• Claire

Top 10 Best Christmas Gift ideas for 0-5s: toys for developing speech and reading skills!

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Looking for Christmas present inspiration for your baby, toddler, or preschooler?

Below are some top ideas for Christmas fun that will also serve you really well in helping them to develop the key skills of speaking clearly, reading, and writing. After all, presents are all about enjoyment but the best way of learning is through play so these ideas are a win-win!

I’ve picked out some good examples of each one to help you out, however I have in no way tested them – please check for quality and safety kite marks, as well as making sure they are age appropriate for your child.

Be sure to check out our Alphatots classes too if you've not been before - 3 different levels of group sessions for 0-2s, 2-4s, and 3-5s!

1. Lower case letter / alphabet toys

I’ve said it before and now I’ll say it again… alphabet toys are GREAT but the first one you get should be a lower case one if you can. Schools and nurseries will teach the lower case letters (or ‘little letters’ as we called them when I was a child!) first, as these are what we need to recognise most. After all, most of the text you’re reading now and will see in books etc is in lower case! Here are a couple of nice ones…

Traditional alphabet puzzle: Melissa & Doug 13272 (Wooden) -Peg Puzzles, Multicolor

Foam bath letters (most children will love playing in water so these are great if yours isn’t really into other letter toys – watch float them about on the surface of the water, stick them to the sides of the bath, poke them to the bottom of the bath and watch the float up again…): Bath-time Buddies Foam Letters

2. Bubbles Yes – good old fashioned, simple bubbles! I’m not talking about a bubble-blowing machine – just a tube of bubble mix with a little wand that you blow to make the bubbles float out. The reason for including this is that forming your mouth into the necessary shape to blow the bubbles is a great way of strengthening the lip muscles required for clear speech. A great cheap little stocking filler! 3. Instruments We use instruments every week at Alphatots Sounds & Signs, for a very good reason! First of all they’re fun, and secondly they’re part of the Department of Education’s Phonics Phase One programme, as instrumental sounds are another great way of developing baby and toddler listening skills. In fact, the 3 R’s of the early years are Rhythm, Rhyme, and Repetition – repeating simple rhyming songs and emphasising the rhythm with instruments is fantastic for helping develop language recognition and speech. And of course great for also developing gross motor skills when they’re used for dancing around! Here's an example of a set of baby instruments – there is also another set for 2 years and over that includes a whistle-type instrument to play – another great one for strengthening lip muscles to promote clearer speech.

4. Microphone!

I would highly recommend getting toddlers a toy microphone to practise talking and singing – ones that enable them to record themselves and play it back are particularly effective, rather than the ones that simply play sounds, as it actually involves them speaking rather than just pressing buttons and hearing sounds. And I’ve yet to meet a small child who didn’t like hearing the sounds of their own voice! Here’s an example of a toy microphone with recording facility.

5. Sounds books As anyone who’s ever been to Alphatots Sounds & Signs will know, exposing babies and toddlers to different sounds for them to get used to recognising is great for developing their phonological awareness and is part of the Department of Education’s Phonics Stage One programme. Differentiating between ‘environmental sounds’ helps on the journey to differentiating between different letter sounds. And of course hearing books make noises is funny!! You can see a lovely selection of sound books here.

6. Lift the flap books

What little one doesn’t like lift-the-flap books?! Another great idea for getting babies and toddlers interested in books from a young age AND is great for developing fine motor skills as they use their little fingers in a pincer grip to lift those flaps. Here’s a gorgeous Christmas lift-the-flap book to check out!

7. Touchy-feely books

These are brilliant for introducing even tiny babies to books, enabling them to feel different textures on each page. Examples include the lovely ‘That’s not my…’ series, with bumpy/shiny/rough/furry textures galore! Check out this selection of touchy-feely books and ‘That’s not my…’ books.

8. First reading books / phonics stories

The excitement of a little one starting to read stories for themselves is absolutely amazing! One of the real magical moment of parenting in my eyes! Once a child knows all the letter sounds of the alphabet they are ready to start blending them together into CVC words (vowel-consonant-vowel – eg cat). The one problem is that a lot of ‘phonics readers’ are, understandably, quite boring – if you’ve ever tried to write a story composed only of words containing three letters or less, you’ll understand why! In order to make stories more interesting, some phonics readers actually include quite a lot of pretty difficult letter combinations and digraphs/trigraphs (two/three letter combinations respectively). Usborne First Readers get overcome this problem in a clever way, and make for a lovely experience of really sharing the book… On each page is some text for the child to read, in large font with simple letter combinations for them to blend together. There is also some smaller font text with more complicated words for the adult to read – thereby enabling the story to avoid being so easy as to be boring, but also simple enough for the child to take a real part in reading it. The books progress through different levels to keep up with the reading ability of the child. Check out Usborne First Readers here.

9. Letter blending / word puzzles

When children know all their letter sounds, and are starting to blend them together into short words, toys that can encourage them to start putting them together themselves are great. I love this word puzzle game from Melissa and Doug – as well as being very tactile, it has some great robust letters that are then put into the recesses on wooden picture boards to form 3-4 letter words. It’s a little like a set of mini-jigsaws in a way. If your child isn’t ready for digraphs like ‘sh’ or ‘ar’, there are still plenty of CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words like ‘dog’ and ‘pig’ to play with.

10. Wipe Clean Activity Books

Coming in at number ten - a great one for encouraging early writing skills for children who are reluctant to actually write! Activity books can be great fun, with mazes, dot-to-dot puzzles, and linking up objects that match etc. These activities require children to use a pen and therefore practise the skills needed for writing but in a fun game. The wipe-clean ones are great as they come with a pen that you can then easily wipe off and use all over again rather than having to throw it away - winner! Here's a great selection of wipe-clean books, with fun themes such as space and pirates.