Using Toys at Home to Enhance Language Learning

Children love to play with many types of toys, and these can be used in a variety of ways to enhance their language skills. One of my favorites, an oldie but a goodie, is simply a bouncy or soft (plastic, foam, etc) ball. You can expose your child to so much language just by playing catch or rolling it back and forth. Kimberly Scanlon, M.A., CCC-SLP, author of “My Toddler Talks,” provides a variety of activities that parents can easily implement in their homes with toys they already own. Helping your child expand their language skills shouldn’t be expensive! Grab one of your child’s favorite balls and try out these simple ideas!

  1. First, you’ll want to be in close proximity to your child and ensure their attention is on you and the ball. Label the ball as you show it to them.
  2. You can target a variety of language concepts with balls. Make sure to label the action as you model it to your child.
  3. Verbs: roll, bounce, throw, kick, squeeze, put, take, clean up, catch
  4. Concepts: up/down, under/over, in/out, fast/slow, on/off, all done
  5. Adjectives: colors, big/little, high/low
  6. Turn-taking: my turn, your turn, his turn, her turn
  7. So much more!
  8. Roll the ball, state “I am rolling the ball,” then stop. Look at your child and state “roll” and try to have him roll it back to you. You may have to model this a few times for him or her to fully understand the routine.
  9. You can also continue this social play routine by incorporating a dump truck, bucket, or stuffed animal. You can “roll” the ball, “put” it in the bucket, and “take” it out. All while taking turns.
  10. At the end of the activity, you can teach a “clean up” routine by using “clean up” or “bye-bye, ball” as you wave good-bye.

Helpful Strategies

You will want to avoid asking too many questions and making your child feel like they are on the spot or need to perform. Make sure to acknowledge any gesture or verbalization as their attempt to communicate with you, using words of praise and affirmation as encouragement. Comment and narrate what you are doing to provide as much exposure as you can to the vocabulary. You can also expand your child’s utterances as well. If he or she says “ball,” you can respond with “Yes, that’s the little ball” or “kick the ball.” Remember, you do not have to go out and buy new fancy toys. You can use anything! Be creative!

--Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP

Reference: Scanlon, K. (2012). My toddler talks: Strategies and activities to promote your child’s language development. South Carolina: Createspace.