Help Your Child Talk: Best Toys for Baby Language Learning

Babies enjoy their interaction with you far more than the most expensive toys. Your face, voice, security and care matter to your child. As she grows, select the right toys to save money while you help her develop language skills.

Soft rattles: in her first year, she loves toys that encourage her to notice sights and sounds, smells and tastes and the way things feel. She learns to spend a few seconds following a moving toy, or turning to the sound of a rattle or a soft, squeaky toy. She builds brain pathways, learning rapidly about her new world as she repeats the same actions often.

Rolling balls: as she starts to move, crawling or shuffling across the floor, her universe opens up. A soft ball with a bell inside encourages her to follow as it rolls away, and she keeps listening as she searches, using her ears to find where it went. Good listening skills lead to easier language development.

Plastic cutlery: safe spoons, plates and cups make good plaything as she starts to eat solid food, sitting in her high chair, dropping them on the floor and looking around to find them. She learns that objects still exist, even when they drop out of sight. This lays foundations for understanding symbols, and helps her prepare to recognise pictures and words.

Teddy: dolls, teddies and soft toys with faces and bodies help her play out pretend sequences. Beginning by carrying teddy around with her, she learns to pretend clean his teeth or wash his feet. She builds up whole scenes, treating teddy as a real person and hearing you say the words for his body parts.

Dolls house: a robust dolls house is a wonderful investment that will last your child for years. If funds won’t allow a commercial house, why not get creative with a cardboard box? Playing with miniature toys takes her symbolic understanding further. She’s a long way from reading, but these games are the early steps in learning.

Musical instruments: rhythm, listening to different sounds and making music herself introduce her to the rhythms of speech and sharpen those listening skills. She needs to hear the difference between a range of speech sounds as she begins to recognise words, and tuning her ears with music helps. She doesn’t need a violin: a saucepan and wooden spoon will do.

Books: tiny babies love books with faces and mirrors. As she grows, she loves books with flaps she can pull up. She likes the repetition of a bedtime story or nursery rhymes, familiarising herself with the words and speech rhythms as you repeat them a hundred times.

Avoid: too many noisy toys that ‘talk’ or ‘sing’. Your child has her own imagination. Let her use it. Sing and talk with her yourself. She likes you better than any plastic toy.