Sensory Toys: Put the Batteries Away

Hey there Parents, SLPs and educators -

The other day, a good friend of mine (and fellow therapist) and I were talking about great toys that promote early language for her grand daughter.

We talked about the onslaught of electronic toys taking over the aisles of toy stores and websites.

We remarked that nowadays most toys either speak, sing, belch, squawk, whistle, shriek, move, light up or some combination of all of them.

What happened to good old-fashioned sensory toys? Yikes!

While toys with these bells & whistles can certainly entertain your own kids or students you're working with, and keep them busy, most experts agree that playing with electronic toys is more often a “passive” activity, with no actual benefit.

Dr. Hirsh at Temple University did an exhaustive study on the effects of electronic devices on babies.

She commented, “A toy should be 10% toy and 90% child, but with a lot of these electronic toys, the toy takes over 90% and the child just fills in the blank.”

Her research found that babies, when playing with electronic toys, babbled less than they would when playing with traditional toys, such as building blocks, books and board games. She also noted that their parents communicated less with their children when they were playing with electronic toys.

As we all know, the process of learning language is absolutely fascinating. Children initially learn by listening; tuning into the conversations around them, and in particular, how their parents interact with them.

As babies develop, they respond to language, mainly in the form of babbling or gestures. And then as time goes on, they learn more about body language, interpreting people around them, and how to use language to generate different responses. This is why communication with people and the environment is so fundamental- it plays a key role in language acquisition.

So how do we encourage kids to talk and what types of materials/toys are most beneficial?

Well, language is one of the most important skills a child will ever learn!

It not only helps them to communicate with others- it's a valuable (and necessary) form of selfexpression. Language supports thinking and problem-solving, and helps us to develop meaningful relationships with those around us.

The process of mastering language is their first important step in literacy- and forms the foundations for reading and writing.

Whether you're a parent playing with your child or a professional working with a client, here are a few ways to encourage speech and language development:

* KEEP TALKING: Talk to kids about everything they do. Prompt them to use language by asking questions that require a response: “ Do you want to wear your blue or green shirt?”

* ASK THEIR OPINION: Whenever possible, encourage your children to voice THEIR opinion. Make questions open-ended, rather than asking questions that require only a yes/no answer. This helps children use a wider vocabulary and experiment with words.

* READ READ READ: Take advantage of any and every opportunity to read with your children. The more exposure they have to speech and language, the sooner they’ll understand it. Some effective ways to encourage language development through reading are; introducing new vocabulary on a regular basis, reading every day. Encourage your child to see reading as a pleasurable activity rather than a chore.

Which Old-Fashioned Toys are Best to build language? Here's a list of my top toys to help develop language skills in young children:

  1. Books :( I know... books aren’t technically toys but….) Select books that are age-suitable and encourage questions; for example, “what color is the horse?", or “how many birds do you see?”
  2. Building Blocks: Not only are they excellent at developing motor skills and coordination, they’re also a useful conversation starter! Many of my kids on the spectrum LOVE legos . Just building a basic tower can encourage plenty of comments about the shape, size and colors of the bricks, the best way to assemble them and what to do when they all fall down!
  3. Playsets: I’m a HUGE fan of playsets, no surprise there… (My Little House and My Little Farm). I used the Fisher Price house, garage, farm for years. There’s so much language with these sets. As you are building vocabulary through each category, children can match each item with the corresponding piece while identifying all the early concepts! Not to mention the conversation and dialogue and imaginative play.
  4. Dolls/Figurines & Small Animals: Imaginative play, by its very nature requires plenty of interaction. As children instinctively “do the voices” of their dolls or figures while creating their own a scenario/story. You can join them with this, helping them to understand the rhythm of language and how people respond to one another. This is invaluable for developing social skills.
  5. Dress Up Outfits: Dress up helps children adopt a different persona- and explore how that character might communicate with others.  
  6. Board Games: Most board games require some form of interaction. This teaches them some valuable social skills- such as taking turns, listening to instructions and realizing that they can’t always win!!
  7. Tactile Toys: Of course, FELT is my personal favorite, but don't forget slime, and materials of different textures , like Play-Doh for instance. I love using PlayDoh with kids. And they love it too.
  8. Many of our kids need the sensory stimulation. Not only are they great for developing fine motor and imaginary play, they are perfect when working on sequencing. Just by using a simple Playdoh machine you can talk about what happened first, then and last. 

In closing, I will say, that technology has a place in the modern world and can offer a child a variety of educational advantages. HOWEVER, the importance of “old-fashioned” toys in promoting language development cannot be underestimated.  

These classic toys may have been around for EVER but there’s a reason for that. Quite simple, they’ve been proven to be highly effective, and most importantly FUN!! 


#sensory #sensorytoys #oldschooltoys #batteryfree #speechtherapy