My Favorite Toys for Language Development

I work primarily with children under the age of 5 years old, and parents are always requesting ways to improve their child’s language development at home. The 2 things I recommend most often to incorporate language learning at home is reading and playing. I have already written a post about incorporating reading into everyday. You can find that post here.

I wanted to write this post to give simple ways I use some of my favorite toys in play to teach and reinforce a variety of language skills. When it comes to choosing toys for our kiddos, we have a seemingly endless number of choices. Here is a list of my favorite toys to use at work and at home with my own kiddos. I have also included some ideas of how to use each toy to target specific language skills.

Just don’t forget that play should most of all be FUN! There should be no pressure on you or your child to perform. These are just simple things you can incorporate into play time that will go a long way when it comes to strengthening language skills.

(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using my link.)


When I am working, I basically never go anywhere without my tub of play-doh. The children I work with always seem eager to drag the play-doh out, and it can be used to target so many things. Not only can you target several language skills but play-doh promotes creativity and strengthens fine motor skills (which is always a plus!).

Favorite toys for language development-play doh

Language Development Ideas

Following directions: You could give your child one-step commands such as “roll it out” or multiple-step commands such as “get the frog and put it in the cup.”

Identifying and labeling colors: Colors will likely naturally be targeted with play-doh. “Identifying” implies that your child points to different colors. You could say things like, “I want to use the green play-doh. Where is the green?” Labeling the colors means your child gives the name. You could elicit this by saying things such as, “Wow! You made a frog. What color is your frog?”

Identifying and labeling items: Just like the concept of colors, this will likely happen naturally during play. Examples of items your child may identify or label includes the tools you are using (scissors, roller, etc.) and the specific things you are making (animals, shapes, etc.).

Increasing use of words and phrases: Play-doh is a great avenue to model words and phrases for your child to imitate. For example, you may spend time modeling short phrases during play such as “Roll out. Roll play-doh out.” or “Duck. Make a duck. Yellow duck.” Remember, no pressure for them to imitate but it’s a bonus when they do!

Potato Head

I’m sure if you are reading this that you remember playing with a Mr. Potato Head at some point in your childhood. This is an oldie but a goodie if you ask me! You can find several varieties of potato heads including a mermaid, little potato heads, and different characters. Check out these Marvel characters.

Language Development Ideas

Identifying and labeling body parts: This one is a no brainer for sure! I like to sing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” after we finish putting Mr. Potato Head together.

Functions: Talking about the functions of different body parts is also easy to incorporate with this toy. You can discuss how we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, talk with our mouths, and smell with our noses.

Prepositions: After completing the Mr. Potato Head, you may try having your child “hide” or place items in different places such as behind him, under his feet, etc.

Kitchen or Picnic Items

Food items are fantastic for pretend play! I know my little boy loves to make “food” for my husband and I. Many kiddos also enjoy having a play picnic with their stuffed toys or dolls.

Language Development Ideas

Requesting and other social skills: Food and kitchen sets create a natural environment for turn taking and requesting. I like using this as a fun way to teach basic manners (using words and phrases such as “yes please, no thank you, you’re welcome, etc.)

Asking and answering questions: Along with social skills, this activity also incorporates asking and answering. For example, you may ask, “Would you like cheese on your sandwich?” or “Do you like chocolate milk?” Your child will likely follow suit and ask you questions too.

Simple pronouns: Situations involving food are the easiest and most natural way I can think of to model and learn pronouns. Think of all the possibilities….”my plate, your plate, his plate, her plate, a cup for you, a cup for me, a cup for him, etc.”

Describing: The varieties of food available in a play kitchen often make describing an easy task to incorporate. You may point out that a banana is long and yellow while an apple is round and red.

Animal Sets

We have a variety of animal sets at our house including farm animals, zoo animals, forest animals, and ocean animals. They come in all shapes and sizes. Animal vocabulary seems to be some of the earliest learned by children. My son loved to label animals and animal sounds at an early age!

Language Development Ideas

Animal sounds: For kiddos who are just starting to combine sounds and use first words animal sounds are my “go to.” Most kids seem to love imitating animal noises and many are easy first meaningful sounds such as “moo-moo, baa-baa, neigh-neigh, etc.”

Actions with objects: Before children learn to identify or label actions in books, they typically learn actions regarding toy objects. Toy animals can be used to model a variety of actions including eating, drinking, running, jumping, sleeping, etc.

Attributes: The wide diversity of animals also makes them good tools for learning attributes. Animals come in a variety of colors. Some have spots while some have stripes. Some have fur while some have feathers and still others have scales.

Stacking or Building Toys

There are so many options available for stacking and building toys from simple cubed blocks to lego blocks to magnet tiles. The variety of options helps make building toys appropriate for all stages of childhood. This activity again incorporates imaginative play and fine motor skills for stacking.

Language Development Ideas

Learning “uh-oh” and to anticipate: I don’t know that I have ever met a kid who doesn’t enjoy stacking up blocks just to knock them down with a car or ball and say, “uh-oh.”

Counting and other quantitative concepts: Not only can you simply count the blocks as you stack, you can also point out who has more, less, or the most blocks.

Simple phrases: Building blocks can also be used to elicit simple phrases such as “on top” and “more blocks please.”

Magnet Boards

My sons have a large magnet board on the wall in their playroom and several sets of magnets. These from Melissa and Doug are our favorite. My sons have the dinosaurs, farm animals, zoo animals, and vehicle sets.

Favorite toys for language development-magnets
magnet board

Language Development Ideas

Vocabulary: Magnets provide several items for children to identify or label as they place them on a magnet board. The easiest task would be for them to identify the item you name. After they are able to do this well, you can start having them label the items.

Categories:. When my oldest son first started playing with them, we divided them into simple categories like animals and vehicles. Now that he is more familiar with them, our categories are more specific like farm animals, zoo animals, or pets and vehicles that go on the water, the road, or in the sky.

Endless Possibilities!

I hope these ideas were helpful to you. Remember these are just a few suggestions, but there are so many other ways to use these toys to increase your child’s language skills. Children learn the best through play, so don’t stress too much about exactly what you or they are doing. Don’t forget to have fun!

What about you?

Now that I have shared some of my favorite toys, I would love to hear what toys you and your family like to play with at home! Please, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks again for reading!


Favorite toys for language development
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