Guest Blog: What Makes a Good Language Toy?

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Editor’s Note: This article was written for parents, however we reprint it here so that you might share it with the parents/guardians of your kiddos.

By: Sherry Y. Artemenko M.A., CCC-SLP
Copyright 2011. Reprinted with the express permission of the author as it appeared on her blog.

When your baby arrives, it’s time to play. Since newborn babies prefer a variety of shapes, curves, angles and contrasts in light and dark, your face is his first favorite toy! He reacts as you talk to him and smile, watching your mouth, eyes and face move, casting shadows and changing expressions.

But by the time your baby reaches three months, he can see more clearly, focus on an object and is interested in a toy. You’re still a favorite but now it’s time to pick great toys that will enhance language. Certain features in a toy will invite more language, giving you more to talk about as you play with your baby.

  1. Find a Friendly Face: Choose toys that have a friendly face. A rooster, a caterpillar or even an apple can all have a face, ready to engage in your baby in conversation with you. Babies are naturally attracted to faces and actually talk more to a face, especially one with lots of expression. Take on the voice for your bug or pony and talk to your baby, describing actions like eating, sitting, playing, or galloping while moving your toy. Blocks and stacking rings are great toys for building that can be animated when they have a face on them. Look for toys with a face.
  2. Feels Good: Describe contrasting textures to provide your baby with lots of exciting vocabulary like crinkly, smooth, bumpy, soft, hard or fuzzy. Talk about the puppy’s shiny, smooth paws and fuzzy, squishy tummy, as your baby is exploring the toy. Look for toys that have lots of contrasts in texture—some soft, hard, slippery, fuzzy, bumpy or smooth surfaces. The more contrasts your toy has, the more you have to describe and talk about with your baby. Feeding babies’ descriptions with rich vocabulary enhances their language.
  3. Sounds Alive: Many baby toys make a sound—a rattle, a jingle, or a squeak. Some even make the sound for the specific animal like a bark for a dog or moo for a cow. Squeeze your little dog to bark or shake your elephant to rattle, pause and watch your baby’s response. Talking about the sounds you’ve heard and repeating them yourself adds interest to your baby’s play and promotes listening skills.
  4. Colorful contrasts: Since newborns focus on the boldest patterns and see only some color, toys with bold patterns of black and white are of greatest interest to them. But, by the time a baby is three months old, he can make nearly all the color distinctions so bring on the color! While a toy with many contrasting colors is exciting to look at, it also provides lots of opportunity to describe the different colors. Don’t forget a board book with bright colors on a white background serves as an interesting “toy” to look at also. Hold the book up so your baby can see the book as well as your face as you read the simple text.After speaking to a group of new moms about the importance of strong, bright colors in a toy, one mom told me she was going to give all of her pastel stuffed animals that she received for baby gifts to her cat! She thought they didn’t meet the criteria of bright colors. I discouraged her, saying that these stuffed friends might be useful when her child is around two, as guests at a pretend tea party or riders in a wagon during creative play.
  5. Bring on the Action: Look for flexibility in a toy—one where you and your baby can engage in lots of actions to describe. Moving parts like doors to open, peek-a-boo windows, containers to put things in, and openings to push through all provide opportunities to talk about objects in, out, through, and opening and shutting.

Play on words picks:

  • “Trotter the Pony” by Lamaze: Who wouldn’t want to chat with this face? Lift his saddle to see bumpy corduroy contrasted with his fuzzy body and smooth, shiny hooves. Want some action? Pull his legs and watch them get shorter and longer, or let him gallop over to your baby. Talk about the actions, textures, patterns, colors and shapes as you converse with Trotter.
  • “Pupsqueak” by Lamaze: This dog toy barks and pants alternately when you press his nose and conveniently carries his bone wherever he goes. Have fun narrating while he eats, sits, walks and even takes a nap.
  • “Me in the Mirror” by Sassy: Choosing this mirror gives you versatility—you can hang it on the crib, or it stands alone for tummy time. Be on the lookout for fun faces and bugs or characters to describe around the mirror, like this sun, bug and bird. The opposite side is a picture frame so you can rotate pictures of people and places familiar to your baby.
  • “Whoozit” by Manhattan Toy: This whimsical character’s face invites babies to investigate the hidden noises including rattles, squeaks, and crinkling paper. Lift up its nose and you can see yourself in the mirror.
  • “Gymini™ Super Deluxe Light and Music Activity Gym” by Tiny Love: Activity mats bring on the fun and this bright playground of toys has a dangling elephant, giraffe and bird with a big round mirror that moves and provides new vistas to describe. The animals offer different textures and sounds like squeaks and crinkles to name as your baby watches and reaches for them. You can add classical music, nursery rhymes and lights for excitement.

Our Featured Guest Blog/Author:Sherry Y. Artemenko M.A., C.C.C.

Thanks to Sherry and Play on Words PlayOnWords.com for sharing her blog post with us. Please support our contributors and visit PlayOnWords.com

About Sherry Y. Artemenko M.A., C.C.C. and Play on Words
For more than 30 years, Sherry Artemenko has worked with children to improve their speech and language, serving as a speech language pathologist in both the public and private school systems and private practice.

Working and playing with children daily, Sherry has become an expert in evaluating children’s toys, games, and books for their language-building value. She has contributed articles and reviews to Parents Choice Foundation and her reviews appear in promotional media for Playmobil, International Playthings, Alex Toys, Thinkfun Games, and Baker Taylor Publishing, among others.

Sherry has been tapped as an expert and her insights shared in the Chicago Tribune, on News12 Connecticut, and as a guest blogger for TimeToPlayMag.com.

Currently, she is advising children’s authors and startups for children’s toys and media.

Sherry started Play on Words LLC in 2003, after 16 years with the Fairfield Public Schools. The mission of her practice is threefold: 1) to serve as a therapist to special needs children, ages 1 to 10 years, helping to build their speech and language skills and 2) to assist new moms and dads of typically developing children, ages birth to 3 years, as a personal trainer, teaching parents how to talk, read and play with their child to enhance language, and 3) to advise parents, companies and authors on the attributes of the best toys, games and media to build language.

Prior to establishing Play on Words LLC, Sherry’s career as a speech language pathologist spanned 22 years in the Illinois and Connecticut public and private schools, where she worked with pre-school to high school-aged special needs children. In this capacity, she served on multidisciplinary diagnostic teams at the preschool and elementary levels. In addition, she helped to develop programs for teaching language through literature and worked in collaboration with classroom teachers to bridge language, reading and writing in school curriculum.

Sherry graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in Communicative Disorders, where she currently serves on the Alumni Council. Licensed in Connecticut, she is a certified member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and has been a member of the Connecticut Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Infant and Toddlers Committee. She serves as the Chairman of the Adult Regional Committee of “Young Lives,” providing support for unwed teenage moms and their babies in Connecticut and New York.

Sherry and her husband Bob have been residents of Southport for more than 25 years. They have three sons who served as Sherry’s first Play on Words clients: Bill, Yale 2000, Andrew, Northwestern University 2003, and Peter, Duke University 2005.

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