As I mentioned in the Best Learning Toys For Babies article, the purpose of the “Best Learning Toys” series is to help you choose toys that will engage your child and help him/her learn language skills through play.
The toys presented are in no particular order and are not made by a specific toy company. They are general categories such as blocks, vehicles, etc. I will give you ideas for how you and your child can play with these toys to enhance learning. When I talk about “learning” I am not referring to academic skills. Rather, I am providing you with ways to enhance speech and language development, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, etc.
All of these toys were pretty standard in my speech and language therapy sessions with 2 year old’s! Although I don’t mention it for each description, all of these toys are outstanding for pretend play.
To skip to a toy category in this guide, click on it’s name:
6 Amazing Learning Toys For Toddlers!
Blocks should be a staple in every child’s toy box. My children who are now 6 and 8 still love blocks. Although they have now advanced to LEGO, they started with basic blocks. They actually had several sets, some plastic (like Mega Bloks) and some wooden ones (Melissa and Doug have some good wooden sets that don’t cost a fortune).
From a learning perspective, blocks of different sizes (and shapes, if wooden) are best because there are many building opportunities. You can also get cube style blocks with pictures, letters and/or numbers. While these are good for targeting vocabulary, they aren’t quite as good for building.
Here are some specifics to keep in mind when playing with blocks:
♦ Vocabulary: Talk about what you are building. For example, maybe you are making a house. Use the word “house” frequently and also talk about what you might find in a house (rooms, chairs, beds, people, pets, doors, walls, roof, etc).
♦ Colors: Name the colors of the blocks. Most 2 year old’s are able to recognize a few colors and label 1-2. But remember, try not to test your child, keep the interactions natural!
♦ Prepositions: Some early prepositions that come up regularly during block play are “on” (put the red block on the green block), “off” (take one block off) and “on top” (Put the block on top). Other prepositions such as “in front, behind, under, over, beside/next to” may also come up. These however, are a bit advanced for a two year old.
♦ Shapes: If you are using wooden blocks there is a good chance that they will have different shapes including squares, triangles, rectangles and cylinders (circle). Talk about the shapes while building.
♦ Problem Solving: If your child wants to make a really tall tower, he will have to figure out how to make it stable as stacking one block on top of the next will cause it to fall down. Help your child figure out how to make it more stable by adding blocks on either side and then building up.
♦ Team Work: Work with your child or a small group of children taking turns adding blocks to a creation. This will become more important as your child gets older.
♦ Counting: Count how many blocks you used to build your tower or whatever it is you created. Your child may count with you, but if she doesn’t do not worry about this. Continue to be a good language model for your child!
A ride on vehicle is an excellent toy for a 2 year old and it will be one of those toys that you have around until your child is 4 or 5, or until you get sick of it or they can’t fit in it anymore. Although if they are like my children, one will sit on the roof while the other pushes when they can no longer fit inside! The plasma car is quite brilliant because children and adults can use it! So you don’t have to worry about your child outgrowing it after only a few years.
Language and Learning Opportunities For Ride on Vehicles:
♦ Vocabulary (nouns/adjectives): (police) car, (fire) truck, door, wheels, steering wheel, gas, lights, roof, fast(er), slow(er)
♦ Vocabulary (verbs): drive, crash, stop, go
♦ Environmental Sounds: If your child isn’t saying much, make up some sounds a car might make. For example, vroom, beep beep, eeeek, weeee, etc. Environmental sounds are noises that you would hear around you but said by a person. They usually contain early developing sounds such as “p, b, m, n, h, w, d” and are often easily imitated by a young child.
♦ Prepositions: Get “in” the car, get “out” of the car, there’s a book “on” the car, take the ball “off” the seat, park the car “beside” the wall. These are a few examples of how prepositions are used while playing with ride on vehicles.
♦ Following Directions: Give your toddler a few simple directions and see if she can follow them. For example, you could say “drive the car to the couch” or simply “stop the car, I see a red light!”. Don’t over complicate the directions. Make sure that when you are giving directions they are still part of natural play. You aren’t giving your child a driving test 😉
♦ Gross/Fine Motor: Children will need to use their hands to open the door and their feet to move the car forward. Many cars come with a plastic key that you can turn in the ignition. This will require the use of their fingers.
♦ For Older Children: As your child get’s older you will find that the way she play’s with a ride on vehicle gets more creative. For example, a 2 year old will most likely do one or all of the following: “drive” back and forth, open and close the door or get in and out of the car numerous times. On older child however, will come up with more elaborate scenarios. If your older child needs some ideas for how to incorporate a ride on car into play you could suggest: drive to the store and go shopping, drive around and have the car break down, have the car turn into a time machine or spaceship, etc.
♦ Problem Solving: This will happen more with children between 3 and 4 than it will with 2 year old’s. When playing out a pretend scenario such as one of the one’s I mentioned in the previous section, there are many opportunities for problem solving. Problem solving can also occur when when more than one child is playing with a vehicle as they will need to figure out who gets a turn first, where they are going to go with the car, or should the car be something other than a car.
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Did you know that Mr. Potato head was invented in 1949 by a man named George Lerner? The toy was then manufactured and marketed by Hasbro beginning in 1952! This is such a simple toy with a long history and it is definitely a childhood favorite. If you get a Mr. Potato head for your 2 year old, keep it around for a few more years. It is another toy that will get a lot of use.
Let’s look at how Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head can be used for language and learning:
♦ Vocabulary: Talk about the various body parts as you are assembling Mr. Potato head (eyes, nose, arms/hands, feet, ears). If you have Mr. Potato Head’s eyes, you could say “I found his eyes, where are your eyes?” When talking about a body part your child might not be familiar with, make sure you talk about where on your and his body that part is. Many Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls also come with accessories such as hats, purses, glasses, etc. Label these items and tell your child where they go. For example “let’s put the hat on his head”. You can also get theme based Mr. Potato Heads such as Star Wars. For a 2 year old, I would stick with the neutral Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.
♦ Pronouns: He,she, his and her can be targeted while playing with either Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head. Keep in mind this is more appropriate for a child 3 and older. I wouldn’t expect a 2 year old to know pronouns. However, this shouldn’t stop you from using these words. The more your child hears proper grammar and pronoun usage the better likelihood that she will use these terms herself when she is ready.
♦ Prepositions: These concepts are for older children, not necessarily a 2 year old. However, you can still talk about how something might be “in front of” or “behind” Mr. Potato Head. In front and behind can be hard to teach as well as learn for some children. Many objects do not have a distinct front and back so a child must know whose perspective they are taking with “in front” and “behind”. However, if you are using Mr. Potato Head, or any other doll/stuffed animal, there is a front and a back so it doesn’t matter where the child is in relation to Mr. Potato Head.
♦ Emotions: Some Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls come with with a few different eyes, noses and mouths of varying expressions. You can also purchase separate body parts packs. When putting Mr. Potato Head Together talk about how he might be feeling based on the body parts selected. You could even ask your child “show me your happy/sad/mad/silly face”.
♦ Fine Motor Skills: It can actually be pretty tricky to get the body parts into the holes. At first it will probably be easier for your child to pull them out after you have put them in.
♦ Hand/Eye Coordination: Equally as tough as getting the body parts into the holes is finding the small end of the body part and then matching it up with one of the holes on Mr. Potato Head.
I love puzzles for toddlers! Another must have toy for a 2 year old.
How To Use Puzzles to Focus on Speech-Language Development and Learning:
♦ Vocabulary (nouns): Most chunky puzzles for toddlers are are theme based (farm, pets, zoo, vehicles, construction, forest, tools, bugs, etc.). Label each puzzle piece as your child is exploring them. For example, “Where is the cow, do you see the cow?
♦ Vocabulary (verbs): Target verbs that would go along with the puzzles theme. For example, if you have a vehicles puzzle, some verbs you could use are “drive, stop and go”
♦ Prepositions: “In” and “out” can be focused on with these as well. For example, “Let’s take the cow out” or “Let’s put the cow “in”.
♦ Fine Motor Skills: It can be tricky for some children to pick up a puzzle piece and release it into the correct spot. Playing with chunky puzzles is a wonderful way to practice this skill.
♦ Hand/Eye Coordination: By finding a puzzle piece and then locating the matching cutout a child is working on hand/eye coordination.
♦ Turn Taking: Take turns finding a puzzle piece to put into the puzzle. Use words such as “my turn” and “your turn”.
I could give many more examples of activities you can do with a chunky puzzle, but I have written an entire article on that subject!
It’s unfortunate that dolls are marketed to girls. Even if you have a boy, get him a doll. So much pretend play and language can happen with a doll (or a few of them). A doll is another toy that your child will have for many years. However, not all children will want to play with dolls. My daughter was one of them. She preferred her stuffed animals when given the choice. My son on the other hand loved pushing dolls around in a stroller.
Language and learning Tips For Playing With Dolls:
♦Vocabulary: This list can get quite extensive depending on what you are doing with the doll, but the doll itself has many vocabulary words you can talk about. For example, body parts, clothing and actions.
♦Prepositions: Talk about where the doll could go. Some early prepositions are: in, on, under, out, off. For example, the doll can sit on a chair. The doll can hide under the bed.
♦ Pretend Play: As I mentioned in The Best Learning Toys For Babies article when I was discussing stuffed animals, dolls can be use in pretend play scenarios. You can pretend it is bed time and go through a bedtime routine. The doll may need to put pajamas on and get tucked in to bed. Or maybe the doll needs a bath (you don’t need to use water, just pretend). Incorporate vocabulary words while giving the doll a bath. If you find that your child really enjoys playing with dolls, there are many accessories you can add such as a bed, stroller, bath tub, play food, carseat, etc. to extend the pretend play possibilities.
♦ Questions: Tailor your questions to your child’s language level. If your child is learning body parts ask questions such as “where is baby’s nose?”. Or if your child is already speaking ask more open ended questions such as “baby is thirsty, what does the baby want to drink?”
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A toy farm playset was one of the first toys I purchased when I started working as a Speech-Language Pathologist. This is one of the most versatile toys. I finally packed ours away and my children were not to happy about it.
Speech-Language and Learning Ideas For a Pretend Play Farm:
♦ Vocabulary: Label all of the animals as well as the sound that each animal makes. Did you know that animal sounds can be counted as words for toddlers? As long as your child is making the correct animal sound for the corresponding animal and does so on a regular basis, it is technically a word. So every time your child sees a cow (real, picture or toy) and says “moo”, you can count that as a word in his vocabulary. However, make sure you are always using the real word so he hears it many times. Soon enough, “moo” will become “cow”. If your toy farm comes with other accessories such as a farmer, tractor, fences, etc, label these as well.
♦ Prepositions: In, out, under and on are some early prepositions that you can target when playing with a toy farm. Have an animal go “in” the barn. The farmer could get “on” the tractor. You get the idea.
♦ Early Concepts: Opposites such as big/little, fast/slow. Find all the big animals and put them on one side of the farm. Then get all of the small animals and put them on the other side.
♦ Questions: Ask your child some questions while you are playing. For example, “where is the horse?”, “what does the duck say?”, “what is the cow eating?”. Keep the questions simple and incorporate them into natural play. Your child may ignore you. This is ok. You can answer the question for your child. She may be ignoring you because she doesn’t know the answer or because she is busy playing.
Which Is The Best Toy From An Educational Perspective?
Hopefully you weren’t expecting a long list of toys. There is a lot of information here for only 6 toys. However, these are the best learning toys for 2 year old’s to facilitate language development and learning. One isn’t better than another. As you can see there are many similarities among what can be learned with these toys. Try to think of other toys you have for your child, could you use them in some of the ways I have described? Do you feel that there are some important toys I have missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.