Top Toys & How They Can Support Speech & Language Development (Part One)

As a speech pathologist, I am asked all the time by parents what toys I recommend they buy for their children to help expand their speech and language skills. When I became a mother, I became even more interested in children’s toys. So for the month of February I’ve decided to write a series of posts all about my personal top pics of toys I wish every child could have, and how they can support language development and overall learning. Welcome to part one of four in my series on the best toys for speech and language development!

I have been working with children in  professional capacity for over 15 years and have had the pleasure of working with children of all abilities in a wide variety of settings (preschools, elementary schools, middle and high schools, child care programs, recreation programs, homes, etc.) Working in these settings over the years, as well as my experience as a speech pathologist and a mother of two, has given me a unique perspective on the use of toys as learning tools. Particularly how toys can help (or even HINDER!) speech and language skills.

As I share with you my personal top picks for toys for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, I will also be sharing the areas of speech and language that these toys can help support. However, it is important to know that for these toys to help support speech and language development you, as the parent or caregiver must help to facilitate that language. What I mean is this: You can’t just give a child a shape sorter and expect him to magically know and use the names of shapes and colors! You need to sit with your child and facilitate his learning. You need to use some strategies that I have mentioned before including:

Parallel Talk, Self Talk, & Descriptions
Expansions, Extensions, and Repetitions
Commenting and Asking Questions

If you are a fellow speech pathologist and work with infants, toddlers or preschoolers, you may also find this series of posts valuable for choosing therapy materials.

Ok let’s get started! My first five top pick toys for speech and language development.

Stacking/Nesting Toys

Stacking/nesting toys are by far one of my most favorite toys for infants and toddlers. I have personally found that our stacking/nesting cups have been the most used and longest used toys that we have ever bought. Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with stacking/nesting cups:

  • Preposition concepts of in/out as he nests the different sized cups
  • Preposition concepts of on, under, next to, in front, behind, top, bottom, on, off, and between as he stacks and builds with them.
  • Color concepts
  • Shape concepts (especially if you have different sets of cups in different shapes)
  • Size concepts of big, bigger, biggest; small, smaller, smallest; small, medium, large
  • Concepts of full/empty (by filling some cups up with other things like rice, beans, etc)
  • Counting skills
  • Problem solving skills: Figuring out which cups stack on others best, or nest within other best.
  • Fine motor and motor planning skills
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • If the stacking/nesting cups have pictures of animals/letters on them you can also teach these vocabulary words.
  • Other activity idea: Take another small toy (like an animal) and hiding it under a cup and have your infant or toddler find where the toy went.
  • Other activity idea: If you are using plain plastic colored cups, you can draw or tape pictures of any target vocabulary on the cups and use the cups to target this vocabulary (i.e. You can play following directions games with the cups by saying “Put the horse cup on top of the pig cup.”)

Wooden Blocks

Every child should have access to blocks! I prefer a simple set of colored blocks of different shapes and sizes, however I also love the square blocks with the letters/numbers on them as they provide the opportunity to also target letter and number recognition (and later on, even some word recognition or spelling practice!). Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with blocks:

  • Preposition concepts of on, under, next to, in front, behind, top, bottom, on, off, and between as he stacks and builds with them.
  • Color concepts
  • Shape concepts
  • Letter and Number concepts (if you are using blocks with letters/numbers)
  • Size concepts
  • Counting skills
  • Problem solving skills: i.e. How to create a stable tower that won’t fall down
  • Hand-eye coordination/Fine motor skills and visual processing
  • Cause and effect relationships
  • When at school or in a play situation, children can practice their sharing, cooperation, problem solving skills and more while building with their friends.
  • Math and science principals like gravity and balance (not my expertise! Ha!)

Balls, Balls and More Balls

My little Everett loves balls. He just started Gymboree classes this week and his first class he must have carried some sort of ball around with him the entire 45 minutes. I remember by daughter liked them too (though not as much as EV!). Balls can help teach so many concepts. Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with balls:

  • Concepts of in, on, off, through, up, down, next to, in front, behind, top, bottom (while using the balls in different activities and with other items like basketball hoops, baskets, tunnels, cups, boxes, etc.)
  • Color concepts (using different colored balls)
  • Size concepts like big, medium, small, biggest, smallest, etc (using different sized balls)
  • Tactile concepts/vocabulary like hard, soft, bumpy, smooth, etc. (when using balls made of various materials).
  • Counting concepts
  • Problem solving skills (i.e. which balls can fit in which containers?)
  • Gross motor, motor planning, and hand/eye skills while throwing, catching, and rolling
  • Social skills: Believe it or not, the simple act of rolling a ball back and forth to another person takes quite a bit of social skills! In order to roll  ball back and forth, you need to 1) Watch your friend 2) Read your friend’s non verbal language indicating whether or not he is ready to “catch” the ball (facial expressions, body position, gestures) 3) Roll the ball 4) Wait patiently for your turn to catch 5) Read your friend’s non verbal cues that he is ready to roll the ball to you 6) Catch the ball.

Shape Sorter

Shape sorters can teach many of the same concepts and skills that blocks can, with some added bonuses. Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with a shape sorter:

  • Shape concepts (Obviously, right? Ha!)
  • Preposition concepts of in, out, through.
  • Color concepts
  • Concepts of full and empty (full of shapes after all the shapes have been put in).
  • Fine motor and motor planning skills
  • Counting skills
  • Problem solving skills

Toy Phone

Yes, toy phones are by FAR one of my favorite toys. They are low cost and grow with your child. And think about it…what is it that we do on the phone? WE TALK! We use LANGUAGE! So a toy phone is a GREAT toy that can be used to support speech and language development. Here are just some of the language, cognitive and other skills that your infant and toddler can learn by playing with a toy phone:

  • Social skills/pretend play: Your child can use the play phone to “practice” her speech and language skills and “talk” to an array of different “people.” 😉 Grab yourself another play phone, and have a conversation with him!
  • Social skills/turn taking: Many times, your child will talk on the phone, and then will want YOU to talk on it. This is a great foundation for turn taking!
  • Speech/Language practice: I have had some clients who have not been, lets say, “in the mood” to participate in speech and language activities either with me or with their parents (like when doing homework). However some kids will do the activities if we are doing them in the phone! It’s funny what will motivate a kid! 😉

There are my first 5 recommendations! Follow the links below to read my 15 other picks!

Best Toys for Speech & Language Development: Part Two

Best Toys for Speech & Language Development: Part Three

Best Toys for Speech & Language Development: Part Four




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  1. Cassie Long says

    Hi. I was surprised to find this website, but thought it was quite cool (wrote something similar –years ago). Anyway, to add–There is always– Put __________ on the couch. I know that you address prepositions and haven’t read all of your ideas.

    One more. Once my little ones began to say, “more”. I then had them go to “I want more”. This is especially good more a good-bye hug. “I want up.”

    Due to health reason, I had to stop DT. However, I am giving your site a plug on Pinterest.

    God Bless!!

  2. Kylynara says

    This is a great article. I however can’t seem to find links to parts 2,3, and 4 on this page. It would be really nice if it could be edited to add those. I’ll see if I can find the others through site search.

  3. jessica says

    my grand daughter is 16 and diagnosed with MR or mentally retarded and functioning as 12 or 13. She attends LRE classes in a special section of the high school. She has not mastered reading or making complete sentencing. I do not have custody, however, I have been allowed to enroll her in a facility for two to three hours of music learning lab. She enjoys going and doing her activitis on the computer,but, I want her to read so badly;yet, we can’t seem to unlock the door to that area of her brain. She is high functioning, but, it seems she has a retention deficeit that prevents her from getting serious about reading. I need your help badly.


    • Rosette D'souza says

      Hi Jessica,

      You may want to visit the Institute for Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP) website or Facebook page. I have used their reading program (originally designed for children with under developed brain power) with my daughter and she was reading words since 1yr 1month and now at 3 is reading at grade 2 or 3 level. It involves pattern recognition starting with single words and gradually moving to phrases and books. I recommend it based on the results I have experienced first hand with my daughter.

      I hope this helps in some way with your grand daughter.

  4. says

    Really useful info – thank you. I was wondering how I could get involved with my baby’s learning and play when he gets older. There are loads of ideas here for us to try!

  5. Abigail says

    Hello Katie,

    I love these posts! I am in my undergrad school work majoring in speech pathology and I would love to start gradually getting toys for when I start working! Obviously some are too large for some therapy areas but what would be toys you would definitely recommend?


  6. says

    This is such a great list! We have all of these except the nesting blocks, which I really need to invest in! I was dismayed when our daughter received not one, but TWO play phones for Christmas last year. I never thought about the opportunities for learning with them that you listed. Thanks!
    Alicia Owen recently posted..Dark Eden Book ReviewMy Profile

  7. Gari Stein says

    Wonderful ideas, but I wish you would replace the toy phone idea. I think exposing (encouraging) the use of cell phones to young children, which might be the next step from toy phones, is not in their best interest. Thank you…

    • says

      Hi there and thanks so much for your thoughts. No where in my post was I encouraging the use of a cell phone. I was encouraging the use of a *play phone* because talking on the phone is a common, social act and provides many opportunities for language use. :)

  8. Anita says

    Great Ideas & Great Posts …!!
    I have a toddler with language delay and was puzzled where to start with but now I have got
    some wonderful ideas.
    Thank you very much Katie .

  9. Uma says

    Hi Katie,
    my son is being raised multilingual. Does the same prinicpal apply to his speech? He is now 21 months and only knows about ten words e.g. instead of saying car he will say brum brum. Your feedback will be appreciated as I am a very confused mum at the moment.