The best toys to stimulate speech development in toddlers.
Are you looking for toys that will encourage your toddler’s language development?
As an early intervention therapist, I worked with many toddlers who were late talkers or had speech delays. In fact, language delays are the most common type of developmental disorder in young children.
The parents of the children I worked with were always wondering the best ways to help their children learn to talk or talk more. Even if you’re not concerned about your toddler’s development, you may still be looking for ways to enhance their language skills.
This is a comprehensive list of my favorite toys to increase communication skills for toddlers.
But first, if your toddler isn’t talking yet – how do you know when to be concerned?
Toddler Communication Milestones
As mentioned before, having a child with a language delay is not extremely uncommon.
Communication has two basic parts: receptive and expressive.
Receptive communication refers to a child’s understanding of language. For example, if you say, “Where’s mama?” and your baby looks at you, they are demonstrating good receptive communication skills.
Expressive communication refers to how your child communicates with you. Basically, are they talking? However, expressive communication can also be the use of gestures or signs for someone who is not yet talking or nonverbal. Expressive language delays have been reported in about 13 to 17% of 18 to 36 month olds.
A child may have a language delay if they are NOT doing the following:
- Babbling by nine months
- Saying their first word by 15 months
- Speaking a few consistent words by 18 months
- Putting two words together by 24 months
Language delay can be related to an increased difficulty with reading, writing, and attention, and socialization as children get older. Therefore, it’s important to identify toddlers who may have difficulty with language skills and provide them with communication support.
If you are concerned about your child’s language development, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician. You can also contact your local early intervention program for a free developmental assessment.
Find out more about Early Intervention here: What is Early Intervention and How Can It Help My Child?
Now, let’s move on to how you can use toys to help your toddler learn to talk.
Tips for Choosing Toys That Encourage Language Development
I like toys that can be used in a variety of different ways. This is good because kids usually get bored with the same toys after a while. Discovering new ways to play with familiar toys can keep them playing with them for a longer time!
To best encourage language development, you want toys that allow YOU to play WITH your child. This helps them learn valuable communication skills such as turn-taking, back and forth conversation, and imitation.
Tips for Playing with Your Toddler to Boost Communication Skills
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
One of the simplest ways to help your child increase their communication skills through play is for you to talk to them and repeat everything over and over! Repetition is key for helping toddlers learn to talk. Studies have shown that babies who hear more child-directed speech as infants, have larger vocabularies at 24 months than their peers.
So, talk talk and talk to you toddler.
Another way to keep the language flowing when you’re playing with your toddler is to narrate everything that’s going on. Use self-talk (talk about what you’re doing) and parallel talk (talk about what you toddler is doing) while playing.
Verbal routines are also a great way to encourage toddlers to speak. These are phrases you say over and over during certain activities. Verbal routines – like ready, set, go – are predictable because they happen each time you do something. When you say, “ready, set….”, your toddler can anticipate what comes next (go!).
For younger toddlers and those without many words yet, you can give them lots of opportunities to make choices between two items. Make sure you both SHOW and SAY what the choices are. The goal is to have them repeat the word for the object they want. If they’re not yet talking, they can point or gesture toward what they want, which allows them to still communicate with you.
Encourage Turn Taking
A study by cognitive scientists at MIT found that back and forth conversation between adults and children increases language development for the child. Even if you’re not having verbal conversations with your toddler yet, you can still engage in back and forth interactions by encouraging turn taking while playing.
Now that you have some ideas for how to use playtime to help your toddler talk, let’s jump into which toys are the best for speech development. The links below are for toys that I would take with me on early intervention visits or ones similar to what I kept in my ‘toy bag’.
DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links to products and services. If you click through these links and make a purchase, I may make a small commission. You can read my Disclaimer Policy for more information.
Board books were one of my must-have items for home visits when I worked in early intervention. I like lift-the-flap books because they are hands-on which many kids enjoy. Although be careful if you have kiddos that like to grab and rip; you might end up with a lot of torn pages and no more flaps! Books with simple, colorful pictures are also great.
It is fantastic to read to your children and I would highly recommend having a reading routine every day, such as before bedtime. You should also use books to help toddlers learn to talk by talking TO them about what’s happening in the book.
You don’t necessarily have to worry about reading the words on the page right now. This activity is more about getting your toddler to attend to looking at the book with you and using your own words to help them with learning speech skills.
Look through the book with your child, pointing at pictures and talking about them. For example, you can say: “That’s a dog. He’s fluffy. The dog says woof woof woof.”
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
This is one of my most used books! Kids love to lift the flaps and discover the animals hiding underneath.
As discussed previously, repetition is great to help kids learn language skills. In this book, you can pretend to ‘knock’ on the doors of each page, saying “knock, knock, knock”. Then say, “open!” when opening the flap. Doing this on every page helps children learn through verbal routines.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear. What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
This is another great book that encourages repetition. You can also talk about the different animals, the colors and make silly animal sounds.
Puzzles are nice to encourage turn-taking. For example, you put in a piece and then your child puts in a piece. Go back and forth saying “my turn” and “your turn”. Turn taking is an important concept in developing communication skills because it mirrors the back and forth interaction between two people talking together.
You can also use puzzles to help your child make choices. Hold up two pieces and say “Do you want the cat or the dog?” to encourage your child to say which one he would like to put in the puzzle next. If he is not yet able to verbalize, encourage him to point to the puzzle piece he wants.
You can also talk about the puzzle pieces in the same way you talk about the pictures in a book. For example, point to the cow and say “There’s a cow. The cow says MOOOO. Hi cow!”.
Cause & Effect Toys
These toys help children learn that they can do something to make another thing happen. This is important in speech development because we want children to understand that when they say something, they can make something happen. For example, if they say “milk”, they get milk. If they say “up”, they will be picked up.
I got this piggy bank for my daughter for Christmas when she was 18 months old. Then I would frequently borrow it to bring with me on early intervention visits! A bonus for this toy is that it also helps with fine motor development.
You can Teach “open” and “shut” by saying the word each time you open and shut the door and “push” every time you or your child puts a coin through the slot.
You can also encourage your child to request a turn by holding onto the coins and waiting for them to ‘ask’ for one. If not yet talking, they may look at you or look at the coins or point to indicate they would like one.
Model what you’d like your child to say at first so they understand. For example, you can say: “You want more coins? More coins. More! Here’s more” and hand them a coin for another turn.
This toy can help you teach the verbal routine “ready, set, go”. Say the full phrase a full times. Then, you can prompt your child to say the word “go” by starting with “ready, set…” and waiting to drop the ball or the coin until they say go. You may have to model this by saying ‘go’ yourself multiple times before your toddler will understand what you want them to do.
Wind Up Toys
Wind up toys can be a lot of fun.
They provide good opportunities for using words especially if your child is not able to wind the toy yet and needs to ask for your help. You can model: “Do you want help? Help. I’ll help you.” You can also use the ‘ready, set, go’ verbal routine with wind up toys.
You can also use the ‘ready, set, go’ verbal routine with wind up toys. Wind the toy up and say “ready, set…” then hold it in place to see if your toddler will say “go!”
Blocks are so versatile. I like them because you can use a lot of different language when building different things. You can make a tower and say “up, up, up” and “crash” or “fall down.” Blocks with pictures on them are even better because you can talk about the pictures too.
Balls are another great toy for teaching verbal routines. Say: “ready, set, go” and throw the ball. Playing catch or rolling a ball back and forth is another way to encourage turn taking with your toddler.
No matter the gender of your child, a baby doll is a fantastic toy to have. You can use this toy many different ways to help your toddler’s speech development. Baby dolls can be fed and rocked and put to sleep.
Playing with baby dolls will usually provide a great opportunity to narrate what you’re doing. That might sound something like this: Uh-oh the baby is crying. She must be hungry. I’m going to feed the baby, here’s her bottle, she loves milk! Here you go baby, I’m feeding her the bottle. She drank ALL her milk. Now, I’m burping the baby.
Anything that can move is great for using verbal routines like “ready, set, go” or for teaching “stop”, “go”, “fast”, and “slow”.
Some other ideas for using toy cars to help with speech development:
- Talk about the different colors of the cars
- Have a race (use: ready, set, go or another verbal routine like ‘on your mark, get set, go’)
- Push the car back and forth for a turn taking activity
- Drive the car around the room, narrating where it’s going
Mr. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head is such a classic toy. You can also opt for a Mrs. Potato Head! I used the potato head family to encourage learning the words for facial features – eyes, nose, mouth, ears. You can make Mr Potato Head walk and jump as well.
This is also a fun way to engage your toddler with making choices. You can ask things like:
- Do you want the green eyes or the blue eyes?
- Is it time for the nose or the mouth?
Make sure to show them the different pieces as you talk about them.
One of my all-time favorite toys for language development is bubbles. I have never met a child that didn’t appreciate bubbles!
Bubbles can inspire a lot of language especially if you are holding the bottle – your child will need to ask for “more” or for you to “open”.
You can wait for them to say “go” before you blow the bubbles by using verbal routines again and prompting, “ready, set…”. Use repitition by saying “pop, pop, pop” while trying to catch the bubbles.
Final Thoughts on Toys To Help with Speech Development
The toys on this list have a lot of things in common. Most of them are open ended toys that you can use in a variety of different ways. Help your toddler learn to talk by engaging with them in different ways during play.
Use self-talk and parallel talk to narrate what you and your toddler are doing and repeat important words multiple times. Use verbal routines so your toddler can anticipate what word comes next. Give choices by showing and saying the words so your toddler sees and hears what you’re talking about. Engage in as many back and forth interactions as possible which will pave the way to back and forth conversation with your child.
What other toys have you used to encourage language development with your toddler? If you found this post helpful, let me know in the comments!
Related posts on toddler development:
- How To Teach Toddlers & Preschoolers To Be Thankful
- 11 Helpful Chores Your Two-Year-Old Can Do
- How To Easily Potty Train Your Toddler