While doing your holiday shopping, have you ever wondered what toys your speech therapist would recommend? Hmmm…maybe not. But with just a little bit of forethought, Santa and his elves can be sure to deliver toys that are both fun and therapeutic for children with speech delay.
First, let’s talk about electronics, particularly tablets. I know, I know… They seem like a great option for children with speech delays. As with most things, though, the usefulness of the toy depends on the child. Electronic toys can be useful if they can capture the child’s attention and if the child is able to use it with another person. If a child becomes hyperfocused on one part of the toy/game, the child starts pushing/pulling away, or the game/toy no longer requires turn-taking, it’s not a great choice.
With many electronic games and toys, it can appear that your child is learning language skills because they can answer questions or follow directions in that app on the iPad. However, is your child really answering the question?
It’s important to be sure your child is actually learning.
When your child is playing with an electronic toy, check a few things:
- Is he putting the answer to a question in before the question has been stated? Some children memorize the order of the answers (for example, the child may think to himself, “for the first question I’m supposed to touch the second bubble on the left”) rather than learning the answers to the questions.
- Is he randomly guessing? Many children intuitively understand that if they just keep pushing buttons, eventually they’ll hit the right one. Rather than considering the question first, they may make many choices in rapid succession to get to the reinforcing reward for answering correctly.
- Does the “interactive” game provide the correct answer whether or not the child has tried to participate?
Remember: electronics can not replace human interaction.
Electronics can be helpful for children with speech delay as long as they are used appropriately. Following are a few tips for using electronics with your child:
- Use them to supplement teaching. If you have just worked on colors, try an app that focuses on colors.
- Take turns and add language (Oh, look! That one says jump! What animal jumps?). It is often best if the adult is holding the electronic (sometimes you may have to remove it from sight in between turns).
- Use it as a reward. (You did all of your work now you can play a game!)
- Limit the amount of time they can use the electronic device, and stick to it.
Non-electronic toys appropriate for your child will depend on his age and language levels. I love games that come in pieces, are interactive, and can work on a variety of skills. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Puzzles, piggy banks, and Little People sets are great to work on requesting, location concepts (on, in, out, off), and identifying and labeling.
- Books, especially interactive books, are great at working on identifying, labeling, two-word phrases, and targeting specific grammatical structures.
- With a farm set, you can work on animal noises, labeling, identifying, two-word (or more) phrases, location concepts, following one and two step directions, and answering simple questions.
- Blocks can be used for imitating sounds, imitating repetitive words, colors, counting, and actions.
- Mr. Potato Head can be used for identifying and labeling body parts, two word (or more) combinations, requests, answering questions, comparing, and personal pronouns.
- With Play-Doh you can work on making silly sounds, imitating actions, requesting, following directions, and vocabulary.
Many of the toys included above can do double-duty for children who have other delays, as well. For example, puzzles are useful for developing fine motor skills. Of course, not every possible toy is mentioned here, so use your best judgment, keeping in mind your child’s goals and the following questions:
Will I be able to interact with my child using this toy?
What skills can we work on while playing with this toy?
Will my child enjoy it?
We always want our kiddos to have fun with the materials that we choose. If they are not having fun with a toy, then they are not going to want to play with it. It is important to choose toys/games that you will be able to use to work on language skills, but it is more important that your child enjoys the activity. When they are enjoying themselves, they are likely to use more language. So go out there and find some cool, new, “speech therapist approved” toys that your child will love!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Jessie Nelson Willis, M.Ed., CCC-SLP