Best Toys & Techniques for Targeting Language in Toddlers with Speech Delay


I’m re-publishing a list of toys I LOVE and use in my practice as a speech-language pathologist with babies and toddlers during speech therapy.

I also have a whole series of short 10 to 15 minute FREE videos with FANTASTIC ideas for using many of these toys. Check them out on my Videos Page or in with all of the posts for Therapy Tip of the Week.

Before you run out and buy toys listed below, remember that no toy can substitute for an engaged, nurturing, responsive, and FUN adult as a play partner for a language delayed toddler!

I pick from this list of toys everyday and have great luck with them in eliciting sounds, words, signs, and social interaction. Probably the main reason they’re successful is because I am PLAYING (not observing) WITH the toddler. Don’t neglect that as a common denominator when you’re deciding what makes a good toy for your child!

You’ll find a list of categories with the best toys for speech therapy, a general description for how I use the toy, and also a suggested list of early words to teach.


The following are the toys and games I use during movement parts of the session to get a kid going at the beginning when he’s not attending to me OR when I feel like I am “losing” him, especially between sit-down activities. I believe that ALL of us need to move, especially when we’re learning something brand new like talking, so that we stay regulated, focused, and on alert. A lethargic, inattentive, BORED child is not in an optimal state for interacting or communicating. GET UP AND MOVE!


No-spill bubble containers changed my life! I love the smaller ones with characters on the sticks that kids recognize. You can find them at major retailers (WalMart, Target, Meijer, Toys R Us, etc…) – especially when the spring/summer toys start coming out. I do not use the automatic blower types because I want kids to learn to blow. Imitating blowing is a great way to get toddlers to start to imitate any kind of mouth movement.

Target words – bubbles, pop, more, mine, please, blow, all gone, wet, yucky, in, out, plus character names. Right now I’m using a Dora set with Dora, Boots, and Diego. It’ s been a big hit!


The most cautious mothers on my caseload nearly have a heart attack when I bring these out, but with adult supervision, balloons are always fun and a GREAT movement activity. Several years ago we did discover that one of my little clients had a severe latex allergy when her face began to swell right before our very eyes, so be careful and attentive! I never let toddlers blow up the balloons because of the choking hazard, but some adventurous mothers do let them try (especially those with several older children!).

Target words – balloon, blow, more, mine, please, up, down, throw, catch, hit, kick, color words (If a kid is really into colors.)

Phlat Ball

This is a newer toy for older children, but I use it with toddlers everyday.  It’s a ball that can be pushed flat and then pops open. You can find it at most major retailers, and it’s usually on the aisle with the Nerf toys. Toddlers need help to learn to push the ball flat, and their little fingers can get caught in the edges, so save this toy for play with a parent or older child.

The directions talk about throwing the ball and letting it pop open in the air, but I use it on the floor. It’s a great toy for sensory-seekers and kids who crave deep pressure. I also use it for turn-taking practice since the turns are fast and fun, even if you’re not the one who gets to push the ball.

Target Words – ball, push, pop, mine, more, please, roll, kick, surprise, scary (“not scary”)

Bowling Sets

I love this game for 2 1/2 year olds and up. You can practice turn taking, do LOTS of running/moving, and it’s also great for learning to WAIT until something is ready to play. For kids who can’t wait, you can start by having them knock down one pin, then run get the ball while you set up two pins, and then gradually increase the time they wait for the pins. It’s a good verb & preposition game – roll, catch, fix, throw, stand up, knock down, etc… It also lends itself to lots of cheering – good for kids who are still non-verbal at this age who need to practice learning to use their voices. Try the standard, “Yay,” but also “ooh” and “aah” and even, “Oh man!” when you miss the pins completely.

Inflatable Bouncer Toys

If you have the room in your basement or another larger room, a good investment is one of the blow up bouncy sets. Kids can jump, and jump, and jump. If the set is durable enough and I don’t exceed the weight limit, I jump too. (Or I get skinnier Mommy to jump). When I ran a playgroup program in my clinic, this was a standard warm-up activity. Once kids are regulated, they are more likely to attend and learn. Great target word too – JUMP! Also fall, crash, down, up, in, out, stop, go, etc….

Launchers – (Hot Wheels Motorcycle Set, Wind Up Cars, etc.).

Another kind of “movement” activity is to use a set that launches vehicles so kids have to go retrieve them. You can find toy launchers for planes, cars, motorcycles, etc… I use wind up cars/trucks for this same kind of task.

The girl version of this toy is Sky Dancer, a Barbie-like princess that “flies”off a launcher. This is an older toy that’s no longer available due to a recall, but if you’d still like to try it, please use it only with careful adult supervision.

Target words – Ready, Set, Go!, wind, car/truck/plane/bike (motorcycle is usually too difficult for the kids I see to say), crash, roll, fly, etc… This is a great one to practice the directions, “Go get the _____,” “Bring it back,” and “Come here,” since the child is going to return to you anyway for another turn. Don’t forget to practice “help” since the toddler will likely not be able to operate this toy on his own.


This is a cute game with an elephant that blows butterflies out of his trunk. You stand up and use nets to catch the butterflies as they blow all over the place. This is a great early game to use with peers and siblings since a kid doesn’t have to take turns or share per se. You can gets lots of language too talking about the butterflies and the whole reloading process. I use this game often to target “ing” verbs when a child is ready- flying, catching, blowing, holding, running, walking, dropping, etc…

Musical Instruments

When I use these at all, I get up and have a parade. It’s a great social activity too since kids don’t have to take lots of turns, but are playing “with” other kids. Other therapists may recommend sitting in a circle?and trading instruments to play, but I love to MARCH!


This is a huge cognitive concept to master. Most typically developing children master this concept at/near 1 year of age. Some kids who have sensory issues, especially those with autism spectrum disorders, may even get “stuck” in this kind of play.

If I am seeing a child and they haven’t mastered this kind of play yet, this is where we start. Kids have to learn that they can have control/power in their worlds. If a kid doesn’t get this, he’s not going to be ready to talk yet since requesting with language is an extension of this concept. They have to learn, “I have to DO something to GET something.”

I like lots of these kinds of toys and all for the same reasons.  I start with toys that are appealing, but have only one kind of movement to make something happen. I like the Fisher Price spiral race track, and there’s a newer cooler one with the “Cars” movie theme. All a kid has to do is push the lever, and the cars slide down swirly lanes to the bottom. Kids will try to imitate the car noise, “Vroom, vroom.” It’s a little tricky to get the cars put back in the top to get ready to race again, but you can work on the word/sign for “help,” since it does require adult assistance.

I love Jack in the Boxes that operate with one push of the button. (Save the wind up kind for later.) My favorite one is from Discovery Toys, and it has a clown that’s removable. I always start with words like more, push, open, close, in, out, bye-bye, and my favorite,”Boo,” when the clown pops up.

Fisher Price has many toys geared to the concept of cause and effect. There’s a turtle that you place the balls in his open shell, and the child can push his head down to make the balls spin. Their Gumball Machine is also similar since you push the lever and the balls fall down. Other ball toys are listed in the next section down under “balls.”

Any Poppin’ Pals toy is also good for cause and effect, but sometimes frustrating because some of the switches are too hard to master without adult help. I like to practice saying, “bye” to all the animals/characters as you close the doors. Other vocabulary – push, turn, open, close, animal/character name. Good for working on receptive vocabulary too for these concepts, way before a kid can say these words.

Other toys that fall into this category are the bells/whistles/lights toys.  For some kids, this is a place to start if you can’t get them interested in playing with any other toy in any other way. However, I don’t stay here long, and I beg parents not to let their children play only with this toy to the exclusion of others, especially if their child is struggling with social interaction. Read the article titled, “Ditch the Bells and Whistles” if you’re haven’t yet, or are still not sure why I feel this way.


Ball and Hammer Toys

This is a standard toy with lots of versions available. The one I’m using now is made by the Parents line from Target. I like it because the hammer squeaks, and it has a clear front so kids can watch the ball fall into the hole, slide over a wheel, into a tunnel, and out the door.

Target words – ball, hammer, in, hole, out, door, hit (it), bang, boom, mine, more, please, down, I got it (When the ball comes out of the door, I grab it away before the child can get it and say, “I got it!” I can’t tell you how many kids have started to try to imitate and say a 2-3 word phrase using this “game.”)

Other Ball Toys

Balls are a big hit with the toddler set. Sometimes it’s the only word I can get spontaneously for a while, so I try to rotate several different ball toys to keep it fresh and fun.  Here’s a description of the other ball toys I use (You’ll have to wait for the final version of this article for the exact names. These toys are so old that I don’t remember the real names.)

  • Tomy has one that looks like a gumball machine. The kid pulls the lever and the balls come out. Different Target word – pull
  • Fisher Price has a cute one that looks like a bug. There’s a hole for the ball that looks like its mouth is open. It plays cute music while the balls fall, so we can work on “dancing” to the music in imitation.


My favorite blocks are an OLD set from Tupperware. They are plastic, and they open so you can hide small animals/characters in them.

I also like a new set of graduated-sized stacking blocks that a mom just gave me as a gift. They’re cardboard, so they won’t last forever with the kind of abuse my toys get, but they have darling artwork with great vocabulary choices (plus ABC’s, but that’s not important). They are from Walmart, and I think it’s from their cheaper, in-house line of toys. Most of the kids I see like to stack them up high and (you guessed it), knock them over, but they are having fun putting them back in the larger one. You can target size words with these, “Get the big one,” or “That one is little.”  I love anything with “fall down” as the gag, because I can get kids to do it over and over again. I used to have a cute bucket set of graduated sizes so you could either stack or place them all in one. Same benefits.

Shape Sorters

As a rule I don’t like shape sorters for language because parents are always expecting their kids to say “circle” or “triangle,” when their kids can’t even say “milk” or “ball.” But I have found one that I like. It’s by Parents (I got it from Target), and it has an animal on top of the shape. The thing I love is that it makes a cool sound when the animal/shape goes in and down the chute. You can still practice the matching concept (a very important cognitive skill), but it’s an attention getter, and not as boring as the traditional shape sorter.

VOCABULARY BUILDING (more sit down activities)

Potato Heads

I have collected lots of these sets over the years as well. This is a basic vocabulary building activity since you can target body parts and basic clothing items such as hats and shoes. They even have sets now with purses and earrings and other “themed” sets related to holidays and children’s characters. Get the giant 2.5 size gallon ziplock bags so you can keep all of your accessories together. I would definitely use this during parent-child playtime only so your pieces don’t get lost.

Little Linguist

This is probably the only electronic toy I’ve ever loved. It’s made by Neurosmith and not in production anymore. You can still find used ones on e-bay occasionally. This comes with 15 or so familiar objects that are placed into the base, and the toy says the name or makes the sound when you push the appropriate button. This toy was originally made to teach other languages to children, and you could use the cartridge for English, French, Spanish, Japanese, etc… Since I see language delayed children, and they are struggling to learn one language, I never used or recommended the other cartridges. If you can track this one down, it’ll be worth your time and effort.


I own an embarrassing number of wooden, inset puzzles, but they are “gold” when it comes to targeting language. These are cheap ($3-$10) and most toddlers love to do them. You can find them now with any kind of theme – farm animals, zoo animals, transportation, food, bath time, toys, etc… Stay away from ABCs, colors, & numbers until your child is really talking. Stick to ones with words your kid needs to learn to expand his vocabulary.

Puzzles are also great for targeting receptive language. After you’ve had your child name the piece going in (or choosing from a choice of 2 is even better), you can have him, “Get the _____,” to clean up the pieces. You can expand receptive language more by asking him tougher questions, “Which one says moo?” “Which one flies?” Which one goes in the water?”  “Which one do you wear on your feet?”



This is the very best and easiest early pretend activity you can do. For dads who are too macho to let their boys play with obviously girl dolls, try a boy doll, or a character doll, or stuffed animal. Get lots of accessories to use. My basic set includes cups, spoons, a fork, bowl/plate, bottles of milk and juice, blanket, carrier, brush, hats, shirts, diapers, wipes, socks or shoes, a few pieces of plastic food, and a “toy” for the baby. There are so many things you can use this for to target both receptive and expressive language.  You can give lots of directions, “Feed the baby.” You can expand to higher level receptive concepts, “She’s sleepy. What should she do?” You can have your child request for every single thing you’re going to do with the dolls. It’s endless and a must-have activity for every toddler.

Target Words – baby, (all of the nouns/names for all of the accessories you’re using), plus all of the verbs/action words you can do with dolls – wash, eat, sleep, drink, jump, walk, dance, swing, night-night, etc…, plus the prepositions/location words you can target – clothing items can be put on/off, baby can be put in/out of various things, baby can climb up, fall down, etc…. Descriptive Words – big, little, wet, dry, yucky, stinky, pretty, etc…

Plastic Food

My favorite plastic food sets are the ones that can be cut into pieces with the pretend knife. These usually come with Velcro to attach the halves back together. Many therapy catalogues sell them, but you can find them cheaper at major retailers too. I often play with this with dolls once a child can sequence lots of actions. I like to use plastic foods with a pretend kitchen or pretend microwave to “cook” the food too. The microwave is always a huge hit! Look for one of these too!

Target Words – cut, eat, cook, all done, plus all of the names/nouns of the foods

Pretend Playground, Farm, House

I use these kinds of toys often once a kid understands and gets past cause and effect/object permanence, and has started to do some early pretending with dolls. Fisher Price makes lots of good toys in this category. I use the barn quite a bit and the house occasionally. I use an older version of the Little People slide with attachable swing almost every day.

I play with the Little People, but I also collect other little plastic characters for kids preferences. McDonald’s used to offer lots of these kinds of toys with Happy Meals, so I have gathered quite of collection of lots of different people since the mid-90s. You can also buy other little characters solo in the giant retailers. Favorite ones for kids I see now are Dora, Diego, Swiper, Boots, Elmo, Mr. Noodle, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Teletubbies, Woody, Buzz, Jessie, etc…

My friend who is a Developmental Interventionist loves the Fisher Price Lovin’ Family sets & accessories. This is great for pretending with Mama, Dada, baby, sister, brother, and even grandma.

You can often find these toys at garage sales and tag sales to save a buck or two. Look in children’s consignment stores or second hand toy stores for these items as well.

Target words – endless depending on your activity. Try to get several of these kinds of sets. It’s a keeper!

Zoo Animals, Farm Animals, Dinosaurs

I have many sets of these since they are so versatile and great for vocabulary building. Try to find big/little ones to work on size and pretend using the whole family concept.

For my zoo animals, I play zoo by putting the animals into their “cages” using a Chico shape sorter toy with colored keys to open the matching doors.

I use dinosaurs with sand in a small Rubbermaid container with a top so I can lug it in and out of my car and control spills. This is great alternative for a larger sandbox if you don’t have the space, or when it’s too cold. Toys R Us sells clean sand in small bags.

ThomasThe Train

I used several Thomas toys often before the whole lead scare, but I still have one set that I really love. It’s Carry Around Thomas, and it comes only with one small wind up Thomas, 2 horses, 2 trees, a bridge, and a clock that all conveniently fits inside a green case. I have been looking to buy a new one of these since my Thomas is getting old, and I’m not having much luck at the major retailers. For little boys (or girls!) who love trains, this is a winner.

Target words – nouns/names for items in set & train names, choo-choo, go, stop, crash, fix, tunnel (even if you have to make one by unfolding a cardboard book over the tracks).

I generally stay away from all of the Tickle Me toys because the use is usually so limited, but I LOVE one particular Cookie Monster toy. He can actually “eat” the plastic cookies you give him, and it goes into his backpack. I use this with any other plastic food that will fit in his mouth. It’s an older toy, but you still may be able to find it on e-bay. Search for “Puffalump Cookie Monster.”


Candy Land Castle

This is the brand new toddler/preschool version, not the traditional board game.  It has a castle to hold colored, plastic shapes.  The shapes fall out of the castle’s door when you pull the candy cane lever. You match shapes to your gingerbread board. I don’t use this game with kids until they can sit through several turns, can match pretty well, and are talking using lots of functional words. At this point I do go ahead and talk about color and shape names, but ONLY if they have lots of other “real” language first. This is a good one to use with older siblings too so that your toddler can participate in a “game.” For kids who can’t/won’t take turns yet and get too upset when I try to force the issue, I set out several game boards and find the matching shape together. Again I focus on more functional?phrases – my turn, I got it, I pull, I need more, more please, etc…. rather than the shape’s name. Lots of kids I see are learning colors, so they may say, “red one,” or “I got/have blue,” rather than the shape’s name, and this?is fine with me.

Lucky Ducks

This is a cute matching game with a “pond” so that the baby ducks can swim and around in the water. The object of the game is to match the shape and color on the bottom of the duck to the one you have in front of you, or the older version, where you match the duck to the “lily pad” with the same color. For kids who can’t/won’t match yet, I have them ask me for “duck” to put in the water. This game “quacks” continuously when it’s on, so it’s also good for facilitating an animal sound. I also practice “on/off” for pushing the button to start and stop the game. Put your hand over the button until your child asks for “on,” or “go,” or “more.”

Fishin’ Around

This is another cute matching game. The fish swim around the water and swim under a “slide” or “bridge.” You turn it on by pressing a turtle’s shell. There are fishing poles and matching cards too when your child gets over the initial fascination of watching the fish go around and around. I use this one for lots of requesting practice at the phrase level – “More fish please,” “Give me fish,” “I need (a) fish.”



I love playdoh for kids after 2 1/2 when they no longer want to eat it! I especially love the little sets. My favorite one is the Barber Shop set because you can make the man’s hair grow and then cut it with scissors. It’s very fun and can last a long time – good for kids who want to move on after only a few minutes. I also use cookie cutter shapes – those that come with the sets and then other real cookie cutters I’ve added. Add a rolling pin, plastic knife, and child scissors. This is especially good for kids with tactile defensiveness/sensory issues who want to play, but refuse to touch the playdoh.

Don’t forget to make your own playdoh creations too. Every kid loves to make snakes and balls. Try snowmen. My favorite is making a birthday cake complete with a little candle so you can sing, “Happy Birthday,” and pretend to blow out the candle.

This is another good activity for action words/verbs – push, pull, roll, cut, etc…


Some toddlers love to draw (My own daughter wanted to do this for hours from age 24 months on, but her brothers did not!), so I use washable markers and giant sheets of paper (or the backs of my progress notes).  Try to draw things to label instead of shapes and letters.

Threading/Stringing Sets

I lucked out several years ago and found plastic beads in the arts/crafts section at WalMart in the shape of farm animals and people complete with plastic strings for threading/stringing. Many 2 1/2 + year olds have loved this. You may also find sets with larger blocks and geometric patterns. My OT and DI friends love that I work on this too! I don’t like to do it unless I can get some “language” mileage too, so look for objects with different pictures or of different shapes of real things (not just a circle, bead, block, etc…).


I do not recommend or use these with kids unless they LOVE them. Otherwise, they will get plenty of this later in preschool/school-age speech therapy. IF I am working with a child who loves it, the way I make it more age-appropriate and fun is to do something with the cards vs. sitting at the table with them.  For example, this winter I found a cute plastic snowman bucket with a top. I cut a slit in the top so kids can drop the card in. You can make one using an ice cream bucket.

Other ideas – hide the cards around the room and let your child run around to find them. Or use them with a puppet or another toy that can “eat” the cards. When I use this activity at all, I only do it for the amount of time a child wants to. If that’s only 3 cards, so be it. BEG your SLP to move on to “play-based” therapy activities if your child hates these. It will take more work on your therapist’s part, and it’s not as efficient, but it’s not worth the fight if he doesn’t want to sit and do them.


I prefer to use books with one or only a few real photographs per page during therapy, but as parents, you do need begin reading very simple books as soon as your child can tolerate it. If he can sit and listen to a whole story, by all means, do this as often as he’ll let you. If not, try just pointing to the pictures, labeling the object, give a brief 2-3 word phrase about the objects’ function, and then move on. I use the Bright Baby books (almost) everyday. Other repetitive theme books by authors like Sandra Boynton , Good Night Moon, and Eric Carle’s Brown Bear and Polar Bear books are also hits with toddlers. I also like books that give you directions to follow, such as Barney Says or Elmo Says.


The only CD I recommend with any regularity is “Time To Sing.” It’s produced by a man whose son has apraxia because he was disheartened by the fast pace of most children’s CDs. His son wanted to sing, but couldn’t keep up. It has beautiful orchestral accompaniment for the slower tempos. Better yet – sing the songs yourself without the CD and keep it s-l-o-w!


If you’re an SLP and need help choosing toys to address specific goals, need better “how to” directions, and want help organizing your goals and activities, take a look at my book Teach Me To Talk: The Therapy Manual.

Teach Me To Talk Therapy Manual


If you’re a parent and want to SEE play-based speech therapy with toddlers, check out my best-selling DVD Teach Me To Talk. Clips from the DVD are in the post!


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  1. danamoore on April 4, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Something our preschool teacher uses and the children really like is “Fridge Phonics” which has plastic letters and numbers and fits into a small player that says the letter name and sound and the vowels even have the long and short sounds. It also has numbers and will count up to the number displayed. I think this can be purchased at any of the big chains.

    Dana Moore

  2. SpeechTherapyMom on May 25, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    This is a great list and I love how you broke it down into categories. This will be very helpful for parents. I’d love you to check out my site. I am also a speech pathologist and have a website aimed at providing information on speech and language development and tips for parents of speech delayed children.


  3. Yvonne on August 20, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Another great article Laura! I have several of the toys you mentioned, and they are big favorites. I discovered several “new” ones I want to try now. Thank you!

    I wanted to add a recommendation to your “threading/stringing sets.” Lakeshore Learning as a great set with cats, dogs, frogs and pigs. They are made of a soft vinyl material, and the holes are bigger. They also slide onto a “string” with a base at one end. What I love about these is that they are a little easier to use, and the kids don’t go silent on me just because they’re trying to get the fine motor piece together. (I’ll let the OT deal with those more intricate stringing activities!)

    I just purchased them a few weeks ago,and my kiddos have already demonstrated many different ways to use them. We say “whee” or “whoop” as the link falls down the string. We label/sign the animals. We can sort the animals, or sort the colors. (Each animal is in a different color.) We work on animal sounds, and “hop” for the bunny and frog.

    Today I worked with a kiddo for the third time. She has not imitated many of my models, but with this she got a kick out of taking the strings and shaking them together. Her mom and I modeled “shake-shake-shake” and a glottal raspberry type sound, and she actually tried to imitate it. We then said “boom” when we cleaned up and threw the pieces in the box. Several times,she did it with a “boo.” It was great!

    Another favorite is a cash register. LakeShore Learning (One of my all time favorite places, can you tell?) has a really simple one that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. We work on requesting the coins/money. please/more/thankyou/in/open/out/whee/pop/ help/click/stuck/uh-oh/where?

    I’ll also block the opening, and work on “move” or “move please,” if they want to put the money in the hole. The kids love it.

    One last favorite to mention… Melissa and Doug make a barn puzzle with doors. Behind each door is a magnetic puzzle piece. They have animals, a farmer and an airplane. We work on knock-knock/open/close/door/in/labeling/animal noises/where? We can also make the airplane and birds “fly up/down.” I work on the receptive part by having them clean-up the piece I label.

    I know at one time they made one that was a house, but I don’t think they make it any longer, and I haven’t been able to find one for my collection.

    As an SLP it’s great for the therapy bag, because the pieces stay put.

    Thanks again for all your great ideas!

  4. Laura on August 20, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks for the ideas Yvonne! Laura

  5. Amy Pellerin on September 3, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Laura, I have been in the field of EI for almost 15 years and love your toy article. I have almost every one that you described! It’s a great resource to give parents as well. One of my all time favorites that is not made any longer is the Discovery Toys Stack and Pop. Once in a while you can find one on E-bay, but they are pricey. The basic Fisher Price cash register is also back at Toys R Us and for $12.99 it’s another oldie, but goodie. Thanks for your great posts! Amy Pellerin

  6. Laura on September 3, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Amy – Thanks so much for the tip about the cash register. I haven’t had one in a long time, so I hope I can detour to Toys R Us this week to get one. Toys with pieces that can go in and out with a push of a button are big hits with our crowd, huh? I have never had a Stack and Pop, but I am going to look for that one too. Let me know your other secrets! Laura

  7. Annette on September 4, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I just wanted to add another toy idea, iin addition to the other fabulous ones listed. Magnetic Books. The books I found are from Cheeky Monkey Publishing, and boy do they have a wide variety of books that really keep a kid’s attention!

    We’ve used the Dressing Up book, the On the Move book, and the Doll House book. Each book has magnetic pieces that you use to dress the characters, learn about vehicles/boats kites, airplanes, etc. And of course, the Doll House book has dishes, food items and furnishings to learn about. Jake loves them, and we get to label tons of objects, talk about what each item does and learn it’s proper place in the pictures and at home.

    Check them out if you get the chance..

    We also love to use puppets. They get the taking turns part of our “conversations” going.

    Thanks for the great article and helpful information. I love your “target words” listed with the toys. I have a lot of those toys, and some of the words you listed, I didn’t even think of!
    Thanks again!

  8. Stacy on October 16, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    Great list. I work in early intervention (0-3) and I use most of these. The ball pounder is a perennial favorite. After the child pounds the ball down I grab it when it comes out of the opening and say “my turn” and do it once myself. They then need to request the ball back from me in some way.
    I do flash cards with a few of my older kiddos as vocabulary builders. We talk about the pictures (what is it, what color, etc) then I have them get up and take the card to show the parent and tell them about the card. Parents usually instinctively understand to ask similar questions “whats on your card”, etc.
    I love wooden puzzles too. There are some out now that have a metal peg in each piece and a magnet that is used to get the piece back out (think fish and a fishing pole). I always say the name of the shape even if I don’t expect the child to say it. I do have some children who have learned their shape names this way- same with the shape sorters. We also say “in”, “out”, “turn it” (so it fits), etc.

  9. Amy on January 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Great article! One favorite that was not mentioned was the use of technology. My son who has a speech delay loves the websites and These websites are so fun and interactive it keeps the child engaged for long period of time. Another great tool is the I-pad and using Carl (app) to help initate talking/pronunciation.

  10. Laura on January 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Amy – Because the American Academy of Pediatricss recommends NO screen time (TV, DVD, Computer, or video games) for children under 2 with only limited viewing during the preschool years, I can’t recommend using technology to teach very young children to communicate. Children learn how to talk from other people, and namely, their parents. While these ideas may benefit some children, they’re actually counterproductive for others who need to spend more time with real people to strengthen the social connections that are absolutely required to help children learn language.

  11. Sam on April 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Hi Laura!

    Just wanted to post this for your readers, it’s the website for the toy company that now makes several of the toys that you and Kate talk about on the podcast (they used to be under the “Parents” label, I believe?):

    They make the ball and hammer toy, the gumball machine, and the animal hospital with the keys (now called “Critter Clinic”). I’ve also had major success with their drum set and instruments (called “Parum Pum Pum” on the site) with all kinds of kids–I use them to work on verbs and draw some kids into even interacting with me and setting up an imitation chain in the first place! I have purchased all of these toys at my local Target–they should have a section of an aisle dedicated specifically to “B.” toys.

    Thanks for the great suggestions in the first place, Laura!

  12. Leo Magan on May 2, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Hi Laura, it’s great that you have such an organized list of what toys to play, and more importantly, reminders about how to play and enjoy. I’ll be happy to point my speech and language therapy clients to your list, they’re always asking about my toys!

    I’ll like to share something that most of my parents already had but did not recognize its potential- stacking rings! Especially for children with autism, they’re a great way to get eye contact, and improve social interaction and turn-taking skills.

    Many of my therapy clients have learnt words such as: yes / no and especially the use of ‘I’ and ‘you’ or other pronouns that are often challenging for children with language difficulties, especially children with autism. It can be played with any number of children or adults too, the more the merrier!

  13. Shad on July 23, 2011 at 5:22 am

    My wife found your website last week and we have been using the information on it to begin working with our two year old. I only wish we had found it 3 months ago when we originally called to have him evaluated. It took 3 months from when my wife made the first call to when he had his first therapy session yesterday. Just using the information from this site over the last week seems to be helping, so it would have been great to have found it sooner.

    We went out looking at toys at Toys R Us and saw they are making a new version of the Cookie Monster with the backpack that eats the plastic cookies. It is called Count and Crunch Cookie Monster. This one also has some electronics that have Cookie Monster talk.

    We already have a PlayDough set that has little food molds so you can make food and feed it to Cookie Monster. The set is called Cookie Monster’s Letter Lunch. The set has a Cookie Monster whose mouth opens so you can feed him.

  14. Laura on July 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Shad – It often takes a while to get services going, so I’m glad you’re finding the ideas here on the website helpful. That’s the reason I do this! Thanks for the info on the new Cookie Monster. I haven’t seen that toy yet, and another SLP emailed me about it this week too. It’s not like the toy I have listed above, but it does sound like it will be fun and enticing for toddlers which ultimately will help you in your attempts to engage him and teach him to talk. I’d also encourage you to check out my DVD Teach Me To Talk which will demonstrate play-based activities for you and your wife to use with him at home even after you begin therapy. Children whose parents take a very active role in therapy have much better outcomes than those whose parents expect therapy sessions alone to do the trick. I’m glad you two already know that! Good luck with everything you’re doing to help him, and let me know if you have other questions! Laura

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Teach Me To Talk Testimonials

Happy Therapists, Teachers, Parents & Children

"I purchased the book on autism and have watched the #400s series podcasts. Laura Mize has been more effective in teaching autistic tendencies, than many professors, shadowing professions, and the 100s of books, articles and classes or videos, or live workshop speakers, have been at teaching effective practices for a child with ASD. Some of the many lessons she has taught, which I will now use, to be a more effective Interventionist, include but are not limited to: red flags, typical behaviors, self-stimulating behaviors, not taking away toys, rather showing child to play with toy appropriately. She gives examples of child's actions, "inappropriate," explains the reason for: why the child is engaging in these behaviors and how they can be replaced with more appropriate, effective fuctional and age-appropriate skills."

"I’m sure Laura gets these messages all the time, but I thought I’d share. I stumbled across Laura‘s "Autism or Speech Delay?" YouTube video when I really needed it. This video finally listed and explained some of the red flags my son was showing for autism. I share the link anytime a parent is questioning in my FB autism group. This mother I don’t even know said Laura's video changed her life. I know exactly how she feels because It changed families too. Thank you to everyone at Teach Me To Talk."


"Good Morning Laura,
I received your book (The Autism Workbook) yesterday and it is absolutely amazing! As I evaluate young children (0-3) for developmental delays and write plans for them with their parents, there are a ton of ideas that are ready to use. Others that reinforce what I have been doing, and saying, all along. Thank you so, so much for writing this incredible book and pulling everything together in one place!"


"Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge, experience, and guidance.
I’m a parent who bought the autism workbook and it’s the only clear resource I found to make a change in my son. I’m really thankful to Ms. Laura for helping out people like us all over the world."

"Laura Mize, all I have to say is that ALL YOUR STRATEGIES WORK."

ANNE, YouTube viewer

"We have 7 SLPs in our preschool (public) program for special needs children (ages 3-5) and we use your courses, books, and techniques every day! :-) We have seen our preschoolers make such great gains!"


"I just received Teach Me to Play With You, and it is ALREADY WORKING! WOW!

Girl…my son is 3 years old, and he NEVER asks for something using words. We were playing “Get Your Belly” (from Teach Me to Play WITH You), and after several times, he laughed and screamed "BEWIEEE!!!"  It was a hoot. And I can't believe he said it! I have played with him like this before, but this time I took your advice and acted CRAZY!! I will act like a total lunatic if it will get him to talk to me!  Now I can give him "the look" from across the room, and he will say it. That manual is so amazingly practical, and it is a GODSEND right now! Thank you SO MUCH!”

"I wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you. I started watching your videos/podcasts about 4 months ago. My son has gone from losing words he previously used, only having about 7 words at his 2 year check up in August (assessed at a blended 10 month language level) -- to now having so many words, increased social engagement, following commands, spontaneously requesting things, and naming letters & numbers (not in order) as well as colors. We had our monthly meeting with our SLP through the state infants & toddlers program and it felt like we were just bragging the whole time, but I knew in the back of my head it was because I have been using strategies you taught me.

We still have so much work to do with our sweet boy, but I know in my heart he would not have succeeded without the education you provided. I will continue to read your emails & watch videos as we go along this journey and face challenges, but credit is due to you, Laura.

Thank you so much, endlessly."


"I just want to tell how fortunate I feel to have found your website and you!! I became a special instructor in EI almost a year ago and I started with hardly any applicable training. I felt so lost and confused as how to help the kids I work with learn how to use words and play. Honestly, I didn't even understand the importance of play, although I always played with my kids. But, once I started to watch your podcasts and get some of your manuals I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally teach these kids and their families something of value from a real therapist and based on research!. Thank you so much for seeing the need to help other EI service providers and providing a forum to share your knowledge and years of valuable experience. I'm sure you get a lot of these emails every week if not every day, but I wanted to make I could add to those notes of gratitude!! THANK YOU again!!"


"Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for these emails and your books, I have them all and they have seriously saved and improved my sessions with my kiddos. Huge thank you."


"I was very frustrated with how speech therapy was going for my child. I would take him and drop him off and not hear much of anything from his therapist and teachers other than, "He had a good (or a bad!) day." Your materials were invaluable for us because I learned how to work with him on his speech. I learned how to teach him to talk and play. I learned how to pay attention to his cues and work with him to teach him to communicate. Without it, I have no doubt he still wouldn’t talk."


"Hi! I just wanted to say (from an SLT perspective) how incredibly useful I am finding absolutely all of your articles, blogs and resources - I only discovered your site last month and have just received all your books which I feel I am learning more than on my entire university training course!! But also the way in which you give specific, realistic, fun, encouraging ideas for working with parents is really just fantastic, I only wish I have your site sooner! Thanks so much from the UK! Kind regards."


"I just wanted to reach out to say thank you for making things a little easier to manage for me this year. I made the transition from school SLP to private therapist about a year ago. While the change was welcome, it was a lot, and I was just getting my footing in the clinic when I began teletherapy full time. Your website has been a huge lifeline in helping me work with late talkers and coach their parents in an accessible but effective way, even remotely. I look forward to getting your emails each week. I am floored by the amount of valuable, free information that your website provides, and I’m looking forward to investing in your workbooks soon. A sincere thank you for all you do!"


"You are an inspiration! I am truly grateful for the way you put into words and writing how to do what we do as SLPs. At this time in my 13 years of practicing, I find your encouragement keeps me going. As a single mom, I find it a stretch to buy materials these days and I am so thankful for the freebies you so generously share that help me teach my families. I don’t have much time to put together lists or quick references for parents!! Much gratitude!!"