising Little Talkers, parents always ask me which toys are the best for language development.
Truth be told, there are no "best" development toys, toys to help with speech, or toys to help toddlers talk.
The most important toys to help toddlers talk are those toys that motivate your individual child.
Why? Because children are more likely to communicate and talk about something that excites them and captures their genuine interest. What motivates one child may not motivate another child. I'm sure we've all experienced our child preferring a remote or spatula over the cute expensive toy we purchased for them.
That being said, here are my top tips for helping your toddler talk during play and some of my favorite toys over the years.
Play tips to help toddlers talk:
1. Follow your child’s lead. Let your child initiate play with the toys that interest them in the way that interests them. Try not to direct their play. Children who are more engaged are more likely to communicate.
2. Get on the floor with your child and get your own toy to play with. These are especially helpful if your child doesn't want to share their toy with you.
3. Imitate what your child is doing. This is a great way to join your child in play without running the show.
4. Add language to the interaction. This gives your child words for the things that interest them. Even if they don’t repeat, they are filing it away for later.
5. Use fun sounds and words. It makes play interesting! Babies and toddlers often imitate silly sounds and exclamatory words before they imitate regular words (e.g., car noises, weeeee, animal sounds, fake cough, uh-oh, etc)
6. Keep your language simple. If your child isn’t using words yet, model single words.
Want more than just tips? You can find in depth strategies to help your child talk with example videos in my Raising Little Talkers course.
A speech therapist's favorite toys to help with speech and get toddlers talking:
Please check recommended ages by the manufacturer for each individual toy. Disclaimer: These are affiliate links and I receive a tiny commission if you purchase through them.
I've loved this toddler toy for years, not only with my own kids, but in speech therapy sessions as well. Some language you can model includes: car, up/down, ready-set-go, 1-2-3-go, colors, zoom!, fast/slow, weee!, stop, crash, my turn/your turn, etc.
This toddler toy for speech ticks a lot of boxes. Vehicles are always a hit, but the opening and closing door is what makes this toy especially motivating. Toddlers LOVE to open and close things. There is endless language you can model during play, but here are some great examples: bus, door, children, open/close, stop/go, ready-set-go, 1-2-3-go, fast/slow, in/out, knock-knock (before opening the door), vroom, beep beep, "we're here!", hi/bye, etc.
As I've mentioned, toddlers love to open and close doors, so this magnetic farm puzzle makes a great toddler gift. You can help your toddler talk by modeling the following words during play: names of farm animals, the sounds they make, open/close, knock knock?, Who's there?, in/out, animal name + in/out (horse out, pig out, dog in), asking questions like "where's the dog?", etc.
In all fairness, you can use measuring cups and measuring spoons instead, but these adorable miniature wooden tools are just right for toddlers to handle. We like to use in a rice bin (parent hack: use an upside down fitted sheet with something heavy in each corner to contain the mess) and hide other items inside to be found. This is a great toy to help your toddler talk because there is so much language you can model for your child (not to mention the fine motor benefits of scooping and transfer work): scoop, pour, in/out, open/close, my turn/your turn, where's _____?, hiding, digging, look, I found it!, etc.
5. Baby doll
Baby dolls are hugely important toddler toys for both boys and girls. Pretend play is strongly linked to language development. By the age of 18 months, a toddler is able to pretend on themselves, for example, eat pretend food. By the age of 24 months, a toddler is able to pretend on another person, and that includes a doll. There's so much pretend play and language you can model to help your toddler talk, including: baby, night night, shhhh, blanket, eat, mmmm, spoon, bowl, names of foods, drink, names of drinks, slurrrrp, burp, wake up, change diaper, hi/bye, kiss, hug, etc.
I hope that helps you play with your toddler to help them talk more!
Are you ready to help your toddler talk ASAP?
Whether you want to be proactive or help your child catch up from home, you can get your child talking with my Raising Little Talkers course.