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Language Builders

Instead of forking over big bucks for those skill-building DVDs for your toddler, why not just break out some blocks? Helping your child build with these old-fashioned toys may be the best way to improve his language skills, according to a study from the University of Washington in Seattle. Researchers found that interactive play -- talking with your child about what you're doing with the blocks -- enhances his growing vocabulary more than any video can.

Keep up a running commentary as you stack, count, or sort the blocks by color and size, says study author Dimitri Christakis, M.D. And don't stop there: Playing any type of pretend game while you talk to your child -- using dolls or trucks or stuffed animals -- engages his brain, helping it form connections.

Later, when he plays on his own, his mind will start to link the toys with your words. Soon he'll begin responding to simple commands, such as picking up a block when asked, laying the groundwork for words of his own.