Creative Child

Toys That Enhance Learning and Language

Andrea Beilinson

Want to find the perfect toy for your baby or toddler? Keep these tips in mind when shopping for your little ones.

1. Important First Choices

Most infant toys focus on stimulating your baby's visual and auditory senses. Although infants are pre-verbal, they are making sounds and are hard-wired for language, so any stimulation at this age will help as your infant develops into a toddler who is exploring language use. Reading and talking to your baby about books and toys will help him become attuned to the rhythm and inflection of language, and build a solid base on which he can develop language skills. Maybe even get your baby a stuffed animal toy.

2. Toddler and Preschool Aged Children

Toddlers seem to learn something new every day. Language acquisition often occurs in "spurts" - one day your toddler may have just a few words, and seemingly overnight he will acquire more and more. First words are usually for objects found in everyday life, such as "ball," "cup," and other words for tangible objects.

Toys that help develop toddlers' language skills are ones that engage more than one of their senses. You may find that letter blocks or puzzles with the alphabet on them great choices for providing a toddler the chance for real hands-on learning. Show your toddler how to put together letter cubes or assemble a puzzle of the alphabet, and he'll begin to associate letters with sounds.

Although it is tempting to purchase technological toys that tout early reading and increased vocabulary as natural results of their use, complicated electronic toys are not necessary. You may find that toys that allow your child to record his own voice and play it back, or to "talk" to a pre-recorded voice on a toy telephone or other device will encourage him to speak, but don't let that substitute for your interaction with him. Simple conversations in which you indentify animal figures, or ask questions about which shape goes in what part of a shape sorter will encourage language use.

For older toddlers and preschoolers, word scramble type board games that allow children to spell words by correctly assembling the corresponding picture puzzle will teach them to associate a written word with an object. Rhyming games are always fun and will help toddlers and preschoolers learn phonics while being silly.

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3. Preschool and Older Children

Electronic toys may be helpful for this age group's language skills, for building vocabulary, spelling, identifying parts of speech, and pronoun usage. Be wary of toys and software that do not encourage active learning, however. Make sure that any software you choose will encourage your child to participate in the game, not simply fill in the electronic version of a worksheet. Games that encourage your child to think critically and explore new words will enhance his language skills at this age.

4. Long Term Outlook

Language learning toys work best in the context of the "big picture" of language acquisition, and won't take the place of interacting with your child, talking to him about everyday activities, and introducing new vocabulary words. Use toys that teach language as a tool, and keep it fun, and your child will find these a wonderful complement to a language-rich environment. 

What kind of toys does your baby or toddler enjoy?

Related Article: 10 Super Stellar Sensory Activities

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