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You Don’t Need Fancy Toys or Materials to Grow Your Child’s Language

You don’t need fancy toys or material to grow your child’s language. With the right mindset you can grow it from anything….

literally ANYTHING!

This post is part of several posts about lessons I learned early on in my career as a speech-language pathologist. My most inspirational teacher was the late Helen Hulick Beebe. You can read some of the other lesson posts here (high expectations) or here (creating independence).

Too Many Toys

As a new speech-language pathologist fresh out of graduate school I was typically way over-prepared for therapy sessions. I’m certain I wasn’t the first or the last to peruse the materials closet and overpack my cart for lessons. Just the thought of having a session go south with an unmanaged 2 year old temper tantrum or a parent yawning as I tried to push through an unsuccessful task was too much to bear.

At that time I didn’t really understands that tantrums were bound happen no matter what I did or brought into the room. Not being a parent myself at the time, I didn’t even imagine that nearly ALL parents of young children are yawning ALL the time no matter what.

Most “NEWBIE” speech therapists come fully prepared with an arsenal of toys to tackle any potential challenge that could arise.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Despite Beebe’s comments I faithfully packed my bin sometimes even making more than one trip to the therapy room. I can still imagine hearing her comment….

“You have half the toy room in there”.

“Why are you so afraid of spontaneity?”

“What did they teach you girls in grad school?”

Beebe was different

One day over lunch Beebe and I had what I remember as “The Lifesaver Talk”. She said an hour of therapy with a roll of Lifesavers was better than an hour with a bin full of toys. At that point in my career I thought I got the message. There are certainly a lot of words related to a pack of Lifesavers.

The things that came to mind back then were pretty much all words related directly to the topic of Lifesavers. Concrete words such as: round, colors, flavors, letters on the wrapper, whole/broken, eat, like/dislike etc. Although, an hour on that? That could be a challenge.

I wish I asked Beebe to show me an hour of HER session with a pack of Lifesavers at that point. However, she most likely would have bought me a pack of Lifesavers and challenged me to show her MY lesson. She was always good at getting her interns to THINK for themselves rather than just teach us.

How can you pull language from a pack of Lifesavers?

Fast forward however many years, having a conversation around a pack of lifesavers now might even run me into overtime. Who cares about the language about a pack of Lifesavers? The real value of the Lifesavers (or anything for that matter) is in the INTERACTION not the toys or objects. As you share thoughts, dream up ridiculous notions & elaborate on each other’s ideas more and more language becomes possible.

Once I could get off the concrete language of the actual Lifesavers and move to the language of thinking and imagination, the opportunities for conversation were truly endless!

When you work through a conversational framework rather than an “I’ll teach you words” framework you can facilitate a great deal of learning.


I once spent a session with a 5 year old using individual Lifesavers as eyes. Next thing I knew we were drawing characters around them on a piece of paper. Just because he looked through them and said “I see you!”

Then there was the time I spend 2 sessions with a 4th grader imagining and problem solving how to attach them to a home-made toy car to create wheels that really rolled. The verbal problem solving, sequencing and new vocabulary that came out of our planning, creating and even some debates was worth so much more than the cost of the roll of Lifesavers!

Think about it? Besides “Eat it”

what else could YOU do with a Lifesaver?

If your child has an IEP (individual education plan) could you address the language goals with a roll of Lifesavers? Try it! When you’re done try a roll of masking tape or even a roll of toilet paper for that matter! When you’re connecting with your child and having some fun there’s ALWAYS room for language to flourish! Look for it!

You don’t need fancy toys or material to grow your child’s language development. With the right mindset you can grow it from anything….

literally ANYTHING!

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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.