Language happens naturally, right?
We babble, we say our first word, our first sentence. It’s not long before conversations are in full swing.
But this progression isn’t effortless. We have to offer the right experiences to ensure our children fulfil their potential.
Language is the vehicle through which we express our thoughts, needs, and emotions. To get better at it, we need practice. And how do we get it?
Listening to others speak is a good start but to really learn we need someone to talk to.
Of course, we don’t always have a talk partner to hand. Sometimes we have to provide our own company. So we talk to ourselves, we narrate our play. At the doll’s house or train track, we take the roles of all protagonists, voicing their parts.
In short, we play.
Toys That Foster Language Development
Toys are not just sources of fun; they're instrumental tools that help children learn and grow. Let's explore how different toys can facilitate language development.
A doll's house enables children to revisit real-life scenarios, rehearsing language they have heard during the day. It’s a chance to practice the back and forth of conversation and to explore subjects too serious or frightening for children to experience first hand.
Wooden Play Kitchen
Play alone or plan a feast for friends. Either way, the best ingredient will be the language you cook up as you go along. Read recipes, set the oven’s temperature, write a menu for guests. Take orders from diners. Apologise for the fly in their soup.
Wooden Market Stall
Playing shopkeeper with a wooden market stall promotes social interactions, a critical aspect of language development. It encourages children to ask and answer questions, negotiate, and converse.
Small World Toys
Small world play is like telling a story - except you control the action, moving the figures and deciding next steps. You can play alone or with others and the possibilities for dialogue are only limited by your imagination. Try a toy farm or wooden castle, an ark or a garden.
Wooden Animal Figures
How many stories can you tell with a set of wooden animals? They appear throughout fairy tales, Aesop’s fables and children’s literature. A young mind enriched with an abundance of bedtime stories has no trouble making up adventures for a diverse cast of characters.
See wooden animals
Wooden Building Blocks
Blocks enable children to create structures while describing their creations. This hands-on play helps children learn prepositions, shapes, and sizes, enriching their vocabulary. Cube, pyramid, cylinder; above, under, next to. These are foundational words.
Like block play, puzzles have their own specialist language. Rotate, flip, reverse, corner, edge, match, connect. And puzzles are often completed alongside others so children must learn to describe missing pieces and negotiate their strategy. There’s a lot to learn!
See wooden puzzles
Wooden Train Sets
Up, down, along, through, between. Prepositions of place feature heavily in wooden railway play. But so too does more imaginative language. Stories are told as the trains roll along the tracks, from one adventure to the next.
Choosing the Right Toy at the Right Time
Remember, each child's language development journey is unique. The timing of these milestones may vary, and that's perfectly normal. Use these milestones and toy recommendations as a guide rather than a strict timeline. Engage with your child during play, narrate what you're doing, respond to their babbling and words, and encourage them to express themselves.
Toys are more than just playthings. They are instrumental in developing a child's language skills from birth to five. By choosing the right toys and engaging with your child during play, you're not just creating fun memories—you're also building a strong foundation for their future learning.
Appendix: Language Development Milestones
First Year: Babbling and Recognizing Sounds
Babies start their language journey by listening to the sounds around them. They begin to babble around 6-9 months, mimicking what they hear and experimenting with sounds of their own.
One to Two Years: From Words to Sentences
During this period, toddlers typically start using single words, then move to two-word phrases. Their vocabulary expands rapidly, and they begin to follow simple instructions.
Two to Three Years: Growing Vocabulary and Complexity
Children at this stage start forming more complex sentences, understand more words than they can say, and engage in pretend play.
Three to Four Years: Conversations and More Complex Sentence Structures
Children now start to engage in conversations, tell simple stories, and ask lots of questions. Their sentences become more complex, and they start using language for various purposes like expressing feelings or giving information.
Four to Five Years: Polishing Language and Preparing for School
By this stage, children typically have a well-developed vocabulary, can use full sentences, and can carry a conversation. They start understanding more abstract concepts and can follow more complex instructions.