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Outside the Toy Box

Find language learning & teaching opportunities for your baby in everyday items

This blog post is one of the actual parent handouts in our e-book collection called Babbling with Babies. Each individual topic from the e-book is also sold separately in the same store labeled “Early Intervention Parent Handout Unit” with the topic name. At the bottom of this post there is another link to a FREE download of one of the units called “Conversation” from our platform on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.

A collection of Parent Handouts available
in our Teacher’s Pay Teachers store

Fancy Expensive Toys are NOT Necessary

As you browse toy stores and catalogs, you may be taken in by some of the “bells and whistles” of high-tech toys. No doubt toys have come a long way over the past decade. However, regardless of the type of toys you have on hand, you can find or create language facilitation opportunities every- where.

Some of the finest language learning opportunities come from the simplest playful exchange.

For example, if you can catch even a moment of a baby’s attention by pretending to sneeze in a silly way you will have a captive audience for some sound-action association which helps develop understanding of cause-effect relationships.

Sometimes people mistakenly think putting out a lot of toys might hold the baby’s interest for a longer time. In fact, the opposite is usually true.

The fewer toys in view, the more attention a baby can focus on what’s in front of him/her rather than “flitting” from one to the next with little exploration.

By promoting this type of play you are working towards the long term goal of having your child learn to use his/her own ideas to create imaginative play. When there are too many choices, the baby may not get past the initial exploration of the toy before moving onto the next toy. It is through trial and error over time that your baby will begin to use an old toy in a new way.

Introducing one object at a time helps to focus your baby’s attention.

In this way you can maintain joint focus of attention long enough to talk about the object. This applies to real toys or objects you might use for play, such as a box. This enables you to focus on each new toy you bring into the interaction one by one. Clearly the younger the child, the shorter the attention span. So with a young baby you might need to change toys more quickly than with a preschooler who already has some imaginative ability.

It is through trial and error over time that your baby will begin to use
an old toy in a new way

Challenge yourself to think “outside the box” by using new words each day as you talk with your baby. You can also think “outside the TOY box” to discover opportunities for play with the most common objects.

Many babies enjoy exploring the contents of lower kitchen cabinets. There are endless play opportunities with the various containers and pots and pans. Other than banging them like drums, your baby may enjoy putting things in and out of larger containers or building towers and knocking them down. A toddler may enjoy pretending the containers are garages, schools, and houses with a few cars or play people. Sometimes you can extent playtime longer by adding one new item such as a spoon, measuring cup, or even one of your baby’s toys.

While these items might be great to pull out when you are trying to prepare dinner or make a quick phone call, it is also important to find times to play WITH your baby and show him/her how to use the items in different ways, narrating along the way. Eventually your baby will come up with his/her own ideas, but it helps development to have some actual modeling from you to get him/her started.

Language is everywhere!

Look around and try to think of ways to create fun experiences with your baby from common objects. Brainstorm some words that might go along with those tasks. Examples might be a roll of masking tape, a bed sheet, a tissue, a paper plate or simply a big box.

The best conversations can come from simple interests such as dust particles in a stream of sunlight, an ant crawling across the sidewalk, or the silliness of a pencil repeatedly rolling off the table. Young children love an exaggerated repetitive action wrapped in silliness.

Can you imagine the giggles from the following interaction? “Hey! My pencil fell offfff the table, get back there, now sssssssstay! Uh oh, it rolled right offff again…Get back there. Hey, hey, hey, get back on the table…Uh oh, uh oh, no, no, no, oops, it fell offfff again.” It’s the repetitive nature of these actions and words that give the baby added experience with speech sounds and grammatical structures.

Remember, rich language experiences don’t require fancy toys. There are opportunities all around you waiting to be discovered. Read more about this topic in another one of our blog posts here.

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Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.