The #1 Toy to Boost Language Development
As a pediatric Speech Language Pathologist, I get asked a lot by friends, family, and patient’s parents, “what toys are the best for language development?”. I’m going to let you in on a secret! RUN (don’t walk) to the closest mirror. Look in the mirror. What do you see? YOU.
In our current society filled with technology and free two day shipping from Amazon, we are bombarded with the ‘Top toys for learning’ and the feeling that if your child has THAT toy, they will become smarter. False.
What will help your child’s development is playing with you! A recent article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics explains the benefits of play are extensive. They include improvement in executive functioning, language, early math skills, social development, peer relations, physical development and health, and enhanced sense of self-awareness.(1)
So how do you boost your child's language development? Let's say for example, that you have some simple stacking blocks at home. If you were to let your child simply play with the blocks by his/herself, yes learning will happen. But, if you are there next to them on the floor at their level (face to face), showing them how to stack the blocks, push them down, bang them together, or hide one under your hand. Depending on your child’s age, you’ll probably see them attempt to imitate your actions and explore the blocks in more ways than if just left alone to play. And then, imagine that with each action you are adding language to describe what is going on. You might say, “up”, “on top”, “fall down”, “oh no”, “blocks”, “big block”, “little block”. With each repetition of stacking and falling down your child hears the language you are adding and starts to learn what those words mean. In this example, what was helping facilitate language and learning? You, not the blocks.
So, apply this idea to any toy that you already have in your house. A barn, play kitchen, baby doll, Mr Potato Head, dump truck, puzzle, book, or even common household objects like measuring cups. The toy is just the starting point, how you interact with it and the language you add are what make that interaction valuable and full of learning opportunities.
A study published in 2015 found play with a digital shape sorter resulted in less use of spatial language (in, out, inside) by the parents in comparison to play with a traditional shape sorter.(2) This does not mean that electronic toys are bad and you should go get rid of them! Rather, as parents we need to be aware during our play with these electronic/battery operated toys and ensure that it does not negatively impact our level of interaction.
Another added benefit of play, it allows us as parents to see the world from our child’s perspective which in turn makes us likely to communicate more effectively with our child. It helps us recognize their sense of humor and individuality and is just plain fun!(1 )
So, go get on the floor and play with your child. It will help boost their language development and I guarantee it will put a smile on your face and theirs.
Thanks for stopping by!
-Courtney Floersch, M.S., CCC-SLP
1. Yogman M, Garner A, Hutchinson J, et al; AAP COMMITTEE ON PSYCHOSOCIAL ASPECTS OF CHILD AND FAMILY HEALTH, AAP COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics. 2018;142(3):e20182058
2. Zosh J, Verdine B, Filipowicz A, Golinkoff R, Hirsh-Pasek K, Newcombe N. Talking shape: parental language with electronic versus traditional shape sorters. Int Mind Brain Educ Soc. 2015;9(3):136–144