As the holidays approach, children fill their wish lists with items like tablets, video gaming consoles, smart watches, and even Internet-connected traditional toys such as dolls and teddy bears (advertised as being able to “converse” with kids). But—as I wrote in a blog post last year—audiologists and speech-language pathologists can take advantage of this time to help clients, family and friends find a technology balance and spread awareness about high-quality, off-line activities to help build children’s language skills and promote learning.
As always, children who use low- and high-tech augmentative and alternative communication devices (AAC) should continue to use them at all times—and in an interactive way.
Below are updated gift list suggestions for 2017, featuring more ideas for items that foster communication and social interaction:
- Mad Libs, word finds and crossword puzzles. Not only do these games build vocabulary and literacy skills while keeping kids of many ages entertained on winter days, but they also provide fun family activities. There often are “junior” editions available for new readers.
- Photo albums/scrapbooking materials. Many of us keep hundreds—if not thousands—of photos on our phone, but creating physical photo albums or scrapbooks provides an excellent opportunity to talk about family members, memories, family trips or events, and much more.
- Camping supplies. Whether used for real camping (another great opportunity to disconnect, talk and bond with kids) or pretend indoor play, items like tents, flashlights and sleeping bags make excellent gifts. Nothing gets the imagination and conversation going like a tent or fort in the living room. And basics such as making flashlight animals on the wall stand the test of time—even in a gadget-heavy world.
- Magazine subscriptions. Prices are down on most magazine subscriptions, and there are many high-quality publications specifically tailored for children (Highlights or National Geographic Kids, for example). Kids will be excited to get their own mail, and practice makes perfect when it comes to reading.
- Puppets or magic kits. These activities encourage creativity and help build language skills as children develop story lines and dialogues. Parents and siblings will also enjoy the free entertainment.
- Clay or Play-Doh. These items let kids get their hands dirty and help with fine-motor skills. They also help with language and learning. Children can talk about their creations and have conversations with different characters.
- Journal or diary. A fabulous gift for practicing writing skills and building literacy that’s appropriate for many different ages.
- Karaoke machine. An alternative to family movie night, this can bring the whole family together. And singing along to the words means kids practice reading, too!
- Building, science and engineering sets/tools. Family members can work on these activities together, talking, building vocabulary and problem-solving as they go along. These activities are more popular than ever.
- Bikes, trikes and scooters. Physical movement can be paired with language development opportunities. Kids can talk about what they see, hear, smell, feel and think about as they ride. These vehicles let kids get out, explore nature, their neighborhoods and the world around them—and are activities parents and kids can do together.
Whatever gifts parents choose—tech gifts included!—it’s always valuable to remember the importance of talking and interaction to children’s development. There’s no better time for conversation and family bonding than the holidays.
Diane Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP, is ASHA director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders; and 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. firstname.lastname@example.org.