Have you ever seen your child climb into a box and pretend it's a race car, a rocket ship, or even a house? One of the best ways that children learn is through play. Play is the cornerstone of early education, and the right toys can help build the foundation for a lifetime love of learning!
We asked Ricki Klein, MS, CCC, who practices at Children's Speech and Language Service, how play aids in early education, as well as how to choose the best possible toys for your child. See her responses below!
What should parents consider when choosing a toy?
In the early years, anything that grabs the child’s attention is helpful (bright colors, bold patterns, varying textures). As children get older, toys that allow for more pretend play or play sequences (multi-step play plans) are beneficial. I think choosing toys based on the child’s interest is a good idea because it will secure their engagement. That being said, I think it is also important to expose them to a variety of toys so they can explore different concepts.
In what way can parents engage in pretend play with their children to aid in speech and language development?
The first step is getting down to the child’s level. Language development can be facilitated with any toy, so I think following the child’s lead and engaging in those they are interested in is most beneficial. Sitting on the floor and engaging with the toys they want to play with is important. You can facilitate speech and language development in many ways, including:
- Imitate—imitate your child’s vocalizations, laughter, actions, etc.
- Label/comment – provide language for the objects or actions they are showing interest in to help build their vocabulary.
- Narrate – you can narrate your own actions or narrate the child’s actions to attach meaning to the play.
- Expand – add a word or phrase to the child’s utterance (e.g., child: “car” adult: “yes, a fast car” or “yes, a red car”).
ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) has great tips for parents to further encourage speech and language development!
What are the benefits of pretend play?
Pretend play is important because it is how children explore the world around them. For example, they can role-play scenarios they’ve experienced, whether it be a joyful one (e.g., bedtime routine) or a stressful one (e.g., getting a shot at the doctor). Pretend play also provides opportunities for children to explore their likes/dislikes, develop their ability to be a flexible thinker, learn to negotiate/problem-solve, consider others’ thoughts and ideas, and coordinate their actions with others to reach a shared goal.
Are gender-specific toys necessary when it comes to pretend play?
Personally, I don’t think so. I know this is a “hot topic” at the moment, but I think all toys have something to offer when it comes to a child’s development. I prefer to follow the child’s lead rather than sticking to gender-specific toys.
Play is equally fun and encouraging for your child's overall development. When your child uses their imagination, it opens up a whole new world for them socially, emotionally, as well as helps them to develop their language, and maybe even a new life skill. Check out Green Piñata's Guide to Educational Toys for some great suggestions on toys that are educational – and that your child will love!