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Katie Yeh
BY Katie Yeh

10 Tips for Selecting Toys for Your Speech Delayed Child

As a speech-language pathologist, I am asked what toys I recommend most for children with speech and language delays all the time. Today, I’d like to share my 10 tips for selecting toys for your child with speech/language delays.

1. Ditch the Batteries

My first recommendation, is to skip the batteries. If the toy requires batteries, you probably don’t want it. OR…if it takes batteries, you can take them out. One good example is a the really cute farm set from a very popular toy maker. The toy set itself is great! But the barn has batteries so that it can make noises. You don’t need the barn to make noises. You want your CHILD to make the noises! So…do like I do and just take them out.

There are a few exceptions to this, of course. My kids have a couple toys that use batteries that I have allowed them to keep (with batteries in). They have a couple toy cameras that take real pictures, a toy lap top (I could take the batteries out, but I’ve left them in), a toy vacuum (again, I could remove the batteries here too), a microphone that you can record your voice (so cool), and a “karaoke” type toy. Their toy drill also requires batteries and it is such a cool toy-it actually works! So again…there definitely are exceptions but I would try to have most of your toys battery free.

2. Pick Open Ended Toys

What are open ended toys? They are toys that have no beginning, middle or end. They can be used in a variety of ways and allow your child creative freedom in how to manipulate and use them. These toys tend to be the more basic and traditional toys. Which is NEXT on my list!

3. Go Back to the Basics: Pick Traditional Toys

As mentioned above, the more traditional toys also tend to be more open ended in nature. Here are some examples of open ended, basic traditional toys:

4. Don’t Worry About Gender

I just talked about this in my recent post The Importance of PLAY for Speech and Language Development. When picking toys for your child, don’t stick to gender specific toys. Let your girls play with trucks and trains and your boys play with toy kitchens and baby dolls. Here is some research on The Impact of Specific Toys on Play from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“What set the highest-scoring toys apart was that they prompted problem solving, social interaction, and creative expression in both boys and girls. Interestingly, toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented—construction toys and toy vehicles, for example—elicited the highest quality play among girls. So, try to set aside previous conceptions about what inspires male and female play and objectively observe toy effects to be sure boys and girls equally benefit from play materials.”

I contributed to a great post all about why all children (even boys) should have a baby doll. You can read it at Mama OT.

 5. Skip The “ABCs and 123’s”

On the subject of going back to basics…Go take a walk through Target or any big chain store’s toy department. There is this aisle (ok, several sometimes) with shelves stacked high with toys that say things like “Teaches the ABCs!” “Educational!” “Teaches Colors and Numbers!” and on and on.

Kim from Little Stories talks about these and calls them SCLANS and why our children don’t need them to learn their ABCs and 123’s. In  fact, your children don’t need these types of toys. they tend to do ALL the “doing” with their lights and music and flashing lights. If your child has a speech and language delay, as a speech-language pathologist those skills are not at the top of my list of skills we need to target. I talk more about this in my post What your Toddler REALLY Needs to Learn }Hint: You Don’t Need Any of Those “Educational Toys”}.

6. Use Toys That get Them Moving

It is so important to get your kids moving! Even when indoors. Making forts and tunnels are great ways to keep them moving indoors, without actually having to *buy* specific “toys” for that purpose. We also have some ride-on toys that we allow in the house (we have tile/hardwood floors) that keep our children moving as well as balls (yes, even inside).

7. Don’t Forget to Get Outside

You don’t have to *buy* outdoor toys. Heading to the park is great and FREE! But sometimes you don’t have a park near by or it is difficult to get you and the kids there…so here are some of my favorite outdoor toys:

  • Water table (A big bucket will do, or a small pool)
  • Buckets, cups, spoons (again, these can just be from your kitchen…tupperware works well!)
  • Small shovel/hoe for digging
  • Ride on toys
  • Play house– This one is a bigger purchase. We have one and it can provide HOURS of independent, creative play!

8. Less is More

So here I have just listed some toy recommendations for you. But, the truth is that less is more. Your child does NOT need toys upon toys! In fact, too many toys can actually be a big negative. Believe it or not, children can get overwhelmed with too many toys and can end up moving quickly from one toy to another which can actually limit their play (and language) opportunities overall. But, sometimes we just have a lot of toys from holidays and birthdays. So how can you keep all these toys but still provide your child with ample opportunities for solid and meaningful play with each? (see below)

9. Consider a Toy Rotation

One solution to having a plethora of toys is to do a toy rotation. We used a toy rotation in our last home for a while and it was GREAT. Wondering how these work? Check out Little Stories (a fellow speech-language pathologist) for a ton of information on rotating toys.

10. Sometimes the BEST Toys are not “Toys” at All!

You probably noticed that a few times I mentioned using things that aren’t traditional “toys” as toys (like making forts or using buckets for water play). This is because sometimes the BEST toys are not *real* toys at all! Pots, pans, wooden spoons, cardboard boxes, homemade forts with blankets and pillows…these can be the BEST toys for your child. Be creative. Think outside (or inside) the box.

And sometimes YOU are the best toy for your child. Sing with him. Play patty-cake. Talk in a funny voice. Tell him stories. Be silly. Play hide and seek. Teach him finger plays. Play lap games.

Looking for more information on toys? You can check out my four part series on toys HERE.

So tell me…what is your child’s favorite toy?

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Katie Yeh

Written on June 25, 2013 by:

Katie is a a mom to two little ones, E (4) and Ev (2), and one on the way. A Hanen Certified, licensed and credentialed pediatric speech-language pathologist in California, her interest in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) also led her to go back to school and earn her graduate certificate in the filed of study. She blogs over at Playing With Words 365, sharing information about speech and language development, intervention strategies, therapy ideas and tips, and shares a little about her family and their life too. You can follow along on Facebookor Pinterest for more speech and language ideas and tips.
  • amanda charlie

    These tips are really fantastic and will definitely help. Thanks for sharing such informative post.

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  • Green Ant Toys

    Love this article – Green Ant Toys, stocks toys to engage and inspire Children. Our Philosophy is to look for toys that will keep kids engaged, great for all kids.

  • I loved this post. There is such a lot of good advice and help in it. Thank you. My daughter is now a grown woman but she didn’t say a word until she was over 2 years old, – she signed everything! She would mime whole sentences and “chatter” away all in mime. I used to sing to her and mime the actions to the song and she picked up the signs from that and added more of her own.

    My sister in law took her to stay for a week and told me that she didn’t want to know the mime language, my daughter would have to speak to her.

    After an anxious week of missing my daughter I returned to find that she could speak perfectly well. Oh the joy of hearing her voice as well as her laugh.

    I’m still involved with children and toys and love every moment.

    Zandra Johnson

  • Joyce

    Glad to have found you! I am an SLP myself. I try to smile bravely when parents ask me about “educational toys” and I tell them to go buy toy foods, dishes and puppets. Thankfully we have observation rooms in our offices and they slowly begin to understand that learning language in natural ways really works! Check out my speech therapy with picture books board if you get a second. Joyce O’Keefe

  • Dr. Suzy Lederer

    Don’t forget books!!! I am an SLP and university professor. I have written three books designed to help children learn to talk…I CAN SAY THAT…I CAN DO THAT…I CAN PLAY THAT…( by Dr. Suzy Lederer.

  • Imie

    I like this article very much! Thanks for the bunch of information and advice. This article reminds me of my daughter when she was so little. I try to find her toys at home and play with her. It’s indeed a great feeling to spend time with your little princess!

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  • SummerBloom

    We found playing with puppets (she has a crocodile and shark hand puppets) helped with speech and creative play 🙂

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  • Dealsorigin Dot Net

    Excellent Article. Like minded people at we focus on toys that stimulate brain activities, imagination and fine motor skills.

  • saba

    what words of knowledge are these without leaving us with thought that we are bad parents or we have dull kids xx i will be excluding those educational bit as i think it causing delay in talking my son in 3 and he talks too less but than he can talk if he wants so its bit of confusing thing ….:9
    love the way article written

  • Harmony Linder

    I think this is full of poor recommendations for any child with speech delays. I can’t imagine what would make you think that toys making noise would do anything but promote sounds by a child. Fail.

    • Lala Mama

      Beings she is a professional who works with children with speech delays, I would say she is incredibly knowledge and has offered a lot of great advice. The purpose of not giving a child toys with noise is to encourage them to make the sounds themselves instead of relying on the toy to make it for them. A lot of children become dependent on sounds and noises being made for them (in this instance – the toys) and can discourage talking. Like she said though – not ALL toys with batteries are sounds are poor choices, but to encourage open-ended play and children to make the sounds themselves to help strengthen their language and speech.

  • Natural Medicine

    Any person in their SOUND mind will never give a boy a girls toy.
    That is why toys are are either for boys OR girls because they are NOT thr same.
    This only would confuse the child and thus why some children are confused by their “sexuality” later in life.
    Male and Female roles in society are what keep the human race alive, if only gay people existed, the human race would be extinct.
    Raise your boys to be Men and girls to be Women as this is the way of nature/biology there is no other way to raise healthy children.

    • HM

      What utter claptrap! There is nothing wrong with a father looking after his children or with women driving trucks so why is it a big deal if boys play with dolls (learning to nurture and care for others – including girlfriends and wives!) or if girls play with cars?
      Children are only ‘confused’ by sexuality when they have to pretend to be someone they aren’t because of idiots like you.

    • Holly Brosius

      You are an homophobic idiot…being gay is biological….we don’t MAKE people gay. Do your research. Teaching your stance to your child is poison to his or her mind.

    • Lala Mama

      This is the most ignorant comment I think I have every seen. There isn’t even a point in arguing with you, but that I am so sad that this is how you view something like this, and hope that your children, if you have any, grow up with more open-minded viewpoints. There is absolutely nothing wrong with boys learning to nurture children by playing with a baby doll, or playing with a kitchen set. You are raising children to be mothers and fathers and cooks and caretakers. These are not gender-based roles, they are adult and parental roles. Such a shame that there are people who feel differently.

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  • I love reading this post. I prefer to buy the toys that enhances creativity in kids and inspire them to learn from them.

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  • KWhite87

    Thank you. This helped me pick some toys for her. 🙂

  • Thanks for your tips ,but if you can share the images too please share.

  • Hey great blog

  • v

    Is important to consider which toys are appropriate for our kids

  • Whiteneyz

    Hello there. I am a single mom. I have two daughters. My first daughter can speak both in english and malay. She talk non stop and keep asking out of the box questions. For me that is good and bring out a challenge to me as their mother. My second one… Now she made me worry.. Sometimes when my parents keep on asking me about why she cant talk like normal kids… Like her sister… It stressed me a lot. Especially when they start talking the “we never have this kind of problem in our family before…” they had silently put the blame on me. I start to blame myself. Frustrated, sad and keep on replaying what did i do wrong from the start of pregnancy until now. Everytime she talks, i want to cry.. I wanted to give up but over and over again i talk to myself to help her. That maybe she can talk properly someday.

    My little one still speaks like baby until four months ago. She is four years old btw. Though i can see improvement, (she can say some words properly and people can finally understand almost half of what she says.. )I am still scared. When i taught her abc, she forgot easily. When i said N. She said M. Lately, I’ve been considering to buy alphabets toys for her. But after reading this site.. Well, it got me rethink it back. Thank you for this wonderful advice. Really appreciate it.

  • Nightingales Autumn

    Really thanks for sharing such an amazing tips.
    from speech therapy point of we should observe all these small things which can become helpful.


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