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The benefits of “toy talk” 

little girl feeding her teddy bear

Key points:

  1. Toy talk” is a new technique proposed by the University of Illinois to improve language skills in children.
  2. Toy talk consists of modeling language through play and naming toys, which helps children develop their use of the third person.
  3. Pretend play, construction play, games and routines, and books are all ways to incorporate toy talk into everyday activities.
  4. Incorporating your child’s favorite toys into learning experiences can make learning more enjoyable and effective, and using toy talk can become a natural part of daily interactions.

We have previously mentioned the importance of play in our blog, and this time we’ll be adding some new research about the important relationship it has with language acquisition.

Your little one will start forming simple sentences and using pronouns when they are around 24-36 months old; you’ll hear a lot of sentences that begin with “I” or “you”. In this article we want to give you some tips so you can work on a different aspect of language: the use of the third person.


The University of Illinois has recently proposed a new technique to improve your little one’s use of language based on toys. They call it “toy talk”. It mainly consists of modeling language through play. This intervention is divided into two strategies: naming the toys and talking about them. So, the first thing you have to do is name the object. For example, let’s imagine your little one chooses a teddy bear they have long loved and calls it “Penny”. What can we do with Penny?

  • Pretend play: We have talked about pretend play before and the valuable use of imagination. In this case, pretend play will take place with the company of Penny. You can play in your child’s room and imagine a whole tea party, where you can both discuss Penny’s likes and dislikes. First, model the use of third person for them, for example, “Penny is getting the most beautiful cup”. Afterwards, ask questions to your little one to start a conversation, like “Is Penny thirsty?”, so that you give them a chance to use the third person themselves. At the same time, you are also encouraging them to use their imagination and develop empathy.
  • Construction play: This type of play refers to building or stacking activities. You can sit next to your little one and talk about what they are building. Help them and describe the action you are taking. Afterwards, ask them questions that will help them use the third person when referring to what they are building. To make it more fun, you can even involve another toy, perhaps bring Penny over and ask questions about them too!
  • Games and routines: Include their favorite toy in your routines. For example, if you have Penny with you during bath time, ask them questions about Penny and the steps they should follow during bath time. This can also help you establish everyday routines with your child, while modeling and practicing language skills.
  • Books: Don’t just read, look at the pictures together, ask your child to point at pictures and then describe them using the third person. For example, say “The dancer is flying high. Can you see them?” or even make up a story together. As you did before, model the use of the third person and then give them a chance to try!

Including your child’s favorite toy in their learning experience can go a long way! Don’t hesitate to do it, and if you need to vary your usual choices, some speech specialists also recommend the use of puzzles, magnets, dress-up clothes, and all kinds of vehicles when working with language skills. It will surely give you a lot to talk about.

You can use toy talk in all kinds of activities! For it to work better, take into account your little one’s taste and what they find interesting. Allow them to choose the toy and go with the flow. The most important thing is for you two to have fun. Over time you’ll be using toy talk strategies all day long without even noticing it!

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