Have you ever been shopping for toys and picked up various boxes wondering “What does this toy do?” Well, if you want a toy that will truly encourage interaction and communication then I hope the answer is nothing.
If the toy does nothing then the child gets to do everything. He can make whatever noises he wants, organize it according to whatever concept makes sense to him, put the parts in various places, stack it up or knock it down. He could even just push it around in his toy shopping cart. The toy does nothing without the child. No batteries, no second languages, no flashing lights, no automated directions to follow, no lengthy songs that play without rhyme or reason. Instead of asking “what does this toy do?” ask yourself “what can my child do with this toy?”
The “do nothing” toy will allow the child to Create, be Active, and/or Pretend (CAP). If you’ve already read Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list then you are familiar with CAP!
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Here is a small sample of what I mean by a “do nothing” toy:
Stacking Blocks Set Learning Toy
The best part of stacking is often knocking it all down! If your little one is not yet able to stack, then let them be involved by counting down the “kaboom” or “crash” or completing the ready, set… “GO”! Stack it up again by saying “up”, “on top” and naming the colors. This particular toy also serves as a shape sorter which is perfect for practicing words like “yes”, “no”, “in”, “push” in addition to naming the shapes. However, my favorite part of this toy is what I call the Mystery Box that serves as the base of the tower. The yellow cube has an opening with a flap – that’s the “mystery” part and you can use it for anything that fits inside! Use it as intended – to pull out the shapes that come with the toy – but then use it apart from the tower as a box to hold your favorite puzzle pieces! This adds an element of surprise to basic puzzle play. Practice guessing “what’s next?” Then excitedly name the piece that you find! Practice taking turns “my turn” and “your turn”. For more “mystery box” ideas click here.
Get your animal sounds ready! Animal sounds and other meaningful sounds such as “uh-oh”, “brrrr”, “aha” and “hmmm” are super important to speech development. With farm magnets, you get to practice “neigh,” “moo,” “oink” and tractor sounds “chug chug chug.” If your refrigerator holds magnets then these toys can give your little one a kitchen task while you are busy with meal prep or cleaning. Get out that “mystery box” from the stacking toy and put the magnets inside. She can take each piece out and stick it to the fridge. Then take each one off the fridge, put them back in the box and say “bye bye” to each animal. However, some refrigerators are not made for magnets. In that case, cookie sheets are perfect! Use a small cookie sheet in the car with your toddler or preschooler for magnet play on the go.
Go beyond animal sounds and use the magnets to set up scenes or trace each animal then use the outlines on a piece of paper as a puzzle. Pretend to feed each animal with play food or put each animal to sleep “sssshhhh, night night” by turning them over. Hide the animals around a darkened room and then use a flashlight to find them “cow, where are you?” Drop the magnets into a dry sensory bin of uncooked pasta, rice, leaves, feathers, etc. Then announce each one by name or sound as you dig them out and stick them to that cookie sheet. To practice concepts like above, below, top, middle, and bottom, draw lines on a piece of paper and tape the paper to a magnetic surface. Then organize the magnets by saying “put the cow above the tractor” or “the horse goes on the top line”.
Service Station Parking Garage
Your little car lover will get good use out of this garage! The cars go “up” and “down” in the elevator, park “stop” in the numbered spots, slide “whee” or “go” fast down the ramp, fill up with gas “guhguhguh” and get clean in the car wash “scrub scrub” and “ssshhhh” for water spraying sounds. Finally, the cars can go into the garage when broken “uh-oh” to get fixed or to sleep for the night “ssshh, night night car”. Little ones may need some help moving the elevator or using the car wash so that’s a wonderful opportunity for you to teach them how to the use the word “help”.
Here are some more of my favorite do nothing toys:
Remember that when playing with your little one, you should use sounds and words which are at, or just above, your child’s expressive ability if you want them to try to imitate what you are saying. If your child hasn’t yet said a true word then you can use single words or meaningful sounds rather than long sentences. If your child is using some words then you can use two-three word phrases in play. Reduce the questions you ask and just give them the words they might want to say. Follow your child’s lead in play and who knows where their imagination will lead you!
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Related: Why does speech therapy for little ones look like it’s just play? Click on Where’s the speech in speech therapy?