If I thought three months was bad before, now its been FOUR.

For those who are new to following this and simply because it has been so long, I’m creating a series of posts on popular baby/toddler toys and how you can use them to facilitate Speech and Language Development. My original post can be seen here

As with the last toys, an intro:

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.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Ball Pit

We received this toy as a belated birthday gift.

Age Range: 2 years plus. Let me just say right now that is baloney (bologna?). The twins were about 16 months old when we got it and they LOVE IT. I cannot stress how much they love this thing!

What it does: This one is pretty self explanatory. I mean, it’s a ball pit. It is a little different in that it has a big hole in the top, two big entryways on two sides and then an area where you can push balls in or out.

Likes: Um, everything. They love to climb in it, kick their feet, throw balls out the sides and through the holes (much to my dismay). Once, Miles watched an entire episode of Pocoyo in it.

I see better this way
I see better this way

Dislikes:  Two words: balls.everywhere. And it only comes with 20 balls.  Definitely invest in an extra bag of balls. For inflatable plastic, its a bit on the pricey side, depending on where you look.

Since I really think this toy could be enjoyable earlier than stated…..

12-18 months

Receptive Language

  • Appropriate play: does your baby pick up the balls and throw them? Will he push them through the holes? Put them in his mouth? (hey, that’s appropriate too)
  • Simple one step directions: There aren’t too many choices here as far as a “give me a ___” command, but you can ask her to give you a ball, push the ball through the hole, throw the ball etc, all with a gesture to help.
  • While baby plays say “stop” and “wait” and see if baby responds (not necessarily listens, but at least responds)
  • Begin identification of body parts using the balls. It sounds like a stretch but you can always take one and say “got your nose/ear/leg!” with it.
  • Object identification: have some simple objects lying around? (ball, shoe, spoon, etc). Throw them in the ball pit and ask your child to find one.

Expressive Language

  • Encourage imitation: If you’re like me and already feel like you say ball a bajilion times a day, be prepared to do it some more. Try to get your child to imitate ball, push, throw, go, anything that would be appropriate (or you could make appropriate). Play peek a boo or work on hi and bye.
  • Encourage independent word use: pick up a ball and ask “what is this?”. Again, choices are more limited here since it is a big pit of nothing but balls, but you can also encourage words like the ones listed above.

Social Skills

  • Poke your head through and say “hi!” and see if your child says hi back.
  • Talk to her about the balls or colors. Pause like you would in a conversation and see if she responds. Responses don’t have to be real words and don’t have to make sense – you are just looking for the social aspect or the start of back and forth conversation

18-24 months

Receptive Language

  • Picture identification: throw some puzzle pieces with basic pictures in and ask your child to find them.
  • Simple verbs: you may have to be a little more creative here but you can still do it. Roll, throw, kick, push would all be easy ones to use.
  • Simple direction following with and without help – you can try without first, and if he doesn’t seem to understand you can provide help (see 12-18 months).
  • Continue with identification of body parts – ask him to point to Mickey’s eyes or Pluto’s nose.

Expressive Language

  • Put two words together. You can pair things like “ ball in” or “throw/kick/roll ball”. You can also begin to label colors, like “red ball”.
  • Encourage independent word use: see above.
  • Begin practicing verb use (and 2 word combinations). See above.

Social Skills

  • While your baby is playing, comment on what he/she is doing or play along to encourage some joint attention, or the ability to look between you and the toy with eye contact.
  • Begin to encourage turn taking. Push a ball out of a hole and say “your turn!”
  • Talk to her about the ball. Pause like you would in a conversation and see if she responds. It doesn’t have to be sentences. Even if you say “Look at this pretty red ball” and he looks at you and responds “ball”, you are still practicing  social skills.

24 to 36 months

Receptive Language

  • Following directions without help. (see above)
  • Simple verbs like the ones described in 18-24 months. You can use these with your direction following
  • Begin color identification. With the multicolored balls this one is easy!
  • Pronouns me, my, you, your. Get a couple of cups/bowls and ask your child to put a ball in “my” or “your” bowl. Take the ball and touch “your” or “my” nose.
  • Begin spatial concepts such as in/out. You’ll probably get more out than in, though 🙂
  • You can use some simple adjectives such as smooth, squishy, shiny, soft.

Expressive Language

  • Encourage further expansion of sentences from 1-2 words to 2-3 or more words. Some examples include “ball go in”, “want ball please”. You can use these when requesting as well: “want house please” “more puzzle please” “want frog in” etc. Or try to throw some colors in: “want blue ball”.
  • Yes/no questions. Ask “do you want a ball?”
  • Continue with verb use – “roll ball” “kick ball” etc.

Social Skills

  • While your baby is playing, throw some balls out and exclaim “uh oh!” to encourage some joint attention, or the ability to look between you and the toy with eye contact.
  • Continue to practice turn taking.
  • Talk to her about the balls/colors. Pause like you would in a conversation and see if she responds. It doesn’t have to be sentences. Even if you say “Look at this pretty red ball” and he looks at you and responds “red ball”, you are still practicing  social skills. At this age though we like to see responses of at least 2-3 words.

Keep in mind that many of the ideas for older toddlers can be introduced earlier. For example, it never hurts to introduce spatial concepts (in/out), adjectives (rough, smooth) or verbs earlier. You aren’t likely to come across a 12 month old who will say or even point to something smooth, but he is always learning and more exposure is never a bad thing. You can also engage a preschooler by making a game of hide and seek, for example. Have him/her find objects mixed in the balls and ask him/her what you do with it. Or work on identifying colors, using adjectives, etc.

You can purchase this toy on Amazon. (this is about the best price I’ve found). Disney Mickey Having a Ball with 20 Balls.*

As always, requests are welcomed (and encouraged!) if you have a toy your child loves and you’d like some ideas on how to make it more functional for speech development. And please remember this is not meant to be an all encompassing list, just something you can use to help.

In case you missed the first three posts of this series:

Talk to Me Baby: The Cruise and Groove Ballapalooza

Talk to me Baby: Puppy and Friends Learning Table

Talk to Me Baby: Fisher Price Brilliant Basics Activity Puzzle.

*This post does contain an affiliate link. Typically though, Amazon has the best prices and I do a lot of shopping on there anyway. If you buy one through my link I’ll earn a few cents. Nothing big.