PAL Winners Stand Out in Toy Stores

Funflex Summit

Funflex Summit, NJ

I have been traveling quite a bit recently to see family and exploring our new surroundings in Wisconsin, so I always stop in to any specialty retailer toy store that I find. Of course I am looking for PAL Award winners and inevitably engage the store owner about those that they carry and tell them about some that they need to carry!

The Toy Professor, Summit, NJ

I was enjoying a little exploring in Summit, New Jersey, a beautiful, quaint downtown filled with unique stores like “The Toy Professor.”  I was excited to see a new company I discovered at the Toy Fair in February, FunFlex. We had a great chat about how unique and fun they are. I did tell the owner and his assistant that they needed to carry the crab toy since their customers live near the ocean!

When in Kohler, Wisconsin, I found a fantastic toy store called “Movers and Shakers Kids’ Toy Store.” They had window displays by theme– it was bugs when I was there including books and toys–and then they had several rooms circling the center area that displayed products by company. I walked into a room pretty exclusively Corolle, then Janod and Hape and Folkmanis had huge displays in the center circle.

Stay tuned for my next Toy Store drop-in:)

Corolle, Kohler, WI


Folkmanis, Kohler, WI

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Get Your Makeup Ready!

IMG_1035Pretend play involves some great props that suggest a story line but leave the authorship up to the child! Janod’s Little Miss Vanity Set was a favorite with my little friend who got right to work setting out all the items in the zip case–lipstick, eyeshadow, mirror, comb, nail polish. powdered blush and perfume. Brightly illustrated wood props were simple but realistic enough for our little beauty expert to know right what to do with them. Grandma and I sat on the couch while she made good use of her time, making us up at the same time as she selected her tool and went from one to the other of us. After several rounds, she was apparently finished as she packed up her bag and slung it over her shoulder to go home. I’ve seen kids use their make-up kit to give their dog a pedicure, spray their dolls with pretend perfume, and even give some polish to a toy horse. Beauty kits go across many lines and are used to spiff up mom, little sister or brother or a favorite toy!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers | Leave a comment on FOX6 WITI TV “Real Milwaukee” today!

I’m excited to announce some of my Spring PAL Award winners on FOX6 WITI TV “Real Milwaukee” today on their 9:00 show. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, please tune in.

Today I am featuring some of the PAL Award’s Spring winners that spark great fun and can keep language skills sharp over the summer–encouraging Story-telling through pretend play.

Gombe Rainforest Camp by The Queen’s Treasures (priced by accessory)

  • IMG_0519They do a wonderful job of creating accessories for 18” dolls to re-enact periods in history—this set is inspired by Jane Goodall’s work
  • Amazed at my 8 year-old friend’s knowledge and excitement over Jane Goodall’s story. She knew it from her teacher reading books to the class and Mom sharing the story
  • Kids’ dolls observed the chimpanzees, using the camera and telescope, and then returned to her tent to type out and record her observations—
  • Pretend play can build confidence, social skills, language complexity through generating story, and inspire future leaders—all about girl empowerment theme, currently so popular in toys.

Janod the Fantastic Castle (4 years and up, $54.99)

  • Janod_Fantastic-Castle-1Comes in a case, opens up, kids let down the drawbridge, but watch out for dragons
  • Rooms in castle lead story down paths—bedroom, kitchen, jail, wizard’s lab
  • Accessories—archers, knights, kings, hop on horses along stone and grass path to make or flip it over for a moat with swimming creatures, boat or fish.
  • Props in many categories inspire turns in the story

 Baby Amaze 3-in-1 Care and Learn Stroller by VTech (2-5 years, $44.99)

  • vtech-3-in-1-care-and-learn-stroller-4-800x640VTech produces great toys that often have multiple functions to change up play: high chair->stroller->bassinet
  • eating/strolling/sleeping familiar in everyday life of kids
  • Short instructions “Let’s go for a walk,” sings songs, high chair mode-“Turn the book to learn about food”  Helps build focus, attention, auditory memory for school skills.

Space Rocket With Launch Site by Playmobil (6 years and up, $49.99)

  • PLAYMOBIL-City-Action-Space-Rocket-pTRU1-23288625dt3-2-1 ignition sound effects and lights
  • After several rotations in space, separated capsule, took off nose cone to give flight to satellite, unfolding solar panels/ return to Launchpad for maintenance
  • Playmobil’s signature detail to props: computer screens, phone, sensors, tools, monitors/ mobile arms
  • Stimulates story-telling within many categories: preparation, flight, landing, planning and maintenance.

Folkmanis Puppets: Monarch Life Cycle and Black Dragon (3 years and up, $39.99 and $69.99)

  • monarch_3073_3poses_rgb3 zippers reveal each stage of metamorphosis from caterpillar-> chrysalis->butterfly. Kids loved this, teacher excited to share this before unit in class
  • I worked a lot with kids in the schools, looking for intriguing materials to engage kids to inspire good writing and descriptions about the stages-multi-sensory experience
  • Slip hands into the wings and fly away
  • Black Dragon comes with story to inspire little story-tellers
  • Kids manipulate, add sound effects

Teepee Tent by Hape (3 years and up, $99.99)

  • e4307a-teepee-tent-red-with-child.jpgKids love cozy hideaways to call their own-teepee Tent is just that!
  • Kids make it their home, bring in props—food, books, dolls, cooking items depending on the direction of story, even play school
  • Mom told me, she considered a play tent in the play room a gift to her because it entertained the kids and she got a break!
  • Place some books inside for cozy spot to read


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddler | Leave a comment

NogginStik is Baby’s Favorite Toy

I can’t tell you how many times I heard from new moms after I’ve given the NogginStik as a gift or they’ve seen our video review (as seen last week on the Today Show), that it is their baby’s favorite toy!  The other day I heard the funniest story yet. New mom, Alison,  mom of a 4 month-old baby girl told me that on her trip across the country to visit family, she brought just 3 toys and NogginStik was one of them. She told me they used to keep it on the changing table to entertain their daughter while changing her diaper. They moved it to the play room but noticed on the baby monitor that she was still vocalizing and smiling in the direction of her changing table when she should have been settling down for her nap. Turns out the baby monitor on her changing table has a little blue light, just like the NogginStik and she was still talking to what she thought was her friend!

What is your baby’s favorite toy or your go-to toy for the diaper bag? Share it with us.

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment Presents Their Spring 2016 PAL Awards

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 10.57.17 AM

Congratulations to all our 2016 Spring PAL Award winners as well as our past honorees. Thanks for all you do to make language learning fun! 

Last week one of our our toy videos, NogginStik, was included on the Today Show featuring Mompreneur, Marcia Haut. 

Here is today’s press release announcing our Spring 2016 PAL Winners. Support these amazing companies who are being intentional about embedding learning opportunities in their fun products to benefit kids.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language, Reading, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment

Best New Toys to Engage Multi-sensory learning

Janod_Shape%20Sorter%20Garden%20TexturesThis year at the Toy Fair in New York City I saw a trend in added sensory experiences in toys, especially tactile features. I wanted to share some of my favorites for adding learning dimensions to your child’s play time:

Janod’s Tactile Puzzle–A Day at the Zoo, Tactile Puzzle–Life on the Ice, and Shape Sorter–Garden Textures all have added textures like a furry hedgehog to pet, slippery, shiny green alligator’s back, sandpapery (is that a word??) tree leaves, and what feels like a real seal’s skin. Kids learn through many dimensions/ modalities and if a parent or caregiver can add language to their play as they explore how something feels, sounds, looks or is the same or different, a child’s language development is enhanced. The beautiful scenes in the puzzles invite talking about the animals in their habitats while the 4 scenes on the shape sorter suggest matching the shaped blocks to drop inside the box.

Go-Go-Smart-Animals-Furry-Animals-Assortment-1024x1024VTech’s Go! Go! Smart Animals Furry Animals Assortment were a big draw with kids as they moved along the floor or participated in one of their Go! Go! Smart Friends sets. We’ve had such fun with the Busy Sounds Discovery Home and I can’t wait to add these pets to the house. Their new Happy Paws Playland is coming out this year and these furry pets will add a realistic dimension to pretend pet play, building language skills.

IMG_0437Corolle’s first talking doll, Baby Bisou, says a few words that spark imitation and responses with kids. I especially like the smack I get for a kiss! These cuddly dolls smell like vanilla, adding to the sensory experience. Now kids learn to listen and respond as part of their pretend play as they care for baby.

Tiggly Shapes Got Talent” is Tiggly’s newest learning app designed in partnership with Herbert Ginsburg, Columbia’s Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Psychology and Education. With the option to use the brightly colored physical shape toys, kids can stamp the correct shape on their device to complete a question or create their own story. Kids are imgres-1drawn right in to Star’s invitation to join his game show, where the best shape can win the STAR-tastic trophy. Sad circle, confident Square, and tough Triangle, are given a series of challenges–which one has the most straight lines? or who can make a seesaw with a plank of wood? Teaching early geometry concepts in the context of building math vocabulary make this a terrific language learning experience.

monarch_3073_3poses_rgbFolkmanis makes fantastic puppets that come alive on the hands of kids and adults. This year their Monarch Life Cycle puppet reveals each stage of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to Monarch butterfly with an unzip, tuck and zip times three! A first grade class loved the puppet and the added hands-on and visual reinforcement of the magic of the butterfly’s life cycle, teaching through touch, visual and verbal sensory systems. Live caterpillars arrive soon in this classroom and the kids have a head start on understanding the cycle.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Apps, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Speech-Language Impairments Rank #1 in Kids 3-5 (IDEA)

IMG_3819ASHA Leader Magazine is a favorite of mine. I was just reading the April issue and turning down the corners on several fantastic, relevant articles. Here’s one that got my attention, “Speech-Language Impairments Rank First, Second Highest By Age” So Speech-Language impairments are the most prevalent disability category for children 3-5 and rank second in the 6-21 year old category, second to specific learning disabilities, under IDEA.

I guess we sort of knew that, based on our bulging caseloads with preschoolers, right? It makes me even more passionate about calling out the best toys and games and features in play that can build language skills in young kids.

One of the things I love about private practice is that I am in the homes and parents are at least listening if not watching therapy. With my littlest clients I insisted that I had time with parents at the end of a session to demonstrate games, methods and activities to enhance progress on their speech and language goals. I wanted to teach them “how” to select a beneficial toy or game, what to look for and how to come along side their child to maximize progress. Some parents got it right away and started sharing ideas with me which was a joy. Others took longer to get it but they were always willing.

Positive play experiences for children from birth through 5 years can give them a boost in language skills relating to later reading and writing too.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | 1 Comment

Kids Learn Independently With The New Smartscope



It was a joy to watch my three friends, aged 5, 8 and 9 years old, gather their specimens from outside and head to their new Ravensburger Smartscope to magnify, identify, explore and learn. We started with pollen (since we were all sneezing in the advent of spring), a rose pedal, grass seedlings and bark. We used our iPad to examine our treasures and take pictures but a smartphone or other device works also. The kids were fascinated with what they saw–veins in the leaves and petals, red tip at the end of the grass, linear salt crystals, and the spurs that come off the back legs of a tick. The descriptive conversation flowed fast and easily. You can’t help compare before and after appearances using the Smartscope. “Look it, look it!” “The evergreen looks like a braid. The pollen is woven with hairs on the edges.” They couldn’t get enough of this magnification adventure. The 9 year-old re-appeared with his jar of precious found IMG_0309objects which included several shark teeth and shells. The kids had great fun snapping pictures of the different objects which completely changed close up. They agreed that the sharks’ teeth were the most interesting although in the middle of checking out their objects one of the kids said, “What if I stuck my finger in there? I’m gonna look at my nail. Let’s try Sam’s!!” Ravensburger includes a booklet filled with “places to start” such as water droplets, insects and spiders with suggestions as to what to look for, as well as descriptions of detail and facts to discover about critters and plants found on their poster of the forest, water, meadows, beach and home. My 9 year-old finally looked up from the Smartscope and said, “I’m gonna have some fun times with this!”


Posted in 8 years and up, Elementary School Age, Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Teaching on the Floor in Comfort with Teacher Chair

IMG_0829Some of you have seen my video when I discovered the prize at the end of the first day of the Toy Fair. The “Teacher Chair” was awaiting me among all the cute imaginative play tents in Pacific Play Tents’ booth. I can’t tell you how comfortable this padded chair is whose back reclines easily to 6 positions. Like many therapists and teachers, I am on the floor a good percentage of my teaching time and it’s becoming less and less comfortable. I usually try to back up against a piece of furniture until it starts to move back with me! As an itinerant therapist I carry my materials to different homes. When I arrived with this chair over my shoulder, even Dad said, “Wow.” Mom, a first grade teacher was so excited to see how comfortable it was and her kids fought over sitting in it. She said, “It’s a big trend in education right now to provide alternative seating for all kids so they don’t have to just sit in a chair at a desk all day.” “We have balls and a couch in our room. My principal would love this.” Providing a comfortable seat for a teacher so she can be at the kids’ level as well as possibly a fresh alternative to traditional seating for kids that learn best in a less restrictive mode, this Teacher Chair is a must for the classroom. By the way, she wrote me the next day that she showed it to her principal who okayed her purchase of 2 chairs for her classroom! That’s quite an endorsement.

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New Jane Goodall Rainforest Research Camp Inspires Little Female Leaders

IMG_2720Little girls and Moms loved the concept of doll role-play emulating the inspiring female scientist Dr. Jane Goodall. My little friend heard that I had The Queen’s Treasures new set and couldn’t contain herself waiting for me to put the tent and research desk together. She started right in telling me all about Jane Goodall, having read several books about her and had a read-aloud in her second grade class to inspire girls to follow their passion and be scientists. She knew the story so well that she started by ruffling her doll’s hair since she was out in the wild! She and her brother and doll took off to look for and study her beloved chimpanzees (her Mom and baby plush were carefully placed under a chair for the canopy of the rainforest) with the camera, and telescope. Jane Goodall returned to the research camp and wrote in her journal and typed out her day’s observations. My friend added her time of sickness when she had to stay on her cot in the tent. Moms loved this set designed to empower girls to IMG_0519emulate strong role models like scientist Dr. Goodall who said, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Pretend play can build confidence, social skills, and language complexity through generating a story. How exciting that it might also inspire some future leaders! 

Note: 10% of sales will be donated to the Jane Goodall Institute to support Dr. Goodall’s research, chimpanzee conservation and the graduation of a new generation of conservationists.

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