Toys that allow children to be ACTIVE
Once those babies starting moving…it’s a whole new world of play! You may spend most of the day chasing your toddler and keeping him safe rather than engaging in extended periods of seated, quiet, “educational” play. Toys for active toddlers can be expensive (large outdoor swing sets, indoor climbing structures) or totally free (public parks/playgrounds, furniture you already own).
NOTE: This is part 3 of a series of “Best toys and gifts”. If you missed the first two, go to Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list! and Best CREATIVE toys and gifts – a speech therapist’s list!
Introducing “ready, set…GO” (allowing your child to fill-in “go”) is an obvious strategy to use with active toddlers. Using “1..2..3” or some other “something is about to happen” phrase also helps give purpose to the movement and make it more of an interactive game. Sometimes it’s easy to engage a child in active play (chase me, tag, hide-n-seek). Other times you may need to BE the hoop for the basketball in order to get your toddler’s attention when they are active! Either way, here are some toys and communication play ideas for the ACTIVE category:
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Pop up houses or tents
Yes, you can make a “fort” with sheets and chairs or other furniture, but since we’re thinking of gift giving you can also buy pop up houses or tents. If space is an issue, and if you can figure out how to fold them back up, these can be fun to get out on days when you may be stuck indoors. “Knock” on the door and practice greetings “hi, hello” or play “I see you”/peekaboo. Pretend to sleep inside and show your toddler how they can “roar” like a bear to wake you back up. Turn the lights off, climb inside, and shine a flashlight around the smaller space “oooo aaaah” and then shine the light on your “knee” “foot” etc.
No spill bubbles may still get messy as the wand drips frequently so don’t let the name fool you, but most kids love bubbles and they often need to be refilled which makes it a good, cheaper gift. Blowing bubbles is active for your mouth muscles which is also great for speech and language development! Popping bubbles is active for your whole body – clap, stomp, dance, spin, jump… For more ideas check out Playing with…bubbles
Crawling through play tunnels can be a part of an obstacle course or a game of “gonna get you” all on its own. Slither through on your belly and “sssss” like a snake. Crawl through like any 4-legged animal and “meow” or “baa” or “roar” your way through it.
Balls of various sizes and textures
Roll, squeeze, bounce, throw, catch, kick… balls for playtime are a necessity. Use them to fill up boxes or laundry baskets “in”, “whee” then dump them out “uh-oh” and repeat. Hide smaller toys in the laundry basket then cover with balls for a searching game “where’s teddy?” Roll them back and forth to each other and practice turn-taking with pronouns or names “my turn” “Mommy’s turn”.
Music for dance parties
Whether it’s a children’s CD or a gift card to download new songs to a music player, nothing beats music and movement to get early communication skills going! Gesturing, imitation, sound play are crucial first steps to speech and language development and music is a natural, fun way to learn those skills. Even if your toddler isn’t into the idea of sitting and singing “Wheels on the Bus,” you can still have an awesome dance party and teach so many great concepts: “stop” or “freeze” when music is paused, imitation of movement “watch me”, march around the room “first” and “last”, change the volume “quiet” and “loud”, change the speed “fast” and “slow”, or just “wiggle” and “shake”! For more ideas go to Playing with MUSIC and SINGING!
Take bath play outdoors with a water table! A great gift for spring/summer, water tables with just a few accessories can be a great way to engage your little one in play. For more water ideas see my post…Playing in the bath
Going up the ladder “up, up, up” and down the slide “whee” can also be part of your indoor obstacle course. Use the slide as a car ramp “ready, set go” and race “zoom!” Put a box/container/basket at the bottom (open side toward slide) and send all kinds of toys down the slide into the box. Name each one as you play… “go car”!
Colored dots/discs or play mat tiles
Such a simple toy but so great for making obstacle courses, pathways, trails, jumping or sitting spots, following directions, learning colors, etc. etc. These flexible colored spots (or foam tiles from a play mat) can also be hats, steering wheels, and plates for a picnic. Put them in a line and name the color as your toddler steps to each one then “jump off” at the end “tada!”
This one breaks my “no batteries” rule but that’s ok because it doesn’t make noise and allows for lots of language and movement! They may need “help” to turn it “on” but then when the lights are off, you can shine it on different pictures/flashcards on the wall to name them or search for them “where’s the car?” Playing with flash cards. Shine the light on the floor and then try to “stomp” on it while it moves side to side. Ask your toddler to chase or catch the light as you move it in circles.
Here’s another “ready, set, go” opportunity and then “jump, jump”. Let your stuffed animals have a turn then then “bounce bunny” or “uh-oh” when teddy falls down. Stack some blocks on it then knock them down with a jump and “crassshh”. Practice “big” and “little” jumps along with “fast” and “slow”.
The first time my son ever signed “more” was while he was on a swing. (Go to communicating before words for more information about using sign language.) He was a constant mover. I would push it a few times, make silly faces and funny noises at him, then stop the swing and ask him “more?” It was our communication breakthrough, once he figured out he could put his fingertips together to tell me “push me again, right now, mom!” Swings are fun for peek-a-boo as they swing back, you lean over and “boo!” or tickle their feet.
These are great for “push” “pull” and “help” (as they can be difficult to click together). Use them for fire hoses, binoculars, microphones, hats, belts… etc. For more ideas check out playing with pop toobs.
Of course there are many other active toys toddlers love! Things you can push, pull, climb on, throw, etc. The key is engaging your child while they play so that communication – even with an active toddler – can be fun and meaningful.
Now that we’ve covered the C (Create) and A (Active) in my acronym “CAP” for toy buying, up next is P (PRETEND).
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