What to get for baby?  For the 1- year old?  For the 2-year old?  There are SO many options.  It’s hard to know what’s going to be interesting to a young child for more than five minutes, what will be “educational”, what won’t fall apart, what will get that “wow” factor when your little one opens it up.  Honestly, they may be more excited about the large box (which is also a great gift) or the wrapping paper anyway.  In that case, it may be a good time to think about NON toy gifts.

Think experiences!  Memberships to local child-friendly places like the zoo or a children’s museum (in the Columbus, OH area that might be COSI or AHA! or The Works or Little Buckeye Children’s Museum) and gift cards for activities like swim lessons, play cafes, music and gym classes would all be great options.  Tickets to toddler-friendly shows and concerts would be great experience gifts as well.

I also realize that a baby or toddler may not get too excited about opening a gift card.  So, toys are inevitably on the gift list!

From a true communication perspective I have to say that toys don’t really matter.  It’s the interaction that happens WITH the toy (or activity) that allows the true magic of communication.  That said, gifts are often important to families to give and suggesting that loving grandparents get their grandchildren nothing or simply contribute to a college fund may not be their idea of a gift.

Yes, I know I promised a toy list.  I’m getting there.

This age range can be tricky as it is easy to be overwhelmed in the toy aisle with so many “educational” toys with lights and music and sounds and second languages and buttons and spinning parts, etc. etc.  Of course toys that light up, play music, and have lots of buttons to push can be entertaining but there’s minimal opportunity to interact with others when using electronic toys.

When shopping for the little ones, the best toys:

do not require batteries

encourage building or construction

encourage active play

allow for pretend play

For those who like acronyms, think “CAP”!  Toys should allow kids to CREATE, be ACTIVE, and PRETEND.

If you keep “CAP” in mind when shopping, you’ll find lots of good choices. Also, remember to think about what your child can do with the toy rather than what the toy can do.

(Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means I may earn a small percentage of qualifying sales.)

So, let’s get to it… my best toy list for helping babies and toddlers with speech and language development!  (For play ideas with each toy, click on the toy name).

Bubbles – “up, pop, more, all done, uh-oh” (good for mouth movement and blowing practice as well)

Musical instruments – “bang, shake, tap, go, stop” (also fun to practice imitation)

Books – look for real pictures (not drawings) and rhyming or repetitive books. Books that focus on sounds rather than stories and those that have hidden pictures are some of my favorites for first birthdays and little ones.

Tunnels – “in, out, hi, bye, peek a boo”

Playdough – “open, push, squeeze, poke, roll”

Pop up houses or tents – “knock knock, hi, bye, where are you?”

Puzzles and shape sorters – “yes, no, hmmm, tada!”

Touch and Feel Picture cards – So many great uses for these!

Stacking/nesting cups – “up, on, in, crash” (make noises into the cups for an echo effect)

Wooden or soft blocks – “up, crash, more, all done, bang, tap”

Balls of various sizes and textures – “roll, whee, bounce, me, mine, my turn”

Potato head – body parts; “in, out, push, pull”

Cars, trucks, trains – “vroom, beep, choo choo, honk, chugga chugga, stop, go”

Dolls – “night night, ssshhh, hi” (early pretend play – sleeping, eating)

Toy stroller – “sit down, in, go, stop, fast, slow”

Shopping Cart – “push, go, more, in, out, bye bye”

Farm with animals – animal sounds, following directions

Simple games – Start teaching the concept of turn taking with these fun games

Kitchen with food – eating sounds, naming foods, feed dolls, sort/organize

MUSIC – Even if your little one isn’t yet talking or if talking is taking a little longer to develop, music and singing are excellent ways to encourage using your voice!

Toy phone/microphone – “hello, bye” (ANY silly sound).

Dress up clothes or hats – body parts, singing songs, pretend play (check out the sales just after Halloween)

For the little ones (not yet sitting on their own), toys are really insignificant for speech and language practice.  Adult interaction is the key!  So, if you are looking for toys in this age range, think about your senses – touch, see, hear, smell, taste (because all of the toys will go in their mouths) – think mirrors, rattles, bath books, and toys of various textures.

Still want more ideas?  Of course!  This is not the end by any means… Check out the rest of this series of “best toy” posts: CREATIVE toys, ACTIVE toys, and PRETEND toys.  In these posts I will go more in depth about each category of toy and give ideas for HOW to play using speech and language strategies!

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Best toys and gifts for speech therapy

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