Using Toys at Home to Enhance Language Learning

Children love to play with many types of toys, and these can be used in a variety of ways to enhance their language skills. One of my favorites, an oldie but a goodie, is simply a bouncy or soft (plastic, foam, etc) ball. You can expose your child to so much language just by playing catch or rolling it back and forth.

Kimberly Scanlon, M.A., CCC-SLP, author of “My Toddler Talks,” provides a variety of activities that parents can easily implement in their homes with toys they already own. Helping your child expand their language skills shouldn’t be expensive! Grab one of your child’s favorite balls and try out these simple ideas!

  • First, you’ll want to be in close proximity to your child and ensure their attention is on you and the ball. Label the ball as you show it to them.
  • You can target a variety of language concepts with balls. Make sure to label the action as you model it to your child.
    • Verbs: roll, bounce, throw, kick, squeeze, put, take, clean up, catch
    • Concepts: up/down, under/over, in/out, fast/slow, on/off, all done
    • Adjectives: colors, big/little, high/low
    • Turn-taking: my turn, your turn, his turn, her turn
    • So much more!
  • Roll the ball, state “I am rolling the ball,” then stop. Look at your child and state “roll” and try to have him roll it back to you. You may have to model this a few times for him or her to fully understand the routine.
  • You can also continue this social play routine by incorporating a dump truck, bucket, or stuffed animal. You can “roll” the ball, “put” it in the bucket, and “take” it out. All while taking turns.
  • At the end of the activity, you can teach a “clean up” routine by using “clean up” or “bye-bye, ball” as you wave good-bye.

Helpful Strategies

You will want to avoid asking too many questions and making your child feel like they are on the spot or need to perform. Make sure to acknowledge any gesture or verbalization as their attempt to communicate with you, using words of praise and affirmation as encouragement. Comment and narrate what you are doing to provide as much exposure as you can to the vocabulary. You can also expand your child’s utterances as well. If he or she says “ball,” you can respond with “Yes, that’s the little ball” or “kick the ball.”

Remember, you do not have to go out and buy new fancy toys. You can use anything! Be creative!

–Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP


Scanlon, K. (2012). My toddler talks: Strategies and activities to promote your child’s language development. South Carolina: Createspace.

The iPad Isn’t Just For Fun- It’s For Language, Too!

Let’s face it–children love to play on the iPad!  I don’t base all of my therapy sessions around my LED screen, of course. However, there are a few apps that I just simply cannot live without.  Did I mention most of them are FREE?? 

Let’s start with the perfect “cause and effect” app for young children: Peekaboo Kids.  I use this app a lot when I am working with children on requesting things such as “more” or “open”.  It is also great for labeling and expanding vocabulary.  Children have the choice to open a barn and discover different farm animals, open a garage and discover different types of vehicles, or even open a stage curtain and discover different musical instruments.  It is a HIT with my early intervention children and my young school age children as well. 


Moving right along to my next favorite app, which consists of a funny alien that performs 25+ actions: POGG.  Most of my children are laughing and giggling while answering questions such as “What is he doing?” or “Can you show me the picture where he is eating?”.  This app is great for working on present progressive tense (verb+ing) and identifying actions as well as answering “Why” questions.


The last app that I want to share with you is called Sago Mini Friends.  I allow my children to pick a character and they can walk along to different friend’s houses.  Knock on the doors and find out what fun activity is in store.  My toddlers love these activities, which include dressing up, blowing bubbles, popping balloons, and eating a snack just to name a few.  This app is great for expanding sentence length, taking turns, and also for expanding vocabulary skills.  Hopefully your children will enjoy these apps and can work on improving their speech and language skills in addition to having fun!

–Breann Voytko M.A., CCC-SLP