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Recommended Gifts to Support Language Development

There are many foundational interaction skills that precede the development of spoken language. When children have difficulty with these foundational skills, their receptive and expressive language skills are impacted. Some of these foundational skills include joint attention, use of gestures, and motor and vocal imitation. These skills can be targeted within simple rhymes (e.g., pattycake), songs (e.g., Five Little Monkeys, Wheels on the Bus, etc.), and people play activities (e.g., peekaboo) that don’t require ANY toys at all.

While toys can provide fun and new opportunities for language learning, the quality of the INTERACTION with the play partner is what creates the *MAGIC* that helps your child learn how to communicate! Some children develop these skills very easily and others need a little extra help. If you struggle to engage with your child because they don’t seem interested in typical toys, songs, or games, talk with your therapist about some strategies you can use to build on your child’s strengths!

Non-toy ideas for play:

Have you ever noticed that kids can have ALL the toys in the world and yet the item that grabs and holds their attention is an empty box, a rock they found in the grass, or a bowl they pulled out of the kitchen cabinet? While this can drive caregivers CRAZY, this is actually something we LOVE to see because it shows that the child is able to think flexibly and creatively which supports imaginative play, problem solving skills, and opens their world of play to endless possibilities!


  • Rocks, sticks, leaves, and other items found in nature
  • Boxes of all sizes!
  • Cups, bowls, pots, pans, and utensils
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Literally anything and everything!


Now on to the part everyone is curious about…gift ideas that will help support your child’s language development…I’m breaking this down into sections and want to emphasize the following points:

1) There’s no one toy that EVERY child will love. Children have their own unique interests and preferences so be sure to consider these things when purchasing for your child.

2) When it comes to play, follow your child’s lead (as long as they’re being safe). The definition of PLAY includes the fact that it’s an intrinsically motivating activity that brings JOY to the individual. There is no right OR wrong way to play.

3) “Be a play partner, not a play director.” – Cari Ebert, speech-language pathologist – if you find yourself giving constant directions, take a step back. Observe what your child does when they’re playing alone or when you’re not giving them directions. Join the play by imitating what they’re doing, commenting on their actions and your own, and then expanding by modeling new actions. Allow your child to lead and show you how much fun it can be to just PLAY!

4) Sometimes kids get BORED with the same toys constantly or even OVERWHELMED by having too many choices of toys. Try putting some of the toys away for a while (top of a closet or somewhere out of reach) and rotating your toys so that your child has different toys to choose from every so often.

5) Consider your child’s typical behaviors and be sure that the gifts you select are appropriate and safe for them (e.g., toys with small pieces may not be safe for children who mouth/chew on everything).

6) Toys with favorite characters (e.g., Spiderman, Bluey, Peppa Pig, Pete the Cat, etc.) can be great for children who often quote / script / recite lines from familiar songs, shows, and movies or enjoy acting out / recreating scenes.

7) Don’t forget BOOKS – books make great gifts and are excellent for language development! Books can also be great to familiarize children with new, challenging, or “scary” experiences such as trips to the doctor or dentist, learning to use the toilet, visiting the zoo, or playing on a sports team. Reading about these experiences beforehand helps your child know what to expect, introduces them to some of the language they can use during these experiences, and often makes them feel more comfortable.

Recommended Gifts to Support Language Development

Art / Creative Gift Suggestions:

  • Easel + painting supplies
  • Trace & Draw Projector
  • Water Drawing Mat / Doodle Mat

Board Games & Card Game Suggestions:

– Educational Insights

  • Sneaky Snacky Squirrel
  • Raccoon Rumpus
  • Pancake Pileup
  • Teacup Pileup
  • Reel Big Catch

-Peaceable Kingdom

  • Acorn Soup
  • Monkey Around
  • Alphabet Bingo
  • Hoot Owl Hoot
  • Stack Your Chickens


  • Go Away Monster
  • Enchanted Cupcake Party Game
  • Marvel “I Can Do That!” Game
  • Diggin’ Doggies
  • Banana Blast
  • Jumpin’ Jack
  • Hidden Mickeys
  • Pop the Pig

Building / Construction Toy Suggestions:

  • MagnaTiles, PicassoTiles
  • Marble Track
  • K’nex
  • Legos
  • Hot Wheels track sets, train set
  • Fort building kits / sets
  • Wooden Blocks
  • Nesting Boxes

Cause & Effect Toy Suggestions:

  • Gumball Machine Toy
  • Critter Clinic toy
  • Poppin Pals toys
  • Animal poppers
  • Ball & Hammer toy
  • Car ramp / racetrack
  • Jack in the Box
  • See and Say
  • Pull back cars
  • Windup toys

Toys for Early Academic Concepts (colors, numbers, letters, matching and sorting skills)

  • Brands: Learning Resources, Learning Journey, Lakeshore, Educational Insights
  • Peekaboo Learning Play Sets (Jungle, Farm, etc.)
  • Farmer’s Market Food Sort
  • Counting Surprise Party
  • Alphabet Acorns Activity Set

-Learning Journey

  • Count & Learn Cookie Jar
  • Numbers & Colors Piggy Bank
  • Shapes Elephant

Imaginative / Pretend Play Suggestions:

  • Dress up clothes & accessories
  • Baby dolls, clothes, and accessories
  • Doctor play set
  • Stuffed animals
  • Action figures or favorite characters
  • Puppets, Puppet Theater
  • Play kitchen, food, and dishes
  • Cash Register toy
  • Ice cream cart toy
  • Train set
  • Toolbench, toolsets
  • -Dollhouses, Little People Playsets

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Toy Suggestions:

  • Telescope
  • Microscope
  • Take Apart Toys (dinosaurs, vehicles)
  • Coding Critters
  • Build-A-Track Brain Teaser Puzzles
  • Science Experiment Kits
  • Fossil or Gemstone Dig Kits

Sensory, Gross Motor, & Movement Play Suggestions:

  • All types of swings
  • Stepping stones (great for creating obstacle courses or playing “The Floor is Lava!”)
  • Sandbox with accessories
  • Sensory boxes – pre-made or make your own!
  • Play-doh sets, other types of putty, slime, etc.
  • Kinetic sand
  • Orbeez or water beads
  • Twister game
  • Sports equipment

Fine Motor Toy Suggestions:

  • Puzzles
  • Mr. Potato Head sets
  • Peg boards
  • Stringing bead sets (ABC Train stringing beads)
  • ABC Learning Locks (Lakeshore)

– Lots of great fine motor toys from Learning Resources

  • Super Sorting Pie
  • Peacock Pals

Experience Gifting Ideas:

– Season passes or memberships to places like…local museums, zoos, or amusement parks

– 12 Months of Experiences with details of each outing placed in envelopes for the child to open…examples of outings could include day trips to places like…

  • Local, state, or national parks near you
  • Louisville Mega Caverns or other caves
  • Dinosaur World
  • Children’s museum or science center
  • Aquarium
  • All About Kids
  • Movie theater or drive-in
  • Kentucky Down Under
  • Blackacre Nature Preserve
  • Renaissance Fair/Festival Events
  • Paint Spot for painting projects / events
  • Weekend events/classes at places like Lowe’s (teaching basic building skills)
  • Special local events like Monster Truck shows, Disney on Ice, etc.


Any toy CAN be the perfect toy if your child is interested and motivated by it! Using a child’s interests keeps them motivated by the play…and motivation is a driving force for communication development!

Generally speaking, the less a toy does, the better it is for building flexibility and imagination! So consider ditching the battery-operated toys (or removing the batteries from these toys) to allow your child to be the creative director of their own play! Noisy toys can be distracting and impact the quality of the interaction, making it difficult for your child to learn from YOU.

And…as always, be sure to keep it fun and consult your child’s SLP if you have specific questions!

Kayla Walters, M.S, CCC-SLP