Best toys to encourage speech and language development for your infant

I always get asked “what are the best toys for a baby?” and my answer is always “YOU”. You are the best teacher and have the most power in shaping your baby’s development. Never ever swap mummy and daddy time for a toy. I cannot reiterate this anymore.

So when we are thinking of toys, we need to also think, how can the adults use these toys to assist with language development? Engaging and talking about the toys will provide language and stimulation your baby needs. When we think of toys, we know they are expensive, so we need to ensure that we can get the most use out of the toys. With that in mind you should only buy toys when they have several purposes, assist with achieving development milestones and can be used longer than 3 months. Let’s think value for money!

Below I have recommended some toys which I have found useful in general development of children. My workplace has allowed me to have knowledge about general development principles, so the toys below will help achieve multiple developmental milestones.

1. Baby gym

A necessity and something you can use from day one. Remember babies’ vision are not fully developed so a baby gym needs to be of high contrasting colours (e.g. black and white). The baby gym needs to have loops which you can attach a range of toys to it. This should be between 8-12 inches away from the baby’s face. The baby gym can encourage several developmental skills such as hand-eye co-ordination, reaching, grasping, visual tracking, midline play, tummy time and rolling. Remember to develop certain skills, it may need a small adjustment of where the toys are placed e.g. to encourage rolling, the toys should be place close to the floor but out of each. The baby gym will give you an opportunity to interact with your baby. Be imaginative and playful e.g. when you hit a toy make a sound of the toy that would be associated with it.

2. Mirror

Mirrors are engaging and offer a great opportunity to explore one’s self. This will develop self-awareness and an opportunity for the baby to look at their reflection. A mirror is also helpful in developing head control (positioning of the mirror will help with this) and is always entertaining for a baby during tummy time. A great song to sing during mirror time is “Who’s in the mirror? Me, me, me. Who’s in the mirror? Me, me, me. Who’s in the mirror? Jess is in the mirror.” If you look at the words that are repeated in the song you will see ‘me, mirror, in and the baby’s name’. This is targeting straight away identification of one self, learning own name and objects as well as prepositions. So much information in such a little song and object!

3. Cot Mobile

A mobile is a great toy to put above a baby’s cot. There are two types of mobiles, some are meant to stimulate a baby and others are meant to soothe a baby to sleep. With this in mind, this will also help determine which colours you should go for. For a baby that needs to be stimulated (best used in the morning when the baby is waking up), it is important that the shapes are high contrasting and bright colours. This will encourage grasping, reaching and visual tracking. The sound of music can also teach your baby to attune to sounds around them as well as learn some vocabulary. Make sure you use the mobile at appropriate times. You do not want the baby to be high stimulated when you want them to go to sleep.

4. Ring stacker

A classic toy with endless benefits. Language development will include teaching colours, shapes, size and cause & effect. The baby will learn simple action such as banging the rings together and then developing skills to stacking. This requires skills in midline play, transferring rings between hands, reaching and grasping. It will also work on hand-eye coordination. The ring stacker can be used during tummy time, sitting and standing. The longer the toy is used, the more complex language can be taught!

5. Soft building blocks (the ones that will make noise somehow either with a bell or crinkled foil)

Stimulating at an early age as they target several senses. This includes sound (crinkling of the blocks/shaking the bell), feel (textures of the blocks- used for oral exploration at an early age) and vision (generally bright in colour). The blocks can be used in many positions targeting different skills such as reaching, encouraging crawling and midline play. The baby will learn to grasp the item, transfer between hands and release it. It will naturally target hand-eye coordination. This toy can be motivating as it makes sounds, so when the adult crinkles it, the baby will try and locate the sound. In terms of language development describing the pictures on the blocks and stacking the blocks/ knocking them down will develop cause and effect skills.

6. A selection of board books!

Books are a must. The opportunities to develop language skills by naming a range of nouns and actions will assist with vocabulary development and understanding. Books will also assist with the baby learning to explore. Babies will visually scan a book, share joint attention with an adult, learn to turn pages and begin to point. Books can be used to make other activities interesting such as pull to stand. Place the book on the couch and encourage the baby to pull to stand to reach the book.

7. Rattle

Rattles come in all different shapes and sizes. They can be used for a range of different development targets. A rattle will encourage grasping, hand-eye coordination and transferring between hands. The transferring between hands will also assist with midline play. A rattle in the early stages of development will be used for oral exploration and possibility teething. Rattles make a sound so it will further develop the cause and effect relationship encouraging the baby to do basic actions such as shake and knock down.

8. Sophie the Giraffe

Everybody loves Sophie the Giraffe. The French creation has assisted babies since 1961. It is used to soothe baby’s gums. It works on several developmental skills such as grasping and oral exploration. The baby will explore the mouth and seek ways to assist with soothing a baby when teething. It will squeak when the baby squeezes it and this will encourage midline play.

9. Set of small bath toys

Bath toys can be used to target numerous milestones. Bright coloured toys will assist with visual tracking, it will encourage reaching and grasping. At the early stages, when your baby reaches and grasps, the toys will be going in their mouths. This is because our mouths have so many nerve endings that it provides the most feedback. Whilst your baby develops fine motor skills, your baby will initially need to develop midline play which will also include transferring toys between hands. As your baby’s skills develop such as being able to sit, the baby will begin to use their hands more functionally such as banging the toys together or squeezing the toys to make sounds. This will inadvertently increase hand strength. Once again, a set of toys; will leave opportunities for language developments. Modeling and naming of colours, shapes, sizes will expand a baby’s vocabulary. The adult can use the toys to create an imaginative story and interact with the baby. This will encourage eye contact and joint attention.

​10.Play table with removable legs

The removable legs makes this toy very versatile. The play table with the detachable legs can now be used during tummy time, sitting, kneeling, standing and cruising all whilst developing fine motor skills. There is always an element of cause and effect and is a great opportunity to model and incorporate language!

Few points to remember, I will discuss the importance of contrasting colours (generally black and white) in an upcoming post. Say goodbye to the beautiful pastel colours you see in every baby store and hello bright, bold contrasting colours. Location and distance are important, 8-12 inches distance is appropriate for a new born. Any toy can be used to incorporate and teach a baby language. This can be as simple as naming Sophie a “giraffe”, teaching the baby that the animal is a giraffe and describing its features. Everything is an opportunity for language development. And with any toy, repetition, repetition, repetition is the key for any development in any areas!!

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