Here is how I plan to organize these posts:

Each will have a brief description of the types of language we as Speech Therapists often evaluate: Receptive Language, Expressive Language and Pragmatics, or the social aspect of language. Following that I’ll include a toy description. Finally, its onto the good stuff:  a few ideas (not meant to be all encompassing, because that would honestly take me hours), on how you can use said toy to stimulate language. Pictures will be included as well.

So here we go:

Receptive Language (what we understand) – this is the ability to listen and understand what is communicated by another person. In the Early Intervention age range (birth to 3) some examples would include: following simple directions, the ability to identify objects from a group, the ability to point to objects in pictures etc. In infants an example can be as simple as turning to the source of sound or responding to his/her name.

Expressive Language (the use of language) – this is the ability to communicate wants and needs. Usually we mean verbally but depending on the circumstances it can mean sign language or the use of a communication device. Some examples of this include: the ability to request objects using words, the ability to name objects (real objects or in pictures). In infants this includes grunting, cooing and babbling – all which sounds meaningless at first but are important stepping stones to using words in more functional ways.

Social Skills/Pragmatic Language – these are the more subtle aspects of language and in young children some examples include eye contact, joint attention (the ability to look at a toy, then to you, then back to the toy etc) and turn taking.

Of course these lists are nowhere near all inclusive and are simply meant to help clarify the definitions.

The Cruise and Groove Ballapalooza

I put in my own requests for the babies’ presents this Christmas, one of which was the Fisher Price Cruise and Groove Ballapalooza. It sounds like a mouthful because it is, but the toy itself is awesome and one I picked out specifically because of all the ways it could be used to facilitate speech and language.

Age Range: 6 months to 3 years

What it does: I think of it as kind of a ball maze. It comes with 3 levels of ramps so your child is able to interact with it while sitting, crawling or standing and has several “trigger points”. A standing child can send a ball through the chute at the top where it will bounce off of a “trampoline” and down the ramp or a ball can be placed into the top ramp. He/she can also interact with an inflatable ball attached to the top. A crawler can place a ball into the middle ramp or crawl through one of two areas which are also “trigger points”. A sitter can access the lowest ramp level or spin the bottom “trigger point”. When a “trigger point” is activated, the toy lights up, plays a short intro and then a song. There are several different songs (I have not counted but I’d say at least 6) and the best part about them, in my opinion, is that they are not annoying! The songs are lyric-less and more like techno or dance music, which I appreciate after listening to the alphabet song ad nauseum.

As far as age range goes, the babies were 7 months when we got this so basically at the bottom of the range. They do enjoy it but I think will much more so as they start to stand and walk.

Pictured here you can see the inflatable ball, one of two crawl throughs and the spinner "trigger point" at the bottom as well as all three ramp levels
Pictured here you can see the inflatable ball, one of two crawl throughs and the spinner “trigger point” at the bottom as well as all three ramp levels

6 months to 1 year

Receptive Language

  • Give your baby two balls and encourage him/her to bang them together, against the ramp or really any surface of the toy
  • Hide the balls and see if he/she looks for them
  • Begin teaching object identification: give your baby a ball and tell him/her “ball”.
  • You really can’t go wrong here- language exposure is never going to be a bad thing. Babies are always listening and hear what you say. Even if they don’t understand it yet, they will. Be very verbal while playing with him/her – tell your baby what you are doing, or place a ball down a ramp and say “go” or “weeee”. Hit the inflatable ball and say “boom”. Label the ball colors or ramp colors.

Expressive Language

  • Babies this age usually aren’t saying words yet but you can use the toy to encourage some babbling. They should start to have some simple cause and effect and the ability to imitate some so you can use that to your advantage. Take a ball and babble to your baby (I usually pair the babble with the real word also) “babababa – ball” and then roll the ball down a ramp to activate it. Try a few times and see if your baby will attempt to imitate you. If he/she does, praise him/her and run a ball down a ramp. Babble doesn’t have to be limited to bababa – any of the early developing sounds work too, which include /b/, /d/, /m/, /n/, /p/.
  • You can start to introduce baby sign. It isn’t likely they will use it yet but as stated above, exposure is never going to hurt. You can take your baby’s hands and give hand over hand cues to sign for “more” or “ball” and then either run a ball down a ramp or hand a ball to him/her.
  • Again, you can’t really go wrong here. Babies are always listening and hear what you say. Even if they don’t understand it yet, they will. Be very verbal while playing with him/her – tell your baby what you are doing, or place a ball down a ramp and say “go” or “weeee”. Hit the inflatable ball and say “boom”. Label the ball colors or ramp colors.
Here you can see the chute and "trampoline"
Here you can see the chute and “trampoline”

12 to 18 months

Receptive Language

  • Appropriate play with toys – show your baby how to, for example, crawl through the door, pick up the ball from the bottom ramp, place a ball onto a ramp, spin the spinner
  • Practice simple object identification. Take a ball and a nearby toy or common object (spoon, book, train, car) and ask your baby to “get the ___” .
  • Simple one step directions (with help). If your baby is holding a ball, point to/touch a ramp and encourage him/her to place it there. Or, point to/touch a nearby ball and ask him/her to grab it. You can also encourage your baby to stand and smack the inflatable ball or walk/crawl through the little door.

Expressive Language 

  • Encourage imitation by labeling/explaining as you go. Hold up a ball and say “ball”. Place the ball down the ramp and say “weeee” “go” or “down”. Smack the inflatable ball and say “boom”. Lots of praise for anything imitated. Use the little door and say “open” and “close”. Drop a ball and say “uh oh!”
  • Encourage independent word use. Hold up a ball and ask “what is this?”. Practice simple fill in by doing 1…2…3…go! and eventually letting baby fill in the word “go”. When baby wants to crawl through the door practice imitation of “open” and then eventually wait to see if he or she will use the word alone. You can also use ball go…”down”!
Pretty cool isn't it?
Pretty cool isn’t it?

18 to 24 months

Receptive Language

  • Simple verbs such as dance, throw, roll, bounce. Demonstrate as needed  and after some practice see if your baby can demonstrate on his/her own.
  • Simple object identification. Take a ball and a nearby toy or common object (spoon, book, train, car) and ask your baby to “get the ___” .
  • Simple one step directions (with help). If your baby is holding a ball, point to/touch a ramp and encourage him/her to place it there. Or, point to/touch a nearby ball and ask him/her to grab it. You can also encourage your baby to stand and smack the inflatable ball or walk/crawl through the little door.

Expressive Language

  • Putting two words together – you can pair things like “go ball”, “ball down”, “open door”, “throw ball” etc. You can also encourage this when requesting by using “ball please” or “more ball”

Social Skills

  • While your baby is playing, exclaim “wee” or “go” etc to encourage some joint attention, or the ability to look between you and the toy with eye contact.
  • Begin to encourage turn taking. Roll a ball down ramp and hand baby one for “his turn”. Wait and see if he/she hands you a ball or otherwise shows you he wants you to make it go.

24 to 36 months

Receptive Language

  • Following directions (without pointing or touching). Ask him/her to “hit the (inflatable) ball”, get the ball, put the ball down the ramp, spin the spinner, crawl/ walk through etc.
  • Simple verbs such as dance, throw, roll bounce. These can also be used as part of your direction following.
  • Begin color identification.
  • Pronouns me, my, you, your. While both of you are holding a ball, ask him/her to point to my/your ball, or take my/your ball and run it down the ramp. (Be sure you use “my/your” and not “mommy’s” for example)

Expressive Language

  • Encourage further expansion of sentences from 1-2 words to 2-3 or more words. Some examples include “red ball go”, “ball go down”, “open door please”. You can use these when requesting as well: “want ball please” “more ball please” “want ball down” etc.
  • Yes/no questions. Ask “should I roll the ball down this ramp?” “Do you want this ball?” “Do you want the red ball?”

Social Skills

  • While your baby is playing, exclaim “wee” or “go” etc to encourage some joint attention, or the ability to look between you and the toy with eye contact.
  • Continue to practice turn taking.

If you’re interested in purchasing one, you can find it on Amazon. Fisher-Price Cruise and Groove Ballapalooza

I realize I used a not necessarily well known toy for this first post however I liked it so much I had to start here. I’m also happy to take requests. If you liked this post please pass it on!

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