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As a speech therapist, I am often asked what toys and games to give to children to promote language and develop imagination. As the first point when choosing a toy, it is important to know that the best guide is always the child and their interests. Starting from this base, I will go on to tell you which toys invite children to interact and imagine.
It is key to observe what a child plays with, what surprises him and what makes him curious. It is also important to know the developmental stage they are in so that the chosen game or toy is aligned with their current cognitive and linguistic abilities.
A toy from a later stage will possibly be a challenge that will not be within your possibilities and will end up not being of interest to you, being stored in the trunk or in a drawer. For example, puzzles with too many pieces, books with a lot of text, too small blocks for their fine motor skills.
There are 3 characteristics that toys must meet to promote the development of imagination, thought and language:
- They must be open: There must be more than one way to play with the toy. You can vary and invent different uses and ways of playing.
- They must promote interaction: They encourage collaboration and conversation. An other is needed to play. The toy should not do everything, the less the toy does, the more the child will have to do or will have to turn to an adult for help.
- They must favor symbolic play: These toys can stimulate a child's imagination from infancy (18 months / 2 years) to 5/7 years.
Below, I'll list toy options that meet the criteria mentioned above:
1. Babies, stuffed animals, dolls
The first symbolic games children play are with their favorite stuffed animal or doll. The youngest (18 months / 2 years) can play by feeding their teddy bear or doll with a toy spoon or by putting a blanket over it so that it can sleep. Older children (3 to 6 years old) can have tea parties with various stuffed animals or dolls, create a restaurant, hospital, or vet by placing stuffed animals or dolls in old shoe boxes that look like beds.
It is a basic in all kindergartens, both boys and girls love it. It encourages symbolic play and imitation, since every day they see their mom or dad cooking at home and it is very fun to have their own utensils and pans, and then steal from the cupboard whatever ingredients they find: rice, noodles, flour ... Anything can make your own recipe !!
3. Puppets and marionettes
They can be used in the same way as stuffed animals or dolls, but they have something great about them, they stimulate the simulation more realistically: their moving mouths and arms help them come to life. This encourages interaction, as it is necessary to make voices for the characters that they can do as a family. One character can be played by the child, another by the mother, the father, the grandmother. Older children can put on a puppet show by lining up chairs, making tickets, and even making their own puppets out of old socks or recyclables.
4. The supermarket and the cash register
With these toys, children learn vocabulary related to food: fruits, vegetables, staples of a house, cleaning supplies. You can even make the items with empty boxes or containers and make money to pay. Older children can learn to handle money, make change, practice social skills necessary to go shopping. They can learn to ask phrases and questions like: 'How much does it cost?', 'Can I have a kilo of bananas?' or 'Can I pay by card or cash?'.
5. Blocks and Lego
The little ones can build a house or a garage. The larger ones can create elaborate scenes, like multiple buildings for a city. Pre-designed boxes also come, although it has benefits in terms of planning and attention, it is always important not to stay with 'the box model' and invent new designs and creations.
6. Play food and plates
It is great fun for children to make a dinner for their dolls: set the table, plates, cutlery, glasses, count the number of guests at dinner ... All this will help them learn the numbers and ask what they want eating will make them pay attention to people's tastes, desires and points of view, an important point of the theory of mind.
7. Dough, clay and kinetic sand
Most children enjoy the sensory experience of squashing, rolling, and handling these types of masses. They can play with molds or kits that come already assembled or, simply, let their imagination run wild and make different dishes for the restaurant, poop the stuffed dog, some shoes or a dress for the doll.
8. Vehicles, service station, airport
eye! Playing with cars, planes, trucks, buses or boats is not just for children! Girls also love to load gas at the gas station, take a plane trip with their favorite stuffed animals or a car race down the hall.
9. Costumes and accessories
They can be costumes of princesses or superheroes, pirates, trades and professions, and it can also be the clothes of dad and mom, phones, purses and shoes in disuse, grandmother's kitchen aprons or grandfather's hats. Everything is useful when it comes to playing and imagining !!!
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