Thursday, December 7, 2017

Therapy Tip: Gift Guide for Early Speech-Language Learners

Welcome to Therapy Thursday! This is the day that I share a tip based upon my experience as a parent of a child with special needs and a pediatric speech-language pathologist.
Today's tip is:

Christmas Shopping? Early Speech-Language Learners Gift Guide

Christmas will be here in a few weeks. Oh the joy!!
About this time of year, parents often ask me about appropriate Christmas presents for their toddler who I am treating in speech therapy. Everyone wants their toy to be useful and help their child develop skills they are building in therapy.

Today, I am offering my ideas for gifts in case there are parents, friends, or grandparents who are buying toys for a child with speech or language delays and need help. I am hesitant to place an age on this gift guide because an older child with significant language delays may benefit from things on this post. Therefore, this is written for those children who may be working on saying single words up to 3-5 word phrases. 
In general, almost any toy can be used to build language (i.e. increase vocabulary or encourage words/phrases/sentences). When I am looking for a toy, I go by this rule of thumb in general: The more basic the toy, the better.
Toys that make noise or sounds or are motorized USUALLY result in less talking since the child is busy pushing buttons or watching the toy. So, I try to avoid most noise making toys or moving toys for children that have very little language. These types of toys have their uses, but if you are specifically looking for something that will help promote verbal speech, look for toys that do not have the extra bells and whistles. I want the child to make the noise and the sound effect, not the toy.
Another important thing to remember when purchasing a toy is the child's developmental age. The development age describes where the child is functioning versus their chronological age. Many toys have suggested ages on the box. If you have a child with large delays, these ages will not match up for what they child may need. For example, a box may say 24 months. Now, if you have a child with Down syndrome who is 24 months, their developmental age may be closer to 12 if they have just started walking. So choosing toys with a 12-18 month age listed on a toy's box may be more appropriate than the one with 24 month age listed.

Here's some more specific ideas: 

Toys for children developing vocabulary, working on phrases, or using verbal speech: 
-Any type of food related toy can work on basic words like eat/drink and naming foods. There are many pretend food sets and play kitchens that spark imagination and allow good vocabulary to be developed. 

-Any board book or flashcard set can be used to promote language. I especially love books and cards that have real photographs versus cartoon drawn pictures. If the child loves a particular character on tv, books with those familiar characters are often good to spark language or an interest in books in general. 
My First Words Available Here

I Can, Can You? Available Here

-Baby doll sets with a few accessories can be great for early language. A baby doll with a bottle, brush, or diaper can target action words (brush, drink, eat) and other basic words. Baby doll play also allows moments for imitation. For example, you can pat the doll's back and see if the child imitates you. 

-Car sets with a garage or ramp are great too. This allows you to work on action words (go, stop), descriptive words (fast, slow, green), and spatial/location words (up, down, in, out). 

-Non-motorized train sets are great too! Trains have been very popular with young toddlers and preschoolers, which is wonderful since they can target many of the same words as the car sets. Trains also give an opportunity to work on sound effects (choo-choo). I do not like the battery powered trains as young children in therapy tend to watch the train move rather than play with the train and engage with it.  

-Animal sets/toys in any form is another good gift. Basically, any toy that has animals on it can be used to work on naming animals or repeating animal sounds. Puzzles, puppets, small figures, books, etc. are all great to target this early developing skills. 

-In general, I like the Melissa & Doug wooden toys. There are a variety of these products that can be used to work on action words, spatial concepts (in/out), and basic vocabulary (go, up, more). Melissa and Doug toys are durable and cover a range of different topics. You can't go wrong with a Melissa and Doug toy. 
A puzzle made by Melissa & Doug. 

-Of course, I love bubbles. With bubbles, you can work on words like pop, more, dip, bubble, my turn, your turn. 

For children working on articulation/speech sound development:

-I love the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD for teaching letters & sounds. I have had kids really pick up on sounds watching this DVD.

-Many Leap Frog toys in general are good for teaching letter/sound connections. The sooner the child with articulation errors can get this, the better off they will be for school.

-Bath foam letters allow for a way to work on producing the sounds of letters during bath time. I also like to squirt water on glass doors and stick the letters to the glass to use the foam letters in a different way.

-Bath paints or markers can be used to write words or letters with the sound your child is working on. You could also draw pictures of things with the sound your child is working on. For example, if your child is working on /b/, then you can draw a ball, boy, or boat to practice this sound.

-Alphabet puzzles allow for the sound/letter connection and a chance to practice your child's difficult sounds in isolation by themselves.

-Letter magnets again allow for the sound/letter connection or sound practice. Besides sticking them on a refrigerator, you can buy a small cookie sheet to stick the magnets on.

-Alphabet stamps or alphabet stickers again allow for sound play and letter/sound connections in a variety of ways.

Hope this gives you some ideas for Christmas. Remember, you can always ask your child's therapist if you need more specific ideas. Happy shopping! 

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended as therapeutic advice. 

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