Over the past few weeks, I have seen several articles discussing the correlation between increased screen time/use of electronic toys and decreased expressive language skills. Although I am very happy to see these articles gaining attention and raising awareness, I think it's also important to remember that the ways in which you interact with your child while playing is just as critical, if not more so, than the toys themselves.
In general, videos and electronic toys often lessen opportunities for caregiver/child interaction, turn-taking, and developing imaginative play skills. However, that isn't to say that any toy that lights up, makes sound, etc. should immediately be placed on the "naughty" list.
If you utilize certain toys, like this tool box shape sorter, in a meaningful way, you can still promote language learning. I use this toy a lot with my younger clients and guess what...it lights up and makes a little noise!
So, how do you do that? I like to give a child one of the shapes and then withhold the others. Then, you can encourage your child to request a specific shape, color, or work on core vocabulary words such as "more", "put in", "take out", "again", "my turn" or "your turn", "push", "turn on", "turn it off", etc.
Ok, now that I've hopefully eased your anxiety a little and given you an idea of how to play purposefully with a "noisy toy", I will share my favorite toys for young children-most of which, do not come with all the *bells and whistles*, so to speak.
1. Car Tracks
This car track and many more like it can be found on Amazon. These are great for cause and effect play. Model environmental sounds while you and your child play (vrooooom, boom, crash). Tell the cars to "go fast", "go down", "go slow", "stop!". You can also practice turn-taking. For preschool-aged children you can ask "Wh" questions (Where is the car going?) and work on prepositions with direction following "Put the blue car behind the green car".
2. Chunky Puzzles
Melissa and Doug puzzles are my personal favorite because they are durable and have been around for years! Puzzles are a great way for your child to work on their vocabulary and fine-motor skills.
3. Play Kitchen
My 2 y.o. son is always "helping" me in the kitchen. A play kitchen is the perfect way to allow your child to explore and develop pretend play skills through familiar routines like making food or washing dishes.
You knew this one was coming, but I couldn't resist. Reading to your child is one of the best gifts you can give! Ask questions while you read, explain new vocabulary words, talk about what your favorite part of the story was or ask your child to retell the story later! Don't Push the Button is a big hit in our household as well as lift the flap books and Wheels on the Bus!
Strike up the band! If you don't want a headache from the drums or symbols, the Dollar Tree has plastic string guitars. Sing predictable nursery rhyme songs with young children like Old McDonald, stop throughout the verse and wait for them to fill in the words (e.g. "And on that farm he had a _______").
Those are my top 5 toys for early communicators at the moment. However, I also LOVE bubbles, building blocks, wind-up toys, arts and crafts, and Play-Doh (well it's a love-hate relationship because, well, have you ever tried to get Play-Doh out of carpet?).
Now that I've given you my toy wishlist, here's what I hope will be a key takeaway for you!
Parents, caregivers- remember, the way you interact with your child during daily routines is more valuable than any toy. Sing songs during bath time, talk about how your food looks, tastes, and feels, as you share meals, describe how the weather feels when you walk outside. Take an interest in the things that interest your child. Wait for your child to initiate communication or respond, and most of all, just be present!
If you are still wrapping up your holiday shopping (pun intended), I hope you found this post helpful and maybe now have an idea of toys you want to buy rather than just a list of toys to steer clear from!
Thanks for reading. :) As always, if you have concerns about your child's speech-language skills, feel free to contact me.