We all know the importance of speaking early and as much as possible to babies, even while they are still in the womb. For me, it felt a little awkward in the beginning to be narrating my day to a newborn, who was just as interested in watching the washing machine go round and round as he was in hearing me speak. But I think it’s paid off! And now it’s just my habit to talk about what I’m doing (“I’m making your breakfast. Let’s pour some cereal, oops some fell on the floor, now add the milk,” etc. etc.) so much so that I catch myself doing it to my husband too.
Although young babies and toddlers don’t need a lot of toys, we found it helpful to have certain tools that eased the need to come up with fun, new vocabulary or topics of conversation. Babies are great, but having a one-sided conversation with them can sometimes get a little tedious. So I’ve compiled for you a list of some toys that we’ve enjoyed over the years and which provided (and continue to provide) great opportunities for language development. You may know by now, I don’t typically go for toys with bright lights, sounds, and buttons, but one or two can be a fun addition to your toy box.
I should also note that basically any toy can be a ‘bilingual’ toy. It’s all about how you play with them, what you say/explore with the toy, and how you interact with your kid while they play with them.
And of course, I encourage you to have books all over the place, to start reading to your kids from day 1, and incorporate books and reading into your everyday routine. Books have been a part of our nighttime routine since N was a newborn and he will only go to sleep now, at 4, if he has an adequately large pile of books by his bed to peruse when we leave the room. (This post includes some affiliate links.)
Fisher Price has a great line of bilingual toys and most of their best sellers, as far as I’ve seen, have the option for Spanish or English interactions. This puppy sings and talks in Spanish, if you use that setting. We have the Slovak/English version that my in-laws brought from Slovakia, which our kids have enjoyed. My daughter sometimes goes to sleep with it at night and wakes up at all hours to make it sing (which can be terrifying for a sleeping parent). And we’ve caught our son, who is sometimes reluctant to sing in Slovak, playing the music over and over so he can learn the words to the Itsy Bitsy Spider in Slovak. It’s a good way to reinforce what you’re already teaching them: colors, body parts, the alphabet, and music.
Shakira has also partnered with Fisher Price and has helped them put together some other great bilingual options, like this one, which sings songs in Spanish and English (you set the mode) about counting, colors, greetings and manners in both Spanish and English:
Similarly, a lot of Leapfrog’s line of toys are available with bilingual options, like this musical table.
These are another great musical toy for the kids, which are also really cute. They are award winners and general crowd pleasers.
Every kid needs a good set (or four) of wooden blocks. So why not have a set of blocks with all the Spanish letters (including ñ!), with animals identified by their names in Spanish (which I found really useful since I didn’t know a lot of North Eastern animal names in Spanish), and lots of great opportunities to stack (and knock down), spell out your kids’ names, other words, etc. Basically, it’s a toy that can and does grow with them. Plus this set has a really nice feel to them and looks great.
Ok, this toy isn’t in any particular language. But we took it with us to Slovakia and Puerto Rico when N was 3 months old because it was that much of a hit. It was a 3am purchase during my first maternity leave and it lasted us through both kids (and has now been gifted to a friend because our kids were gifted a stand up keyboard).
This is another toy that isn’t really in any language, but it was such a hit with both of our kids that I had to include it. Nothing captured their attention when they were itty bitties as much as this toy. Plus, as with toys of any kind, you can get some good language in about the lights, the music, the colors, I mean you could even talk about Beethoven if you wanted. Just talk!
We love puzzles of all kinds in our household and have found a few great options that also incorporate language directly into the image. Depending on your kid and their interests, these could work for anything from an 18 month to 5 year old (or beyond!).
Here are some great options to incorporate color vocabulary into your play:
A nice option for animal lovers:
Ok, this Melissa and Doug puzzle box doesn’t have any language in the puzzle image itself, but they have been huge hits for our kids. Over the years we’ve acquired and gifted dozens of these puzzles, which are as much fun for our two year old as they have been for our four year old.
For learning numbers and counting (though, in reality, you can count anything in an image/in your house and shouldn’t feel constrained by toys that directly incorporate counting!):
This one has sound:
For map fans:
This next one is in English, but the map is very cute and a nice find for kids with map interests. N loves it when we point out where in the world his family lives!
And for alphabet fiends:
These are not toys per se, but we have a few framed posters throughout the kids’ play area (like near their play kitchen) and in their bedrooms (ok, ok, those are in the closet because we moved recently, but I will hang them in their bedrooms soon!). These are nice because if you, like me, sometimes forget the names of animals or vegetables or what have you, it’s a good vocabulary reminder and a fun way to go through the alphabet. They also are good conversation starters for that really fun, but also difficult stage where your kids want to be engaged and interact, but rely on you almost entirely for entertainment.
N is just starting to get into matching games at 4, but I know plenty of younger kids (18mo +) who love them. This is a nice bilingual version with simple home-based vocabulary.
Do you have any toys or ideas you’d add to this list? Please share them with me!