Building Early Language Skills

14 Mind-Powered Toys For Building Language With Preschoolers: Batteries Not Required

Preschool Boy-3

Older toddlers & preschoolers learn by doing.  Children this age are in constant motion as they develop language & play skills. The emergence of imaginative play & interactive, collaborative play comes to life in preschoolers.  Start building your preschooler’s toy collection with these 14 must-have toys, and you will be well on your way to supporting the development of critical early language & play skills.

Tumble Bumble1.  Books

Books are first on the must-have list for a reason. Reading is essential for all children but a good collection of books for preschoolers is particularly vital as they build the early literacy skills that directly correlate with later academic success. The best books to build language with your preschooler have simple sentences, a simple story line (i.e., First, then, and then….), and are full of rhyme, rhythm and repetition.  Wordless picture books are also a fabulous choice for preschool children who will love the opportunity to “read” the story to their parents & siblings using the pictures.

2.  Play-Doh Play-Doh

Put some Play-Doh, cookie cutters and a rolling pin out on the table and you will be amazed at the language, creativity & imaginative play elicited with this basic toy.  There are many options for Play-Doh toys on the market, but I recommend going for a simple set of rolling pins & cookie cutters.  Put your child’s imagination to work as you encourage him to create, mold, cut, push, and roll with this fabulous toy.

Fingerpaint3.  Crayons & Fingerpaint

Every child should have a good collection of crayons and fingerpaint on hand. Yes, painting is messy. Do it anyway. The mess is a small price to pay for the multi sensory learning, opportunity for creative expression and language building provided to your child.  Commit to doing a hands-on, messy, multisensory art project with your preschooler every day.  Fill a bin with crayons, fingerpaint, paper & paintbrushes, and put it in an accessible location. You just may be surprised when your child comes back to this classic toy, time and time again.

4. LegosLegos

Research shows that Legos are one of the best toys for play & language building, because they can be used in so many different ways. Children have to interact with their peers and parents as they plan & negotiate what they want to build with Legos, making it the perfect toy for preschoolers.  A large set of Legos may be a good place to start for older toddlers, or try DUPLO Brick Legos for preschoolers, the toy earning the highest ratings in the 2012 TIMPANI toy study.

Tinkertoy5.  Tinkertoys

This classic toy was the winner of the 2011 TIMPANI toy study, receiving the highest total score for encouraging thinking, learning, cooperation, social interaction, self-expression, and imagination. There is a reason this toy has been around for 95 years, and it looks like it is here to stay.

5.  Basketball Hoop or Bowling SetBowling Set

Active, physical play is vital to children’s growth and development.  Encourage the critical social, physical, cognitive and language skills involved with active play by including some new and novel toys, such as a basketball hoop or bowling pins in your preschooler’s toy collection.  Already have these toys?  Take it to the next level and encourage your child’s imagination, planning & language skills by helping her create her own games with  activity mats, tunnels, & cones.

6. First Board Games Roll & Play First Game

Ah, taking turns and sharing.  Two skills that challenge every preschooler’s social and language skills.  These early cooperative games are perfect for building social language skills, vocabulary, matching skills and more. The ThinkRoll & Play Board Game is a fabulous beginner game for older toddlers & preschoolers will find it equally fun & silly. UNO MOO and Don’t Feed The Woozle are also great choices.  You may have to modify these games as your child learns to play, but don’t shy away from more structured cooperative games for older toddlers & preschoolers.  Start early.  You just may be surprised at how well your child can follow directions, take turns, and put her negotiation skills to use when playing these games.

Farm Set7. Farm Set

A basic, wooden barn and a good set of farm animals is essential in every child’s toy collection.  I love the wooden, well-made toys crafted by Melissa and Doug and recommend starting with this basic barn & farm animal set. A fabulous toy for toddlers & preschoolers to build language, creative & imaginative play skills.

Dramatic Play8.  Dress Up Clothes

Support your preschooler’s growing imagination and creative play skills by adding dress up clothes to her toy collection.  Start building a dress up bin with a fireman, policeman, and doctor costume. As your child grows, add more items to the box to keep it novel.  Give children these tools and you will be amazed at what their little imaginations can do.

9. KitchenPlay Kitchen

A play kitchen is an essential for every little boy and girl.  The language, social skills, and creativity such a simple toy can facilitate is amazing.  I recommend a well-made, wooden kitchen, but you can find less expensive options that will do the trick as well.  Add in a good set of food, pots & pans, plates, cups, and utensils, and watch your little one’s language & play skills grow as they come back to this classic toy time and time again.

Magna Tiles10. Magna-Tiles

The TIMPANI toy for 2013 based on this toy’s ability to promote the highest quality of play. Magna-Tiles engage children’s interest and imagination as they explore how magnets work. Children can use this toy independently, or work on cooperative play skills and the language of negotiation by playing with peers.  What is good for play is good for language and well worth adding to the toy collection.

11.  Baby Doll Play SetDoll Play Set

All babies and young toddlers should have a baby doll in their collection. Expand your preschooler’s play repertoire and introduce items such as a diaper bag, bottle & baby food, cradle, high chair & stroller.  Finding a play set in a gender neutral color is not an easy task, but this set from KidKraft & MacClaren are both excellent choices for girls and boys. This simple toy is so fabulous for encouraging early pretend play & language skills, it’s a must for all children.

12. Wooden Blocks & CarsWooden Cars Stack and Count

This classic toy is here to stay.  Wooden blocks & cars continue to be a favorite among children and these toys are highly rated among parents & educators as well.  A good set of wooden blocks can be slightly pricey, but they are worth the expense given that they will be around in your child’s playroom for years to come.  Make sure to pick up a set of wooden vehicles and traffic signs as well.  This toy was the highest scoring for the 2010 Toys that Inspire Mindful Play & Imagination (TIMPANI) toy study for encouraging high levels of language, social interaction, and imaginative play, challenging common thinking that preschoolers need high-tech, complex toys to learn.  A must-have for every preschooler.

Floor Puzzles13. Jigsaw & Floor Puzzles

Your child probably already has a good set of knob or chunky puzzles in their playroom. Build your preschooler’s motor, spatial, cognitive, and language skills by expanding your child’s puzzle collection to include beginning jig saw puzzles or floor puzzles. Your little one may need a little help with these at first, and that’s OK. If she is engaged in the task, you are probably working at the right level.  Too easy? Take it a step up with these fun floor puzzles.  Guaranteed to get your preschooler thinking.

Mr. Potato Head14. Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head is a classic, go-to toy for building language, motor & play skills with kids.  This toy provides ample benefits, including encouraging fine & gross motor skills (i.e., grasping, identifying objects by touch) visual scanning, spatial awareness, naming body parts, labeling colors, and matching objects, just to name a few.  I recommend a larger set with several Potato Heads and buying some extra parts so parents and peers can participate in the play. Make sure this classic toy is a part of your preschooler’s toy collection.

Learn More

Want to know our top books for preschoolers and learn tips and tricks on how to use these toys to build your child’s language & play skills?  Sign up for our blog-Babble On– and we’ll send you an e-mail notification when we post these updates in December & January.  Free tips & tricks to help your child build play skills & language.  What could be better than that?


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