How grapefruits reminded me of the power of storytelling

According to Speech and Hearing BC,  29% of children arrive at kindergarten struggling to be able to tell a story. Did you know that telling your children stories helps them develop their storytelling skills?

Storytelling uses language to connect your child to people, events, concepts and humour. Stories teach sequencing, improve vocabulary, strengthen listening skills and help children connect ideas. And, the simple act of focusing on your child when you tell a story confirms for them that they are a valuable member of the interaction.

I love grapefruits!  I use a grapefruit knife to carefully separate the “meat” within each section, a tradition that was passed on to me by my grandfather. I fondly remember my “Papa Paul” eating his morning grapefruits.  He enjoyed this simple pleasure delighting in every bite, describing the grapefruit as a gift, squeezing every last drop of juice into his mouth. His lessons of appreciating the simple things in life were not lost on me.

The first time I served grapefruit to my children I shared stories about my grandfather, a truly unique and great man whom they had never met.

I  told them about the time my grandfather taught me to ride a bike, convincing me he was still holding on when in fact he had let go so that I could find my way. I must have hit every parked car on the street!  The story opened up a conversation about trust, fear and one’s willingness to try new things.

Then there was the time he bought a new set of dentures for a man he did not know, but who had lost his only set on the beach.  The story helped them better understand abstract traits such as compassion and generosity.

When my children were a little older, I told them about the time Papa Paul tried to teach my mother to swim by securing her to the end of a fishing rod! Seriously!  This story included a time lapse and provided a segue to discuss planning, considering your options and perspective taking.

To this day when my daughters see me cutting open a grapefruit they request it “Papa Paul style”!  A man they have never met has become a coined phrase in our home, simply through the act of storytelling.

Ways to support your child’s language skills through storytelling:

  1. Include the concepts of time – Using words such as “first”, “and then” and “in the end” will help build sequencing and narrative skills.
  2. Insert pauses – Pauses allow children extra time to process and consider what you are saying. And by pausing, you model how to pace yourself when speaking.
  3. Use descriptive language – Help them visualize the characters and settings in your stories. Talk about the qualities and traits of your characters to help grow their vocabulary.
  4. Be expressive – By matching your facial expression and tone of voice to your message, you help your child develop the ability to read social cues and understand how others feel. (See my blog on Understanding Social Language Skills)
  5. Connect the story to the present – If possible, build a relationship between one aspect of the story and your child’s life. This will help them remember the story and improve their ability to retell it.

Stories are captivating. Tell your children stories about them as babies, or what it was like being pregnant with them. Share stories about yourself when you were a child and about your own family.  Draw them in and strengthen their connection to their world.

“There is no greater power on this earth than story”. –  Libba Bray 

Expand Language with Water Play!

Summer is here! It’s hot!  But, that’s okay for preschoolers because they LOVE playing with water. Sprinklers, water balloons, water blasters, water parks, kiddie pools and the beach. I remember when my kids were little we set up the sprinkler under our trampoline for cool bouncing on hot summer days.

However you enjoy water together there will be opportunities to explore, engage in turn-taking, expand vocabulary and talk about concepts related to water.

It is my personal belief that so long as your child is safe and not causing any damage, let them play with water however they want. What is particularly nice about water play during summer is that it takes place outside! This means no mess and minimal clean up.

One of my favourite water games to play with preschoolers is Sink or Float. You can use it to provide your child with new information and help them think about the world and how things work. This game is also well suited to play with multiple children as it is easy to take turns.

To play you need a large bin filled with water, some random small toys and objects, and a bowl to put your objects in. I like to gather both indoor and outdoor objects. Walk around the yard hand-in-hand choosing small items such as leaves, moss, grass, sticks and flowers. Next, take one object at a time and ask your child to guess if it will  Sink or Float  in the water. Then place the object on the water’s surface and watch what happens together.

Kids go crazy for this!  They love guessing and witnessing the results.

When playing Sink or Floatget down on your child’s level so you are eye-to-eye. Give them opportunities to comment on what they have observed. Ask questions and wait for their answers. Stimulate your child’s language by modelling these water-related conceptual words:

“wet – dry,  light – heavy,  under – on top,  deep – shallow,  slow – fast”

To help your child understand a new vocabulary word use it at least a few times during play, and then use it again later in other contexts outside of water play.

When  Sink or Float  gets old there are many other ways to play with water together in the summer. Water the garden, run through the sprinkler, use water and a sponge to “clean” things outside, or pretend to be Karate Kid using water and a paintbrush to “paint” the fence. Whatever activity you choose, remember to follow your child’s interest, model water-related vocabulary, give them opportunities to take turns and respond to their words.

There is no right or wrong way to play with water. Be prepared to get wet, have fun and connect.

The magic sound every child needs to learn!

There are various factors I consider when choosing which sounds to focus on first in speech therapy. Is the sound in the child’s own name? Is it an earlier developing sound? Is it a high frequency sound? Can the child make the sound with assistance?

One English sound magically stands out as worthy of training with all children. This MAGIC SOUND is the “s” sound, typically emerging at 3 years old and mastered by most 5 year olds.

When a child can pronounce a clear “s” sound, he can provide more information. The “s” will indicate plurals (socks), possessives (Wyatt’s toy), and the present verb tense (she eats). And, as one of the most frequent English sounds, clear pronunciation of the “s” will improve overall intelligibility.

Five fun ways to help your child practice the “s” sound:

  1. Play “I Spy” – This game can be played anywhere and adjusted to your child’s level. Spy objects by color, size, function or first sound. Model a sharp “s” sound when you “Spy”.
  2. Sing with your child – Songs contain predictable lyrics and an opportunity for repetition of familiar phrases. Some easy songs with the “s” sound are: “itsy bitsy spider”, “twinkle twinkle little star” and “wheels on the bus”.
  3. Sort laundry together – Sorting clothes provides opportunities to use “s” at the ends of words as a plural marker. “Socks go here, shirts go there, pants over here”.
  4. Count – Any objects if the word ends with either a “p, t,  k” sound will have an “s” sound at the end when you make it plural (as opposed to some other words that have more of a “z” sound). Count cups and forks when you set the table. Count socks as you put away clean clothes. Count all the cats your child has met.
  5. Pretend play – Feed toy animals. Talk about what each animal eats. “The horse eats hay, the cow eats grass.”

Are you wondering if your child’s speech sound development is on target for his age? A speech assessment is recommended if…

  • Your child’s teacher has suggested a speech assessment.
  • Other adults have trouble understanding your child.
  • Your child is sometimes left out because her peers don’t understand her.
  • Your child distorts speech sounds, such as with a lisp.
  • Your child has become self-conscious about talking.

To learn more about pediatric speech assessments, or to book your child’s assessment, please contact me.

Accent Reduction Part II: Why I talk about Coconuts in Accent Reduction Training 

For non-native English speakers, it can be extremely difficult to reduce their accents on their own using accent reduction tools. The main reason for this is that it’s hard to hear the difference between the sound they are trying to make and the sound they actually make.

Before you can practice English sounds and speech patterns, you must be able to hear them.

Accent reduction training therefore begins with a focus on your listening skills.

Years ago, when my daughter was only 3 years old, we hosted a hockey playoff party. I don’t consider myself a big hockey fan, but I watch the playoffs. And that’s when it happened.

As we were all cheering “Go Canucks”, my daughter threw her little fist up in the air and cheered with us. Listening more closely I realized she was shouting “Coconuts”!

It made perfect sense, the expression was unfamiliar, and so she hadn’t heard it correctly. What she heard was influenced by her limited experience with the English language, combined with the instinct to make sense of what we said.

Once she was familiar with the name of the team, the cheer and the correct sequence of sounds, she was able to say it correctly.

I share this story with my accent reduction students to make a point. If you hear the word or the sounds incorrectly, you will say it incorrectly. 

When it comes to listening to English, second language learners face a unique challenge. They hear English through the filter of their own language.  The result being, what they hear is influenced by their own experiences, much like my daughter.

In Japanese for example, there are only open syllables (all words end in vowel sounds). Japanese speakers accustomed to and anticipating open syllables may not hear the word-final consonants of English words and are unlikely to produce them.

Identifying the differences between the sounds and word structures of a person’s native language and English is the starting point for successful accent reduction training.

A  three year old may get away with shouting “coconuts” at a Canucks game. But, in the business world employers, colleagues and clients desire accuracy and clarity in their communications. And it all starts with focused listening.

Learn more about my online 60-Day Accent Reduction Training Course here.

Accent Reduction Part I: Why I talk about starfish in Accent Reduction Training

One of the benefits for non-native English speakers who participate in Accent Reduction Training is gaining a greater confidence in speaking situations. For instance in an interview, a presentation, a phone call or a meeting. 

An often overlooked factor in accent improvement is the impact that body language can have on your communicative effectiveness. Certainly, your posture influences the way you are perceived by others. However, a lesser known concept is that your posture shapes how you perceive yourself; perceptions which are then reinforced through your behaviours and interactions.

Your body shapes your mind. Your mind shapes your behaviour. And your behaviour shapes your future.” – Amy Cuddy

In her book, Presence (2015), Amy Cuddy describes the practice of using high-power poses to facilitate our ability to become more present, confident, willing to face challenges and connect with others. Presence helps you stay focused on the actual communication exchange. Without presence you may be distracted by thoughts, like thinking about the judgements others might be making.

High-power poses are expansive postures that take up more space. This brings us to the starfish, who embodies expansion and claiming the maximum space available. That is to say, the starfish is a powerful cue, serving as a reminder to prepare for challenging situations with BIG POSES.

Your voice naturally takes on the movement of your body. For example, if you move quickly, you will speak quickly. And if you hold a nervous posture, your voice will sound nervous. An angry facial expression and your voice will sound angry. Likewise, if you take on a powerful pose, your voice will sound powerful and confident.

I encourage my accent reduction students to prepare for speaking situations that trigger their anxiety by using BIG POSES. This can be accomplished either physically or imaginary. By boosting presence and confidence, the powerful poses result in a slower speech rate, greater voice projection and more focused listening. Behaviours that promote clear speech.

May is National Speech and Hearing Month.  And… I am thrilled to celebrate with the launch of my 60 Day Online Accent Reduction Course.

The 60 Day Course begins with an online assessment of spoken English, followed by weekly training sessions. Training starts with an emphasis on focused listening to the sounds you personally find most challenging. Listening is followed by pronunciation training and a review of the rhythmic features of English. The result is clearer and more natural sounding speech.

Do you personally know anyone who has expressed a desire to reduce their foreign accent?  If so, I would be happy to be of service.

The Secret to Reading with Preschoolers

The secret to reading with preschoolers is…. make it FUN!

“No kidding” you say. 

Yes, really!  For years I have witnessed  too many loving and well-meaning parents read to their toddlers with a rigid focus on the story.

The truth is, young children learn best by having enjoyable interactions, not by being “taught”. The primary goal when reading books with little ones is to encourage an interest in books by making reading FUN!  

Here are my top suggestions to make book reading FUN:

  1. Choose a time when he is calm or needs to find calm, such as just before nap or bedtime, in a waiting room or after the playground. It’s no fun to sit and read when you’d rather be running around.
  2. Let her choose the book. It’s okay to make suggestions, but the small act of allowing her to choose secures her interest. She may choose the same book over and over. Go with it. Children learn through repetition.
  3. Let him hold the book and turn the pages if he wants to. He might not turn them in the “correct” order. That’s okay. Let him do it anyway. The more he can look at what interests him in each moment, the more fun it will be. This also allows him to look through the book at his own pace.
  4. Read with rhythm and expression. Use your personality to bring the story to life. Enthusiasm is infectious. Stories sound less interesting when read without changes to the pace, volume and pitch. And if your preschooler looses interest, you loose your preschooler to another activity. Mix it up and make it sound interesting.
  5. Make fun sounds “BOOM, yummy, choo choo, POP, moo!” Not only do sounds make a story more fun, including them may also encourage her to imitate you and take her own turns.
  6. Turn book reading into a conversation. Talk about the pictures. Pause to share comments and ask questions, such as “The character seems lost, what would you do if you were the character?” Read in a way that encourages more interactions between you and your child. You can even continue to focus on the story after you have finished reading it by talking about what might happen next if the story continued.

First establish a fun relationship with books. The next step is to build your child’s early literacy skills. These are the skills a child needs in order to read or write independently. A strong foundation in early literacy skills sets children up for academic success.

Here are the main things to focus on to support early literacy skills:

  • Make personal connections: Establish connections between books and her experiences. Connecting new information to what she already knows makes it meaningful, gives it more “stick” factor in the brain, and encourages her to notice new but familiar concepts in future stories.
  • Use a variety of words: Don’t feel limited by the print in the book. Move beyond naming pictures and add in descriptive words, action words, and location words. This builds a larger vocabulary.
  • Draw attention to the print: Point out the book title and author’s name; track with your finger to connect the words on the page with the words she hears. Extend this activity by pointing out print on her shirt, on signs and in stores.
  • Model critical thinking: Predict what will happen, talk about how the characters may be feeling, and explain why things happen, especially things that are not “written” and may not be obvious. Helping him “read between the lines” strengthens early literacy skills by giving him tools to connect actions, reveal that which is not transparent and better understand books.

Cultivating a love for books in your child is the first step to developing early literacy skills. Read early and read often. Don’t read too fast or too long. Consider the listening skills of your child. Turn reading into an enjoyable activity that stimulates interaction by simply reading WITH your child instead of reading TO your child.

The Unknown Risks of Pacifiers

Using a pacifier can be an easy and effective way to help your baby fall asleep. However, pacifier usage does have its drawbacks. Among the most significant, is the increased risk of developing ear infections.

Ear infections are twice as common in children who use pacifiers.

Sucking on a pacifier can increase the movement of nasopharyngeal secretions into the middle ear. As a result, when a child has a cold, pathogens are more likely to enter the middle ear.

A child’s first middle ear infection results in damage to the mucosa of his middle ear, predisposing him to further infections. And with multiple ear infections, if there has been damage to the eardrum, bones of the ear, or the hearing nerve, there is a small risk of permanent hearing loss.

Acute otitis media (AOM) is a common middle ear infection in young children. It is much more common in children from 6 -12 months than in children from 0 – 6 months.   It is the leading cause of doctor’s visits by childrenand is also the most common reason children receive antibiotics or undergo surgery.

Ear infections can take up to a month or longer to heal. With fluid in the ears making it difficult for your child to hear sounds, it is inevitable that she will miss out on some of the speech models and stimulation that support typical speech and language development.

Children who suffer repeat ear infections commonly experience an accompanying delay in development of speech and language skills. 

Signs your child might have an ear infection:

  • Pulling at the ears
  • Not responding to sounds
  • More crying than usual
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever

Some other risk factors for AOM include: a child’s age, recent illnesses, allergies, genetics, and a history of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Pacifier use is one of the few AOM risk factors that parents can control!

A further consideration when deciding on pacifier use is your child’s age. A child as young as 6 months engages in sound play, and by 12 months he is using words, with his vocabulary growing up to 50 words by the time he is 18 months old.  (See my blog on speech-language milestones.) So from 6 months onward it is preferable to limit anything that might inhibit your child from engaging in sound play, taking turns in interactions, or attempting to produce words out loud.

Maintaining a “pacifier free mouth” for your child during this period of extensive expressive language development is simply a good idea. 

If your child of 2 years or older is already using a pacifier and you would like to get rid of it, here are a few ideas shared by some creative moms.

  1. The Pacifier Fairy: Explain to your child that the Pacifier Fairy needs pacifiers for the new babies. Help her gather all her pacifiers in one bag and leave it beside her bed one night. Explain that the fairy will leave a special gift to thank her for her help.
  2. Exchange the pacifiers at the Toy Store: If there is a toy your child especially desires, explain that the toy store will exchange pacifiers for toys. This will require you speaking to the customer service representative at the store and arranging the exchange in advance.
  3. The Broken Pacifier: Make a small incision in the tops so they no longer work. Explain that the pacifiers are broken and take them away.

Sucking on a pacifier helps a child relax their nervous system and so is often used for comforting.

Tips to help ease the transition:

  1. The earlier you take away a pacifier, the easier it will be. Ideally get rid of it in the second 6 months.
  2. Go cold turkey if you can. Or start by using it only at bedtime.
  3. Offer a special snuggly toy as a replacement.
  4. Introduce other sensory integration activities during the day: blowing bubbles in water through a straw, kneading dough, a slow firm back rub.

Regardless of how you get rid of the pacifiers, be prepared for three challenging days ahead. Remember that many generations of children have endured this rite of passage, and your child shall too. The undeniable long-term gains you are securing for your child are worth it.

For further reading:
Rovers, M.M., Numans, M.E., Langenbach, E., et al, (2008). Is pacifier use a risk for otitis media? A dynamic cohort study. Family Practice, Volume 25, Issue 4, 233–236

Nelson, A.M. (2012). A comprehensive review of evidence and current recommendations related to pacifier usage. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 27, 690-699

The One Question I Am Asked Most Often

The one question I am asked most often is from parents wanting to know if their child has the level of speech and language abilities that are expected at his age. First-time parents especially, may not have previously witnessed a child moving through the stages of development. In such cases, it is not unusual to feel some uncertainty.

January, a time of year brimming with reflection and planning, is the perfect time to check if your child is developing as expected. Following up on any concerns you have now affords you plenty of time to pursue an evaluation and recommendations before the start of the next school year.

Typical speech and language development follows a predictable progression however, children develop at different rates. For example, although not all same aged children will be able to understand and answer the same types of questions, they will all learn to answer basic “yes/no” and “where” questions before the more complex “how” and “why” questions.

Below is a summary of COMMUNICATION MILESTONES. Consider these to be average ages at which most typically developing, monolingual, English-speaking children will acquire these skills. The ages are provided as a general guideline.

Scroll down the checklist to your child’s age. Descriptions of pre-linguistic skills, listening skills, verbal abilities, pragmatic skills, and literacy development have been included for the applicable stages.

From 0-6 months
☐   Responds to voice and sound.
☐   Turns his head toward source of sound.
☐   Watches the speaker’s face.
☐   Establishes eye contact.
☐   Babbles to gain attention.

From 7-18 months
☐   Stops an activity when her name is called.
☐   Listens with interest to new words.
☐   Answers questions when presented with two choices.
☐   Responds to “no”.
☐   Tries to communicate with actions and gestures.
☐   Copies the simple actions of others.
☐   Expressive vocabulary grows to 50 words.

From 19-24 months
☐   Beginning to understand simple one-step oral directions.
☐   Understands 300 words or more.
☐   Understands in, on, another.
☐   Answers “yes/no”, “where”, and “what’s this” questions.
☐   Strangers will understand 25% – 50% of what he says.
☐   Using intonation (raised pitch) to ask questions.
☐   Has an expressive vocabulary of 50-200 words.
☐   Starting to combine two or three words together.
☐   Asks limited “wh” questions.
☐   Begins to use pronouns.
☐   Using turn-taking verbally.
☐   Waves bye-bye.
☐   Recognizes some books by their cover.
☐   Will attend to a toy or a book for up to two minutes.

From 2-3 years
☐   Answers simple “wh” questions logically.
☐   Beginning to understand some time concepts: wait, later.
☐   Understands size differences.
☐   Strangers will understand 50% – 75% of what she says.
☐   Frequently omits consonants in the middle or at the ends of words.
☐   May exhibit initial word repetitions (normal stuttering).
☐   Expressive vocabulary grows to 1,000 words.
☐   Maintains topic over several conversational turns.
☐   Makes conversational repairs if her listener doesn’t understand.
☐   Using pronouns my, me, mine, you, your, yours, he, she, and  we.
☐   Using plurals.
☐   Requests permission.
☐   Begins to use language playfully (jokes).
☐   Begins to describe colors and size.
☐   Holds a book correctly.

From 3-4 years
☐   Follows simple two-step oral directions.
☐   Answers more complex “how” and “why” questions.
☐   Understands beside, between.
☐   Identifies colors.
☐   Strangers will understand 80% of what he says.
☐   May frequently talk to self.
☐   Uses words to express feelings.
☐   Using pronouns they, us, hers, his, them, and her.
☐   Begins to pay attention to print.
☐   Participates in rhyming games.
☐   Able to make some letter-sound matches.

From 4-5 years
☐   Follows simple three-step oral directions.
☐   Answers “when” and “how many” questions.
☐   Understands comparative and superlative adjectives, such as bigger, biggest.
☐   Understands time concepts, such as week days, yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week.
☐   Understands concepts of position, such as first, middle, last.
☐   Strangers will understand 75% – 90% of what she says.
☐   Beginning to use language to resolve disputes with peers.
☐   Understands the purpose of print.
☐   Understands story sequence.
☐   Can answer questions about simple short stories.

From 5-6 years
☐   Follows instructions given to a group.
☐   Understands opposite concepts.
☐   Understands left / right
☐   Strangers will understand 90% – 100% of what he says.
☐   Asks the meanings of words.
☐   Asks questions to obtain information.
☐   Uses yesterday and tomorrow.
☐   Understands that spoken words are made up of sounds.
☐   Begins to write letters and some familiar words.
☐   Begins to recognize some written words by sight.
☐   Reads a few simple books from memory.
☐   Able to print own name.

Use care when reviewing the above speech-language milestones, and applying them to your child. Remember that normal development varies quite a bit, and it is hard to tell when your child will get to each stage.

You know your child. And it is normal to compare your child to other children. If you suspect that her speech-language development is behind for her age, then there is no harm in consulting with a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Sometimes just a short conversation can clear up any worries. Trust your instincts.

Here are some clear indications that a child would benefit from a speech and language evaluation. If any of the following apply to your situation, then I recommend contacting a Speech-Language Pathologist.

1. If your 12 month old does not respond to his name.
2. If your 30 month old has not begun combining two words together.
3. If adults regularly have trouble understanding your 3 year old.
4. If your 4 year old does not answer simple “wh” questions.
5. If your 3 – 4 year old grabs toys from other children instead of making verbal requests.
6. If your 4 year old repeats sounds or parts of words.
7. If your 5 year old has trouble following directions.
8. If your 5 year old can not make a rhyme.
9. If your 6 year old is not making all of her speech sounds clearly.
10. If your child’s teacher has expressed concerns about his speech or language skills.

Celebrate Your Connection

For many, December is a time of reflection and planning for the year ahead.  I invite you to set aside a few moments to reflect on your most memorable interactions with your children this past year. Next, celebrate yourself for your role in creating those memories. 
It may have been a moment of accomplishment when your young child spoke her first phrase, or a time you offered your undivided attention during bathtime, or perhaps she was able to clearly express her big feelings, and you were there to hear and acknowledge her words.


As parents, it is so easy for us to get swept away by our daily to do lists. And let’s be honest, the majority of those things on the list are likely for the benefit of our children. Yet when we stop doing for them and instead get present with them, this is when we more deeply connect and earn their trust and permission.


This past year, it was a few shared moments with my 3 year old nephew on the beach that were among my most memorable. We had been walking on the boardwalk with his parents when he suddenly ran onto the beach, kicking up huge amounts of sand with each step. The beach was not crowded, but there were people reclining ahead. I considered correcting him but decided instead to join him, imitating his steps, kicking up my own sand. Judging by his smile, he was thrilled to see me imitating him. At that moment I switched up the step to a gentle and deliberate lunge. He instantly copied me, allowing me to take the lead for a moment. Then he jumped up on a log and so did I. He turned to look over his shoulder and smiled. This routine of copying each other went on for only a few more minutes, but it was rich with connection. Connection that existed because I chose to be playful, attend, imitate and take turns rather than correct and direct. I used the tools I knew would yield his interest and attention leaving him receptive to me as his model.


As the poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there”  These words inspire me to suspend my own judgement about a child’s rights or wrongs, and release my desire to correct and direct.  Instead I ask myself what the child is feeling and needing in that moment and lean in. By just being present with them, we sweeten the connection, and organically increase the joy factor.


Connection, achieved through presence, attention, and turn taking allows children to maximally benefit from us as their speech and language models.


The video below is one of my favourite examples of how using these simple tools deepens connection. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face!


What strategies have you found that support deep connection with your little ones? Have you similarly noticed that by first establishing this type of connection, you receive their permission to take on the role of speech and language teacher?


It is my hope that you take some time to recall the moments worth celebrating. Interactions characterized by humour, play, eye contact, observing, waiting, listening, turn taking, imitating, delighting and awe.

Top Christmas Toys to Help Your Child’s Language Development

We are quickly approaching the busiest shopping season of the year. And parents will spend countless hours searching for the best Christmas toys for their children.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify toys that are safe, fun and support your child’s development.

Tips to get you started:

  1. Avoid noisy toys. Some toys are so loud they can cause hearing damage in children. And a child’s short arm length means those noisy toys are pretty close to their ears. If it sounds too loud to you, it will be too loud for your child. Furthermore, noisy toys do not encourage talking. If you are very keen on a toy that happens to be  noisy, simply remove the batteries or apply tape over the speaker!
  2. Pick toys that encourage pretend play. Play of this kind organically fuels children to use their imaginations and generate words and sentences describing what they are doing.
  3. Look for toys that will hold your child’s attention, and encourage her to interact with the toy. Interactions promote opportunities for your child to use her language skills to express herself.
  4. Choose toys you think look fun. The best way to stimulate language development is for you to join your child in play and talk about what he is doing. Therefore, choose toys you will both enjoy playing with.

These are what I believe to be exceptional toys and games. These toys, through their design and quality, promote play that advances language development at different ages.

Toys for 1-3 years

 Where’s Bear by Peaceable Kingdom

Offers opportunities to model vocabulary related to spatial concepts, asking and answering where questions, and language associated with problem solving.

 My Busy Town by ALEX

Features five types of games that will stimulate your child’s mind and language. Use simple phrases to narrate your child’s actions.

 GearZooz Roll and Roar Animal Train by VTech

Your child can customize his own animal train with spinning gears. There are interactive songs and phrases about animals, places and instruments. Language building activities have been incorporated into questions that stimulate thinking and following directions.

 Pet Vet Clinic by Battat B.

Includes two small plush pets, stethoscope, syringe, thermometer and keys to open colour coded doors.  This toy encourages imaginary play and action word vocabulary.

Toys for 3-6 years

 Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Truck by Leap Frog

Your child will pretend to run her own ice cream truck. Provides opportunities for extensive vocabulary through role play. She can learn numbers, colours, flavours, and skills such as listening and following directions.

   Better Builders Emotions Toy Set by Guidecraft

Contains six interchangeable bodies, faces and feet. Faces express different emotions and help children learn to name, identify and regulate their emotions. Features magnetic ball and rod construction.
  Story Train Firefighters by Janod

The inclusion of people with the train encourages more talking. Your child will tell stories about what he does with the train and the firefighters. Opportunities to use concept words and opposites.

 Barber in the tub by ALEX

What a better place for pretend play then in the tub? Add bubbles to the bath for shaving. Opportunities to practice vocabulary and phrases associated with getting a haircut.

Toys for 6-9 years

 Rory’s Story Cubes by Gamewright

Your child will practice her narrative skills while tapping into her own creativity. Provides practice planning and sequencing information. May also be used to practice writing skills.

 Pottery Cool Studio by Spin Master

Opportunities to use vocabulary related to sequencing and time. Your child can practice using past tense and narrative skills to describe what he made and how he built his creation.

 Fingerlings – Interactive Baby Monkey by WowWee

These interactive baby monkeys cling to fingers and react to sound, motion and touch. If your child blows them kisses, they will kiss her back! Opportunities to talk about cause and effect and use sequencing vocabulary.

 Eye’n Seek by Blue Orange

Play six possible games that reinforce matching, reading, vocabulary and phonemic skills.

It is my hope that this list of toys and games is helpful and brings some ease to your Christmas shopping experience.

A final word of advice regarding toy safety. Remember that typical wear and tear can result in once safe toys becoming hazardous. Check your toys regularly to make sure the are in good condition.