How to play with toy cars to boost your toddler’s language skills!

Feb 7, 2016

If your toddler is a car-lover, you’re in luck! Playing with toy cars is super-motivating for lots of toddlers, and opens up amazing possibilities for language building from the very beginning of learning to talk. This post shares my favorite ways to get on the floor and make car play fun and verbal.


  1. Ready, steady, GO!

Simple cars are an ideal toy for children on the cusp of learning their first words. Show them how to roll a car on the floor. It’s interesting to see how a toddler who imitates an action you do with a toy will very soon be ready to imitate the words you make as well. For children at this stage, your language will be very basic, for example: ‘Car! Oooh, car! Let’s make the car go! Ready, steady, GO! Go, car, go! Brrrrm brrrrm.’

Once your little one is used to the phrase ‘Ready, steady, go’, pause before saying ‘Go!’ to give your child a chance to say it.

  1. Asking for help

Cars that zoom forwards after you pull them back can be lots of fun for carefully supervised toddler play. Younger toddlers will struggle to work these toys alone, which means they will be motivated to interact with you. For children with language delays, that’s sometimes important, as it’s only through interactions that they’ll learn to talk. Show them what the car can do, then encourage them to ask for help to make it go. Prompt very-first-words learners to say ‘Help!’ Build up the language from there with phrases like Want help, Help please, or Make car go.

  1. Imaginative play with cars

For a slightly older child, join them in racing the cars along a track marked out with blocks or tape on the floor, or chalk outside. Turn this play into a racing game, and talk about how fast the cars are. Alternatively, develop the game into imaginative play by driving your cars around a city. You could create a tape city, like this great building project on Dirt & Boogers, or use a playmat. We love the detailed town and road jigsaw from Orchard Toys. There’s so much to talk about in the puzzles. We use the town to stage rescues using a toy police car and fire truck. We find lost dogs, pull trucks out of holes, put out fires and so on.

  1. Road building

Use books to build roads, tunnels and ramps. Talk about where the cars go to teach location words, up, down, under, over, through etc.

  1. Sorting, counting and quantity talk

If your child has a large collection of toy cars, try using them in sorting and counting games. Talk about which ones are big or small, the cars’ colors, if they are fast or slow… Group them by size or color, or count them into groups of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Use the cars to talk about quantity. For example, ask questions like:

Do you want one car, or lots of cars?

Do you want more cars?

Whos got more cars, you or me?

Do you want one car, or all the cars?

  1. Categories, functions and parts

It’s easy to talk about cars when you’re out and about with your child: point out the different colors and sizes, and if your child is interested in vehicles tell them the names of the different types, such as van, pick-up truck, lorry, police car, ambulance, tractor, motorbike Show your child pictures of vehicles in books, talk about what they are used for, and point out the different parts, such as the wheels and windows.

This is a great way to deepen their understanding of language, because they learn about making categories, how objects have different functions, and about how things are made up of various parts. These are all sophisticated language skills that usually develop by the age of 3 and are always worth exploring with young talkers.

The suggestions above will work best with children who are genuinely interested in vehicles. Lots of toddlers are, but not all of them! My oldest son loved things that go, and could tell a motorbike from a moped before he used the word ‘I’. This caught me by surprise, since we don’t even own a car! Interests change, and now he’s more into dogs and pirates. His younger brother much prefers playing with toy animals and food, so we don’t do as much car play these days. Maybe we’ll pick it up again soon! Happy play, and thanks for reading!


This post is shared at Practical Mondays, Sharing Saturday and The Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop.


  1. Meg
    February 22, 2016

    Good ideas. My little boys LOVE cars, and when the oldest was in speech therapy, these were some of the things she recommended to do with him!

    • Kathleen
      February 22, 2016

      Thanks for the comment! It’s good to hear that these are the kinds of things your son’s SLP recommended. I hope the therapy helped.

  2. swapna
    February 22, 2016

    nice tips, have pinned to the practical mondays board 🙂

    • Kathleen
      February 22, 2016

      Thanks, and thanks for hosting!


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