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An Early Language Development Gift Guide

Maria Montessori tells us that “play is the work of the child,” which makes toys the tools! Exploring and playing are all parts of learning with the right toys around. As a Doctor in Speech Pathology, I prefer toys that help foster language development, especially at the toddler age. Though the list below is evergreen, because we are nearing the holidays, I’ve collected a gift guide with my top seven toys for toddlers (approximately 1-3yo though it’s not to say these items can’t be enjoyed before or after). My criteria involved toys that will help children learn and practice how to speak, but also toys that can engage your toddler’s mind for longer periods of independent playtime.

Books with real photos (e.g. Bright Baby First 100 set) use real photos on a colorful background in a manageable size for toddlers). Books with real images give parents an opportunity to take them along to the zoo, farm, grocery store, petting zoo etc. and associate photos, words, and sounds with reality. It helps reinforce word association for little ones.

Books with real sounds (e.g. My Big Book Of Sounds). Children press the buttons to hear sounds in the home and on the street, to sounds in the jungle and even in the ocean. Hearing spoken words associated with the sounds will help little ones to identify sounds and name the animals and objects that make them. With more than 100 sounds and 100 objects and animals, this is the perfect book to help young children develop language skills.

Chunky puzzles (e.g. Melissa & Doug chunky puzzles). With big pieces for little hands, recognizable animals give a chance to both names the animals and practice the sounds they make. Use each piece to repeat the animal name, and their sounds, e.g. “This is the cow. The cow says ‘Moo.’”

Animal magnets (e.g. Melissa & Doug animal magnets). Turn a fridge or chalkboard into a verbal playground for toddlers to chat and play with. Practice both names and sounds of animals and use simple directions, e.g. “Can you put the cow above the chicken? Can you put all of the magnets on the board?” Great for matching, sorting, and storytelling.

Activity Playmats (e.g. Melissa & Doug under the sea playmat). More than just paper placemats, the pad includes 24 pages of ocean-themed coloring, cutting, and creative activities that keep kids entertained and learning. The preschool-aged activities within the pages help promote fine motor skills, letter and number skills, color recognition, and creative expression. All playmats have a handle for eBay on-the-go usages and many themes from which to choose.

SpinAgain (from FatBrain Toys). The SpinAgain is an advanced take on stacking toys. It encourages hand-eye coordination and early engineering skills. In bright colors, each piece spins as you stack it on the twisted pole. Practice color names and simple directions.

This list is by no means exhaustive but provides a good indication for some educational toys for the little (almost) talker in your life. As Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, reminds us, “The child has a hundred languages (and a hundred hundred hundred more),” so there’s no way one list can capture everything.

Please reach out with any questions or suggestions - what are your favorite toys that have helped your toddlers learn words and sounds?

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