Are you looking for toys to encourage speech and language development and help your toddler learn to talk?
As a former Early Intervention therapist, I have worked with many kids 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 I worked with at our Early Intervention program often asked about the best ways to get their toddlers 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 that can help improve communication skills for toddlers.
But first, if your toddler isn’t talking yet – how do you know when to be concerned?
Toddler Speech and Language 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 increased difficulty with reading, writing, 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 toddlers talk.
What Kinds of Toys Help Toddlers Talk?
My best tip is to choose toys that can be used in a variety of different ways.
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 Improve Speech and Communication Skills
1. 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 while playing 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 your toddler.
2. Narrate Their Play
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 your toddler is doing) while playing with them.
3. Use Verbal Routines
Verbal routines are also a great way to encourage toddlers to talk.
These are phrases you say over and over during certain activities.
Verbal routines are predictable because they happen each time you do something.
For example, “ready, set, go” is a common verbal routine you probably use all the time. When you say, “ready, set….”, your toddler can anticipate what comes next: Go!
4. Give Your Toddler Choices
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.
5. 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’.
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The Best Toys To Help Toddlers Talk
Board books were one of my must-have items for home visits when I worked as an Early Intervention Therapist.
I especially 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 important for many reasons to read to your children and I would highly recommend having a reading routine every day, such as before bedtime.
You can 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.
How to use books to help toddlers learn to talk: 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 good toys to help toddlers talk by encouraging turn-taking and making choices.
Turn-taking is an important concept in developing communication skills because it mirrors the back and forth interaction between two people talking together.
How to use puzzles to encourage turn-taking: When playing with puzzles with your toddler, first say “my turn” and put in a puzzle piece. Next, prompt your child with “your turn” so they put in a piece. Go back and forth saying my turn and your turn.
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.
Lastly, 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!”.
Chunky puzzles are perfect for little toddler hands. Animal puzzles can help with learning the names of different animal and animal sounds.
3. Cause & Effect Toys
These types of 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
steal borrow it to bring with me on Early Intervention visits.
This toy also helps with fine motor development, a nice bonus!
How to use this piggy bank toy to help toddlers talk:
- You can teach “open” and “shut” by saying the word each time you open and shut the door. Repeat the word “push” every time you or your child puts a coin through the slot.
- 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.
A ball drop can help you teach the verbal routine “ready, set, go”.
Using ball drop toy with ‘ready, set go’ verbal routine: 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.
4. 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. Wind the toy up and say “ready, set…” then hold it in place to see if your toddler will say “go!”
I love these lady bug wind-up toys because they move in different directions, flip over, and spin around so they’re fun to watch.
When they stop moving, kids will usually want to see them go again which is a great motivator to use these wind up toys to help toddlers talk.
Blocks are super versatile. You can use a lot of different language when building different things.
A simple way to play with blocks with toddlers is to build a tower. Encourage your toddler to build one as high as they can (stacking is also great for fine motor development)!
As you build the tower, say “up, up, up”. When it falls, say “crash” or “fall down.”
These blocks with pictures on them are especially great for language development because you can point out the different pictures and talk about them.
Balls are another great toy for teaching verbal routines.
You can say “ready, set, go” and throw the ball. After a few times like this, pause before saying ‘go’ and see if your toddler will say it.
They may do something more subtle at first, like make eye contact with you or gesture. If this happens, throw the ball when you notice their signals. They are communicating with you, which you want to encourage.
Playing catch or rolling a ball back and forth is also another way to encourage turn-taking with your toddler.
7. Baby Dolls
No matter the gender of your child, a baby doll is a fantastic toy to have.
You can use this toy in many different ways to help your toddler’s speech development.
One of my favorite ways to use dolls as toys to help toddlers talk is by pretending to take care of them and talking about what you’re doing while you’re doing it.
Using narration when playing with dolls: Playing with baby dolls can 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.
Baby dolls can be fed and rocked and put to sleep. Most toddlers will love helping to take care of “babies”.
8. Toy Cars
Anything that can move is great for using verbal routines like “ready, set, go”. You can also use moving toys for teaching “stop”, “go”, “fast”, and “slow”.
Here are 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
9. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head is such a classic toy. I played with it when I was little. And, I’m pretty sure my mom played with it when she was little too.
Use the potato head family to encourage learning the words for facial features – eyes, nose, mouth, ears.
You can make the potatoes walk and jump as well, narrating what they’re doing.
Playing with potato head toys is also a fun way to engage your toddler in 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 for toddlers, 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.
See more amazing outdoor toys for toddlers!
Final Thoughts on Toys To Help Toddlers Talk
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 conversations with your child.
Do you have any questions about how to use these toys to help toddlers talk? Let me know in the comments!