Sam Baron

03 December 2018

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Toys and games, which are great for communication

Toys and games, which are great for communication

At Christmas, there is so much choice for children that it is hard to know where to start (or stop) when it comes to presents.

Here, we share some top tips for toys and games for the under 5s, at each age and stage, which are great fun and great for communication skills.

Which toy?

At Christmas there’s a lot of choice of what to buy your children so here’s a short guide to what toys and games are great fun and great for communication. It also includes a bit about why these are good and how you can use them.

It’s so easy to end up spending a lot of money, though often where children are concerned – you are the best toy in the box!

Age 0-1

Toy / game ideas

  • Bath toys – make noises as you play like ‘splish, splash, splosh’. Comment on what you’re doing, for example, ‘Whee we’re pouring’, ‘washing your nose, washing your hair, washing your fingers.’
  • Rattles, shakers, bright and noisy toys – if you have two shakers or rattles, then you and your baby can shake these together. If not, take turns to rattle and shake.
  • Just you needed! Peek–a–boo game –hide your face behind your hands, or hide it behind a scarf and then show your face and say ‘peek-a-boo’. Wait for different amounts of time before you show your face to your baby. Make very over the top faces.

What children like doing at this age

  • Children are exploring toys and objects and finding out how they work e.g. shaking them, touching them and feeling them – putting them in their mouth
  • They look closely at what adults do, copy what they do and are interested in their faces.
  • Toys that have lots of different textures and can be explored easily and put safely in children’s mouths are good at this age.

Age 1-2

Toy / game ideas

  • Building blocks and stacking games – stack towers of blocks or bricks and take turns with your child whilst building. Before you knock it over, build anticipation by saying, ‘Ready…..steady…..GO!’
  • Simple pretend toys: Cars, trucks, planes, dollies, plastic phone – push the cars and trucks etc. and make noises, such as ‘brrrm brrrm’. Cuddle dolly and give them a kiss, or hold the phone to your ear and speak into it and then give it to your child to do the same.
  • Simple inset jigsaw – pull out all the pieces and help your child to put them in. Help with learning the words by naming the pieces – ‘Oh, you picked the cow… mooo’ or comment e.g. ‘That’s it, turn it round. Yay, it’s in the hole!’

What children like doing at this age

  • Children begin to be able to hold and manipulate objects. They’re still exploring how things work, learning by trying things out,making mistakes and trying again. Adults or older children can help by commenting or suggesting different things to try and praising when they get it right.
  • They’re developing early stages of ‘pretend play’, where they understand a pretend object e.g. toy car. It represents a real thing and they use these as they are used in real life. This idea of pretending is really important when learning to talk.
  • They still look to adults to copy what they do and begin to show an interest in other children by looking at them and maybe playing alongside, but may not join in with them.

Age 2-3

Toy / game ideas

  • Pretend toys e.g. tea parties, shops with pretend food – Have a pretend tea party with your child and get a dolly and teddy involved. Pour tea and let dolly / teddy drink. Add language ‘Look, teddy is drinking’ or ‘Dolly is thirsty, she wants a drink….mmmmm’ Give food to them and name this. Once your child knows the food name you can ask them, for example, ‘What shall we give teddy to eat?’
  • Scribbling and mark making toys – scribblers, chalk, playdough. Draw lines or shapes for your child to attempt to copy and let them make whatever mark they want to make and copy what they do. Roll shapes in playdough – like balls and snakes.
  • Sets of toy figures – duplo figures, Lego men, dollies – play with these and talk to them / get figures to talk to each other e.g. ‘I go in the car’, ‘no, no it’s my turn’ ‘it’s my car’ or make up a story about the toys, where they are going and why…

What children like doing at this age

  • At this age children are beginning to develop their language. Their ability to understand words grows quickly and they begin to express themselves by joining words together.
  • Children’s imagination really begins to develop and so they have pretend sequences in play and copy what people do in real life e.g. drink and eat.
  • As their understanding of language develops quickly, they begin to use words in play e.g. ‘more drink’ ‘baby drink’.
  • Their mark making at this age begins to take shape beyond just scribbling and they can make some marks such as horizontal and vertical marks.

Age 3-4

Toy / game ideas

  • Kitchen sets – encourage sequences of play, such as choosing the food to prepare, preparing it, cooking it and then serving it up. Ask what’s happening in their game, add other elements in to get them thinking – ‘Ah look, here comes teddy, can he stay for tea too’. You can begin to add more complex language so not just ‘cut’ but also ‘chop’ and ‘slice’. Add descriptive words like ‘It’s too hot’, ‘I want a big plate please’
  • Dressing up and role-play / making dens – let your child dress up and pretend to be e.g. a policeman, a princess. Ask them questions like e.g. ‘What is your name?’, ‘What are you doing?’ Make a den out of sheets and chairs and pretend it is a den or a spaceship for example.
  • Simple interactive games – any simple board games or simple turn taking games can be great fun – e.g. pop-up-pirate, Monkey business game encourage lots of taking turns, working out who is next. Build up the tension with ‘oo’s’ and ‘aah’s’ to make it even more fun. All children love these interactive, fun games.

What children like doing at this age

  • Children continue to develop their imaginative play and show interest in playing with other children, dressing up and pretending to be other people e.g. a princess. They begin to show play with more complicated pretend sequences e.g. in the kitchen, at the shop.
  • They still use trial and error to understand games but also are developing reasoning skills and strategies to play a game.
  • Their language also develops so they begin to understand and use some describing words and canmunderstand simple, ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions.

Age 4-5

Toy / game ideas

  • Cash register – with pretend money – extends previous play opportunities by now adding money and numbers. Pretend to pay for food and ask for change etc. Take on roles of being shopkeeper and shopper with your children. Begin to use language to make a complaint, to pretend you have forgotten your purse etc.
  • Construction toys – Meccano sets and Lego – see what weird and wonderful things you can construct
  • Lotto games and table-top board games –such as snakes and ladders

What children like doing at this age

  • Children from this age begin to enjoy table-top board games (but may not cope well with losing) and co-operate in these and take turns, as well as understanding simple rules of games.
  • They’re developing understanding of concepts such as numbers and letters and these can be used in play e.g. pretend money.

Age 5+

Toy / game ideas

  • Make-believe and role-play linked to everyday experiences – e.g. school, X-factor. This may be involving you or may be with your children’s friends.
  • Arts and crafts – e.g. paper chain decorations, baking, painting, collages, drawing – Your children can become more responsible for helping you with cooking and can stir and weigh ingredients. They can now cut out and stick and become really creative!
  • Developing interests – e.g. bird watching, swords and armies, knitting, favourite sports person – some children like to keep a scrap book with pictures or collect stamps or football stickers for example. Ask them to show you these and ask open questions such as, ‘Can you tell me about this picture?’ to allow them to talk to you using long sentences. Add comments as well as asking questions. For example, ‘Wow, I love this picture, look how high that bird is flying.’

What children like doing at this age

  • As children are beginning to have their own separate experiences they like to make-believe and role play these. Children begin to play together in groups and create their own rules and stories as they go along.
  • Children develop their own interests and often like to talk about this one topic more than any other.
  • Using open questions has been shown to help children with their learning and thinking skills and helps them to develop their talking.

Which book?

Don’t forget to get reading! Books are an excellent way to interact with your children and no matter how old they are it’s never too early to look at books together. The younger your child is, then the more visual and tactile the book should be. For example, books that are made of material and that can go in the bath are great for babies who are exploring things and touching them and putting them in their mouth.

Pictures really help children as they get older to work out what your words mean and as they point at pictures, you can tell them what they’re pointing at – ‘Look, it’s a doggie’.

As your child’s language develops, they can take the lead and start the talking, whilst you listen. Let them open the book at any page they choose, wait to see what they say and then reply.

For example:

  • Child says, ‘Doggie, Molly’
  • Adult says, ‘Yes, you’re right, the dog is a black dog, like Molly is’

Bookstart has lots of ideas of books that are good for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers –

You can also try your local library, who may be able to order books for you that are not currently in their stock or email Bolton Libraries via

(article originally published by the Communication Trust as part of their Hello Campaign)