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8 Ways to Boost Your Toddler’s Speech Development with Toys

A young girl playing with Stoie's instruments, a young girl playing with a Little Tikes buggy, and a young boy playing with Melissa & Doug blocks.
Stoie’s/Little Tikes/Melissa & Doug

Children grow rapidly, and their brains also soak up everything like a sponge! It’s incredible how quickly they can learn new words and motor skills. Whether your child has just started talking or not, the right set of toys can encourage speech and benefit your child beyond words.

Many interactive toys can both spark your child’s imagination and encourage language development. I’ve been doing speech therapy with my daughter and, as a result, I’ve learned many things about language development.

One of the most important things to know is the difference between active versus passive play, and whether your toddler has what he or she needs to learn new words. Below are some toys that have been fun and productive for us.

How to Boost Language without Toys

Speech therapy for a toddler is, more or less, just playing with toys. It’s an opportunity for engaging playtime that’s open for babbling, emphasizing words, and sparking the imagination.

Of course, as a parent, playing with toys all day isn’t possible. Below are some ways you can encourage speech in addition to a regularly scheduled playtime:

  • Talk with your child as much as possible: There’s no better way for them to soak up those words than by listening to you talk. For example, while making breakfast, tell your child what it is and how yummy it will taste. While doing laundry, identify the socks, shirts, and everything else, so he or she can hear your voice and try to join in.
  • Singing: This is another great way for your little one to hear your voice, while also learning nursery rhymes and songs. During bath time, you can sing something like, “This is the way we wash our hair, wash our hair, wash our hair. This is the way we wash our hair early in the evening.”
  • Go on an adventure at the park, a local walking trail, or your backyard: Being outside with your child is a fantastic way to see and identify animals, touch new objects, and just enjoy nature. With all these exciting things around, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for your child to touch and see objects, and learn their associated words.
  • Tell your little one stories: Whenever you can, tell your baby stories about, really anything. It’s an opportunity for your child to listen and babble back at you. If your child responds with any “baba’s” or “mama’s,” then be sure to keep the discussion going. Say something like, “Yes, that’s right,” to encourage them to talk some more.
  • Baby sing language: This is a great way to teach communication if your little one is struggling with processing words.

Active vs. Passive Toys

When selecting toys for your little one, a good rule of thumb is to search for some that encourage them to engage through participation and play.

These toys are often referred to as active toys because your child must operate them themselves through creative and imaginative play. Stacking cups, blocks, dolls, and toy animals are all great examples.

Passive toys can sometimes be a smart purchase, too, but then, it’s all too easy to allow your child to just sit back and be entertained, rather than entertaining him or herself through play.

Learning to problem solve and use their brains creatively through play is important for the development and process of speech. That’s why it’s important to fill that toy box with plenty of active toys.

Below, you’ll find eight of our favorite ways to encourage your toddler’s language development. Keep in mind, though, they’re just objects until you get down and engage with your child. They all offer a great way to teach your child how to play.

Plus, when you show interest in something, they’ll be interested, as well.

Read Books Together: Little Owl’s Day by Divya Srinivasan

The left image is the cover of Little Owl's Day and the right image is the cover of the book Little Owls Night, both written by Divya Srinivasan.
Divya Srinivasan

You can never start too young with this one! In fact, many parents read books to their baby while in the womb. It’s a great way to secure attachment and bond with your baby before you are privileged to meet them.

Once your baby is born and several months (and years) thereafter, be sure to continue reading to your child every day, as it encourages excellent brain development and language skills. Beyond reading, be sure to point to certain things in books to help your child recognize pictures of animals and objects.

Little Owl’s Day is a favorite in our home and one of many books written by Divya Srinivasan. The book is filled with gorgeous imagery of forest creatures and the unique sounds they make throughout the day—a perfect opportunity for pointing out animals and other things in nature. Be sure to also check out Little Owl’s Night!

Stick to Basic Toys: Melissa & Doug Wood Blocks

Two images of children playing with Melissa & Doug blocks.
Melissa & Doug

Sticking to the basics has tremendous benefits to your little one’s brain and development. Picking up blocks and stacking them requires the use of both fine and gross motor skills and involves hand-eye coordination, too.

Label the blocks as you stack them with your little one. Saying things like, “let’s stack the yellow block on the blue block.” You can also teach cause and effect by stacking a few blocks and having your little one knock them over.

Word’s like “Uh-Oh” and “Woopsie” are fun for your little one, and they’ll pick up on those quickly. Teaching your little one to clean up by placing blocks in the bucket is another fantastic lesson as well! Be sure to sing the clean-up song while you are at it.

Outdoor Playtime: Little Tikes Riding Car

Two young girls playing with their Little Tikes Princess Buggies.
Little Tikes

Outdoor play is essential for your child’s speech development, as there are so many opportunities for interaction with nature, new sounds, and items to touch.

We love this Little Tikes Buggy as it gives your little one a chance to drive independently and safely using their own two feet. It’s a great opportunity for imaginative play and creativity and using words like “beep beep” or “vroom.”

Sensory Integration Is Key: Little Tikes Water Table

Three young children playing with a Little Tikes water table.
Little Tikes

Babies and toddlers love splashing around in the water, which leads us to our next favorite outdoor toy: the water table. Water tables are a fantastic way to encourage hand-eye coordination and speech development.

Sensory integration overlaps language development as those little brains must figure out what and how to say words. Work on basic concepts like color, size, and shapes of toys floating in the water table. Practice saying words, taking turns with certain toys, using simple phrases like “my turn” or “your turn.”

These sturdy sensory tables are usually equipped with several moving parts and are large enough for a few children to play, which is great for social interaction. Play face to face so your little one can make eye contact and learn from your facial expressions as you both splash around.

Jam Together: Stoie’s International Wooden Music Set

Two images: The left image is of a young girl looking at a tambourine, and the right image is of a young girl playing musical instruments on the floor with her father.

We love the benefits of musical instruments! It’s an opportunity for decision making, as your little one must choose which instrument to play with. It’s also a chance for more sensory input, especially banging drums or a tambourine.

Playing instruments is a fun way to learn new words like “boom,” “bang,” or “ding.” We love Stoie’s international musical instrument set, as it explores the beautiful sounds of various instruments from across the globe.

Parallel Play: Fisher-Price Barn and Animal Set

A young toddler playing with a Fisher Price barn set with farm animals.

Parallel play is essential for learning new words, seeing facial expressions, and understanding social play with others. It’s a great time for your child to try and converse with you or a sibling, but also a great opportunity for your little one to observe others as they play or talk.

Offering a barn and animal set or even a dollhouse is a fantastic way to engage with your little one and spark imagination. Use blocks alongside to construct a fenced area for the animals. Make sounds like “oink,” “moo,” and “quack” when playing with the associate toy animal.

If your child attempts an animal sound or even babbles, offer plenty of praise often, so they are encouraged to continue talking.

Teach Cleanup: Melissa & Doug Cleaning Set

Two images: The left image is of a young girl pretending to sweep up a mess and the right image is of the Melissa and Doug Cleaning set.
Melissa & Doug

If your little one likes to cling by your side all day, get them involved in the chores you have to get done! This cleanup set is a fantastic way to teach your little one the fun of cleaning your home (haha) while introducing words like “sweep” and “wash.”

Label Everything: KidKraft Uptown Play Kitchen

Two images of a KidKraft kitchen set: the left image is of a young boy playing at the kitchen and the right image is a closeup of the child pretending to wash fruits in the play kitchen sink.

Kitchen sets are a great way to engage in imaginative play. Use simple words like “eat” and “drink,” “cup,” or “bowl” are all simple ways to teach new words.

Teach steps of preparing a meal with the toy ingredients, or work together to sequence the steps for setting the table or putting together a sandwich. Play pretend restaurant or practice words like “please” and “thank you.” The possibilities are endless with play food.

Learning new words is a challenge for some babies and toddlers. If you’re worried about a speech delay, always talk to your child’s pediatrician first. He or she will be able to determine whether or not your child needs speech therapy.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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