Toys That Inspire Language Development
A child’s first three years of life are filled with intensive periods of speech and language growth and development. Early language toys can furnish families with an array of educational opportunities that will help set the stage for their child’s language play in meaningful context.
“The best toys for development are those that can foster shared attention to an activity with a child and someone else, keeping a child’s interest, as well as allowing for creative interaction in a manner of different ways — toys that inspire children not only to just memorize words, but show them how to use those words in a wide variety of ways,” explains Dr. Christian Nechyba, a pediatrician with Carolina Kids Pediatric Associates in Raleigh.
Published research reveals that young children who have strong oral language skills go on to develop strong reading and writing skills. The repetition of simple words and short phrases through exploratory play during the first three years of life will not only help them discover that words have meaning, but foster further cognitive development.
Stages of Language Development
As babies grow into toddlers, their vocabulary skills are limited at first. Around 18 months of age, their vocabulary undergoes a steady growth spurt as their speech becomes more discernable. They are learning to understand the meanings behind words and small phrases, and their speech becomes more intelligible, especially when they begin to recognize all of the objects and people in their environment. They love to try to mimic those who are around them during this stage.
As preschoolers leave their toddler years behind, their command of speech and increased vocabulary is reflected through longer sentences and simple words they are now attempting to spell. Most importantly, they are learning new sounds and words that will help guide them down the road to becoming beginning readers.
How Toys — and Parents — Can Help
“Although language development can be attributed to both genetic and environmental factors, a language-rich environment is crucial to support strong language development,” says Jennifer Kern, a pediatric speech language pathologist at Duke University Medical Center.
In addition to providing them with appropriate learning toys, parents can support their children’s language development, Kern says, by talking about what is going on around them, connecting new concepts to things the child already knows and engaging in back-and-forth social conversation.
Toys to Try
Age-appropriate educational language toys, like the ones listed below, are designed to teach little ones key developmental basics — early letter recognition and speech and reading skills — all while they are having fun!
Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Smart Stages Chair. This smiling chair contains a light-up remote control and flip book conveniently attached to the chair’s arms; a cushion that, when lifted up, teaches your little one all about letters, numbers and shapes; and technology that gives parents the ability to adjust learning levels manually or automatically to match their child’s age and maturity. The chair offers three levels of play with songs, sounds and phrases that promote language and phonemic skills. The seat can also sense when a child sits or stands. Ages 6-36 months. $39.99, fisher-price.com.
The Learning Journey Early Learning ABC-123 Penguin Pal. Your toddler will love this adorable penguin with a friendly voice who flaunts flashing colors, numbers and shape buttons appropriate for little fingers to press, and pre-programmed melodies that play classic nursery rhymes. He offers two play modes, shuts off automatically and fits comfortably in an overnight or diaper bag. Ages 18 months-3 years. $15.99, tlji.com.
B.Toys Alphaberry. Does your heart skip a beat every time your toddler takes hold of your iPhone? Now, thanks to B.Toys, your sweet pea can have her very own electronic device that promotes letter recognition and sound repetition, and teaches the ABCs. When your child pushes any button, the center circle shines brightly, then displays and broadcasts an uppercase letter. The circle changes color when you turn the wheel on the side. Press the green button to hear the familiar “ABC” alphabet song play in four musical styles while each letter is displayed. Ages 18 months-5 years. $21.95, mybtoys.com.
Briarpatch Thomas ABC Game. Your little engineer can practice his ABCs with favorite train characters from the Island of Sodor while playing this puzzle game. Players match letters to pictures, and only correct matches fit together. This game develops reading, matching and memory skills, and helps further your child’s social skills as he learns the importance of taking turns, following rules, sharing and respecting others. Ages 3 and older. $21.99, briarpatch.com.
Learning Resources ABC Cookies. Your preschooler will enjoy a delicious introduction to letters through this game for 2-4 players. She can sort through 42 pretend ABC cookies shaped as colorful lowercase letters that inspire creative cognitive, phonemic and letter recognition play. Four options reinforce alphabet skills, beginning sounds and vocabulary development. Each set also includes 45 double-sided cards, two spinners and an activity guide. Ages 3 and older. $19.99, learningresources.com/home.do.
Jennifer Lacey specializes in covering family health and lifestyle issues. She blogs at amodestmommasmusingsforlittlereaders.blogspot.com.