Earlier this month, we gave you some general hints and things to keep in mind when shopping for the little ones in your life. This week, we’re going to discuss some of our favourite toys, and why we think they make excellent gift ideas. One of the most important things to keep in mind when selecting gifts for children is their intrinsic play value (toys that can be used in interesting and engaging ways, with more than one use, and ones that can grow with your child as his or her skills develop). Some of our favourites include:
Children, especially babies, love looking at themselves in reflective surfaces. Once this fascination with their own reflection is matched with parental interaction, a mirror can be a fantastic present to help develop joint-attention skills, object permanence, and social language skills. When selecting a mirror, be sure to pick one that doesn’t require batteries to function, and that doesn’t have too many bells and whistles. The goal of the toy is to help your baby build key developmental skills, and the best way to do this is through direct interaction with you, not with the toy. One of our favourites is shown above, but the main thing is to find one that can stand up on its own, doesn’t require batteries, and doesn’t have any extra, distracting features.
These include toys like Lego, Duplo, MegaBlocks, and stacking blocks. These toys are great for creative and structured play, and can help develop a number of important concepts. For example, by selecting a multicoloured set with blocks in varying sizes, parents can help their children develop concepts such as colour, shape, and size. Prepositions such as on, under, on top, in front, off, and on (to name just a few) can also be reinforced through playing with the positioning of the blocks or of other toys used in conjunction with blocks. One of my son’s favourite activities was to use the blocks to build something, and then have his figures interact with the set he had just created, which was an important step in developing his imagination. Blocks can also reinforce hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem solving skills, and helps to teach a cause-and-effect relationship (e.g. if the tower gets too high, the blocks will fall down, etc.). If back and forth play, or turn-taking play, is one of your child’s goals, blocks are the perfect turn-taking toy to help teach back and forth interaction (e.g. you put a block down, and then the child puts a block down, etc.). When it comes to determining which block or building set to buy, take into consideration the child’s age and preferences. Younger children would do best with larger blocks, while older children may enjoy the challenge of more complex sets.
Kitchen and play food sets also make great gifts. Children love playing make-believe chef, and there are tons of sets available to suit all age groups. Children enjoy imitating adults, particularly the activities they see adults do on a daily basis, such as preparing food. Pretending to prepare and eat food and other types of symbolic play are an important aspect of play from a language development perspective. There are many ways to use a kitchen or food set to help build speech and language skills. For example, you can help build vocabulary by labelling all the items in the kitchen or set. Building on other basic concepts, such as prepositions, size, shape, colours, counting, and sorting can also all be easily incorporated into kitchen play (e.g. you can ask which plate is bigger, what colour the apple is, how many oranges there are, etc.). Other skills, such as following directions, symbolic play, and social interaction can also be worked on using play kitchen/food sets.
Animal Sets/Play Houses
Toys like animal sets, farm sets, and doll houses make fantastic gifts. For starters, additional animals or dolls make wonderful add-on gifts, either for the same occasion or for later birthdays and other holidays. These toys are high in play value, and certain brands can last generations. In addition, farm sets and doll houses help develop many key speech and language skills. By labelling the items in a house, for example, or the parts of a barn, you can build your child’s vocabulary. Concepts such as prepositions (e.g. on, in, off, through, etc.), size (e.g big, small, bigger, smallest, etc.), and shape (e.g. the shape of the window, door, roof, etc.) can be introduced and reinforced through play. Following and giving directions can also be incorporated into play using sets such as these, by asking the child to put the cow in the barn, for example. Children can also be asked any number of “wh” questions using these toys (e.g. “who is this?”, “where is the cow now?”, and “why is the dog outside?”). Animal sets and doll houses can be used to help children practice social interaction in their play, as they can imitate conversation between the toys.
Playing dress-up has many benefits for children of all ages, while also helping them build speech, language, and social skills. Studies have shown that children who engage in dress-up and make believe play also have higher levels of empathy and develop better problem solving skills. Role play helps children learn how to take other perspectives, and helps them become better conversationalists and have better social interaction. There are literally endless ways you can use dress-up play to help reinforce lessons taught at speech therapy. You can also ask your child lots of “wh” questions about the character he or she has created. Labelling items (e.g. identifying the “hat”), following directions (e.g. “put the cape on before the mask”), and concepts such as shape, size, and colour can all be used to help reinforce numerous speech and language skills.
Crafts are absolutely amazing for speech and language development, because you can tailor the craft to suit nearly any speech or language goal. They can be used to help your child understand basic concepts like prepositions, size, shape, and colour. As your child grows, you can continue to use crafts to help him or her with other important speech and language skills such as following directions, vocabulary acquisition, and asking and answering “wh” questions. There is really no limit on how you can use crafts to encourage your child.
Books make perfect gifts for any occasion and for any age. Study after study has shown that good literacy skills help build speech and language development, and will enrich your child’s vocabulary as well as his or her imagination. Just as there is a craft for nearly every type of speech or language difficulty, there is also a book to help build and reinforce those skills. For younger children, be sure to select a book with simple text, and a focus on the accompanying pictures to ensure they remain engaged in the story. When picking books for children of any age, it’s best to choose one about something of interest to the child. There is practically a book for every age on every topic, local independent bookstores are a great place to start when beginning your search. For more tips on selecting books, you can read our post here, or speak with your child’s speech language pathologist.