“Toys to Talk” Born Out of Pandemic Needs

In late March 2020, the speech-language pathologists at CHSC took a crash course in providing speech and language therapy via telepractice. We quickly became experts at Zoom, screen sharing, and Boom cards. Our clinical care coordinators scrambled to fill our now online schedules with our current clients if they had the technology to support it.

By late April, most of us were getting in the groove of telepractice with clients of all ages. However, as I worked with my caseload of mostly 2-5-year-olds and their families, I noticed my most successful sessions were those that involved structured play with language enriching toys. Some of my families had these toys such as pretend food, Mr. Potato Head, or a ball tower. But, many did not. Some homes had no age-appropriate books and very few toys. Some homes had toys but they were often electronic and overstimulating, such as large trucks with multiple lights and sirens. I longed for my in-person therapy toys and materials!

When I was asked to join a meeting with one of our long-time donors, PNC Bank, to discuss potential support for new programs and ideas, I jumped at the chance. PNC has a history supporting our in-person Parent Toddler Groups and was asking what our needs were now that we were virtual. As we discussed my concerns about the lack of “good” toys in our families’ homes, the Toys to Talk bags were born! 

I quickly made a shopping list of language enriching toys for children at the 1-3 year developmental level and for those at the 3-5-year-old developmental level. PNC Bank supplied brightly colored bags to contain our toys. The bags for the 1-3-year-olds included a ball tower, Mrs. Potato Head, a wooden pegboard puzzle, large stacking blocks, and 2 books. The bags for the 3-5-year-olds included pretend food, puppets, Mrs. Potato Head, a simple interlocking puzzle set, and 2 books. Soon my dining room was overflowing with boxes and toys. I put my three children to work labeling, sorting, and organizing all of these amazing materials! Another SLP, Lindsay Elmore, and I created colorful cards with multiple ideas of what to do with each material to enrich language at home and attached these laminated cards to the bag handles.

On July 2, 2020, CHSC SLPs, including myself, Elizabeth Divis, Michelle Kurfiss, Kelley Strazar, Kellie Vaughan, and Stephanie Vondra met at our University Circle office, divided up our list, and set off to deliver our Toys to Talk. We had a wonderful morning seeing clients in person and watching their faces light up with the new toys to play and talk with. We delivered bags to 21 very grateful families that day and have more bags to deliver as we meet more families who would benefit. 


My next week of telepractice was much more successful! The parents reported how they had been playing and talking with the new toys and I was able to teach the families even more ways to expand their child’s language while interacting and having fun. Our next opportunity with these generous grant funds is to provide simple, short videos demonstrating various ways to play with each toy and book. With the support of PNC Bank and The Stocker Foundation, which provided a grant for our summer and school-year programming, we will also be hosting on-line support meetings for caregivers of children 0-5 years of age to ask questions and get advice about what they can do at home to support and enrich their child’s language development. So often, children are looking at a screen and miss that face-to-face, back and forth interaction that is necessary to properly develop language. In this time of an exorbitant amount of screen time and technology, we really wanted to go back to the basics with good old Mr. (or Mrs.) Potato Head.

We thank PNC’s Grow Up Great Program for making Toys to Talk a reality and The Stocker Foundation for essential support of our programs for children aged 0-5 during the pandemic and beyond!

Linda Lange, Assistant Director, Speech-Language Services