Toy Fair 2016, Look What I Saw

IMG_0559I’m moving fast to cover the thousands of companies displaying at the Javitts Center but I have my eye out for companies who are creative and intentional about learning in their products. Here’s what was exciting to me:

Calling out products for kids with Special Needs: Rubbabu devoted a large space in their booth for products helpful to kids with Special Needs. Companies are now starting the conversation with me, while 5 years ago I was working so hard to educate them to see how their toys could benefit kids with specific learning deficits. I’ve used Rubbabu’s products for years, especially with kids around 18 months who weren’t talking yet. The fuzzy squishy but firm pieces are easily gripped by toddlers and many can stand up to manipulate and talk about.

Toys that transform to expand learning: I wasn’t far into my visit at V-Tech’s booth IMG_0532to be anticipating how the toy I was viewing was going to transform into a new configuration(or two!) for the child’s next stage of learning. Their “Gallop and Rock Learning Pony” gives toddlers a great pretend ride until they are ready to really move. Just  flip over the rails, add wheels and they are off to another room! Baby Amaze’s stroller can change into a bassinet for bathing and then a high chair, providing 3 different forms for 3 different pretend play scenarios. Parents love toys that grow with their kids, moving with them to the next play level. Fisher Price’s 4-in-1 Total Clean High Chair got my attention because not only does it come apart in sections to advance 4 stages of development with the child (2 heights high chair, booster seat, youth chair) but all the sections fit into the dish washer!! Yes, I don’t have to hose down my high chair after the grandkids leave:)



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New York Toy Fair 2016 Hot Trends for Learning Toys


I’m a fan

Every year I get so amped for The International Toy Fair in New York City–no caffeine needed–as we scour the isles of the Javits Center for fun new products embedded with language learning potential. The creativity, passion and spunk of toy designers/companies inspires and excites me. Each year I see more companies calling out the specific learning skills in their toys and introducing products that make learning fun for ALL kids. After walking the nearly half million square feet, it is time to put my feet up and share the trends I see for 2016:

Whoa Horses!  Working in homes, I see horses are a hot item in the playroom so kids will have some fantastic sets to choose from this year. “Janod’s Country Club Riding School” is new to their Cardboard World with a tack room and stable opening up to to reveal 38 accessories while closing back into a suitcase–don’t we love a take-along story starter? Ride the rails to Brio’s “Countryside Horse Set” to groom your horse or teach him to jump, inviting creativity in pretend play.

Try a Little Tech: Traditional companies that we love who produce kid-powered toys IMG_0437have added a tiny bit of tech to engage kids but not overwhelm them, maintaining the core values of their brand. As I cradled Corolle Dolls’ Bebe Bisou and pressed her tummy, she replied with, “MaMa” and a “smooch” right on my cheek. Brio, known for kid-driven sound effects and power, has added a remote controlled train to their track sets and it’s easy enough even for me to operate. Pairing traditional play with technology, but strictly adhering to high quality learning, Tiggly is coming out with another outstanding app to use with their physical shapes, “Tiggly Shapes Got Talent,” as circles and squares compete in a clever star search, led by you-know-who, the STAR.


Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series

STEM Adds an L? Okay, this is for all my clever readers, can you come up with a way to add an “L” to the acronym STEM since language is a crucial component in the critical thinking, problem-solving and drawing conclusions necessary in the sciences? I was thrilled to see companies going deeper in their design of STEM toys, adding a Language dimension. Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series has added figures and original cartoons (created by a 16 year-old) to start the story and get imaginations churning in their magnetic building sets. Women CEO/designers saw the gap in their daughter’s toys and are giving us STEM building sets that emphasize constructing a corresponding story, stretching language skills. Build and Imagine has led the way, encouraging girls (boys love them too) to build structures providing the setting for pretend play with figures. Roominate adds electricity for options to open and close a garage door or drive the elevator in their new “Mansion.” New to the group, Wonderhood, has introduced a fabulous Hotel and Corner Shops. STEM careers are presented through story-based building in K’Nex’s new “Mighty Makers.”


The Queen’s Treasures

Girl Power:  How fun to see the new curvy Barbie up close at Mattel’s event. Her pear shape resonated with me for obvious reasons. New options celebrated “being me” on either side of the Doll aisle. I met “Naturally Perfect” dolls who are celebrating the natural beauty of girls of color with kinky/curly hair. Since I threw out the flat iron last summer and freed myself from all straightening attempts, I can relate. They are beautiful, with the right message. The Queen’s Treasures will be coming out with a new Jane Goodall line of doll accessories continuing to celebrate real people who’ll inspire new generations of creators and discoverers.  Go! Go! Sports Girls led the way for girls to”appreciate and be true to themselves.” Check out their new doll and book sets.


Playmobil’s Adventure Tree House

Woodland Story Themes: Alex Toys is known for its activity cubes jam-packed with exploratory learning. A favorite this year is their “Woodland Wonders Activity Cube” with such a variety of hands on discoveries around the outdoor theme–letters and even a pond on top–giving parents plenty to describe using new and challenging vocabulary. Kids will live and eat among the trees with Playmobil’s new “Adventure Tree House” while Lego Friends’ new “Adventure Camp Tree House” provides a challenging climbing wall, turning bridge obstacle, slide, and tire swing.


Fabver-Castell’s Spark Lab

Best in Show for Combining Multiple Modes of Learning Fun: I had to have a category for the toys I was most impressed with that combined multiple dimensions of learning. Faber-Castell’s Spark Lab was created in conjunction with the Smithsonian taking young entrepreneurs through the steps to invent and eventually sell a product–super shoe, toy, money or robot. Planning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiating, are all language skills that go into creating a product. WonderForge did it again, making us laugh and learn with their “Thing Two, Thing One, Whirly Fun” preschool game, challenging kids to work together (social skills, language) to clean up fast after The Cat in the Hat and his helpers make a mess of the house (inspires pretend play) before mom gets home (fine motor skills). I’ve seen and played with a lot of trains, but the new Hape Railway has a fresh, ingenious take on the preschool rail adventure, led by animal rail cars. Stocked with original sensory, manipulative activities along the way. Toddlers activate monkeys jumping up from the trees, shape sorters, run across a xylophone, and enter a jungle car wash.

Posted in 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 8 years and up, Birth-3 year-olds, Games, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment

Preview of the NY Toy Fair

IMG_0176Wow! The excitement is building with the countdown almost over for Toy Fair. It all starts tomorrow! That means that companies are finishing up their booths at the Javits Center which will transform into a wonderland of toys.

I’m getting so many emails each day highlighting new products to be featured at the show and wanted to share some that look fun:

Playmobil’s new Space Rocket with Launch Site is image002outfitted with working lights and sounds, a maintenance platform with space technicians, and a repair robot with tools and a computer to ensure as successful mission.

Also looking forward to Mattel’s Toy Fair Sneak Peak where there undoubtedly will be a lot of buzz around the new Barbies of curves and color. I for one am thrilled that Barbie has branched out to include more of us with a pear shape or shorter frame. I’m admittedly the former, not the later.

I’m already seeing companies marketing a new emphasis on play based language learning as they promote playing together and introduce new sets with a story theme. SmartLab Toys began an initiative this year to encourage parents to join in the fun and play together with their child. They quoted research that shows that “Families that play together are more cooperative, supportive and communicative.” I know from a language perspective that parents can elevate the play when they join in with their child. Now skills like collaboration, sharing, negotiating and verbalizing critical thinking are strengthened.

Okay, I just picked up my new business cards with our new address on it, ready to hand out as we meet Corolle, Janod, Alex, Wonderforge, Ravensburger, Playmobil, Lego, VTech, Crayola and more tomorrow! Stay tuned.




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

Saying Goodbye to My SLP Buddies

Version 2I don’t get surprised easily but tonight I thought I was meeting 2 friends for dinner and it turned out to be a surprise goodbye for me with the amazing speech pathologists with whom I had worked for 16 years! I hadn’t seen several of them for a while but we caught up so fast. When you work intensely, side by side with kids with special needs you form a special bond. I realized we shared the deep things going on in our lives as we were teaming to best help kids. We shared ideas, materials and laughs. But also I shared the plans for the house that we are now moving to, encouraged my friend to stick it out with her online date who then became her wonderful husband, and batted around successes and failures in child-rearing.

I’ve always said the best speech therapists work in the schools (now I know I am going to get in a little trouble for that) but I believe we sharpen each other and gain from being on a team with other professionals outside of speech. One of my colleagues is getting her PhD,  and another has written 4 books of activities for Alzheimer patients that is successful on Amazon, “Joggin’ Your Noggin, Fun and Challenging Word Games for Seniors.”  The IMG_0423others are taking on ever expanding caseloads of kids, working to improve their speech and language while being creative and fun.

My clever friend, Mary, even found the perfect gift for my move, a card game called “Play on Words” to keep me busy after the move. Many thanks to all my friends for the terrific send-off tonight. I will miss you all!

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First Games for 3 year-olds, Setting up Play

IMG_0415 (1)My twin grandchildren are approaching 3 and interested in playing games. There are so many wonderful first games for 3 year-olds by companies like WonderForge, ThinkFun, Educational Insights, SimplyFun and Peaceable Kingdom, to name a few of my favorites. The kids came home excited from their classmate’s birthday party yesterday with a perfect favor, a Little Mermaid and Jake and the Neverland Pirates On the Go Memory Match game.

Game play teaches kids so many skills for school–taking turns, waiting for your turn, thinking critically, scanning for all the information, building vocabulary, making decisions, and verbalizing, and making choices.

As we punched out the 54 picture cards per set, it occurred to me that things would get a little too complicated if we used them all. So I chose 6 pairs, 12 cards in all to start, also selecting cartoons that varied visually. I didn’t pick 2 Captain Hook illustrations that varied only with his position and adding a treasure chest but rather decided on Captain Hook, a map, Skully the parrot, Tick Tock the Alligator, a sword, and Cubby. Don’t be too impressed, I had to look up the names of the characters again and used Mommy’s permanent marker to annotate the game bags for future play!

I was glad that I simplified the game board so to speak as it took a few turns for the kids to understand  turning over 2 cards, and then letting their sibling take a turn. Memory games teach vocabulary like, “match, same, different, pair, and together,” which are helpful in later math descriptions.

Of course, kids put their own spin on a game and it’s great to go with their lead. In spite of my modeling gathering up your matching pair and placing it in your “pile,” Willie kept adding his winnings to Dabney’s pile, creating a collaborative game rather than competition. Look what kids are always teaching ME again!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Language, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

How Dollhouse Play Can Strengthen Essential Learning Skills

Dollhouse play to encourage learningI have dollhouses on the mind lately. As I prepare to move out of state and pour over the stuff in my house (I am not a collector but it is amazing what accumulates) and decide where things go–the dump, re-sale shop or our next house–I came across my mom’s dollhouse that was passed on to me. It is truely an antique as her dad had it made for her over 80 years ago. It was ahead of it’s time with electric lights throughout and a long driveway to come up to the garage, probably because my grandpa loved his automobiles, as he called them.The story goes that when he surprised my mom with it, he hid his cigar down the chimney to have her believe that a real fire was burning in the fireplace! I spent hours in my imagination land, arranging and rearranging the dining room table and play food, the dolls in and out of their beds and going up and down the stairs.

Lundby dollhouse promotes pretend play and learningAs we took off for North Carolina last week, we packed our Lundby dollhouse to share with our 7 year-old granddaughter. Now kids can be kind of fickle as to what toys they are attracted to. She is not a doll person but loves stuffed animals and has moved through the unicorn phase to kittens.

A dollhouse is a fantastic venue to role-play, act out experiences and try new story lines with a miniature family, furniture and accessories. Caroline immediately IMG_0256started arranging the accessories, placing a bag on each bedpost with a kitten in it, moving the lit Christmas tree front and center, and taking the gnome to the potty and out on the deck to eat. Her customization included transforming the living room into a “Pet Room” with kittens, mommy cats, bed and water bowl. I can’t say I ever did that with my dollhouse but that’s what makes dollhouse play so flexible and personal–you can try out your storyline customized to your interests. As a matter of fact, Lundby encourages some DIY activities that includes making a frame out of beads. Both Caroline Lundby dollhouse DIYand her brother were busy making a dog and dragon out of their beads when we arrived so it was an easy transition to making a picture frame (she wanted her artwork on the walls) which moved on to  blue and red french fries and a hot dog.

As I was invited to play with Caroline with the dollhouse I was reminded of how our pretend play with a dollhouse encourages and strengthens essential learning skills:

  • language skills: Caroline asked me which kitty I wanted “to be” as we chose our animals for role-play. Children assign roles, develop and negotiate plots, and carry on dialogue, while they re-enact familiar activities in their daily life or try out new scenarios. They use language and expressions they have heard from Mom, Dad or other adults as well as generate their own, learning the power of language!
  • social skills: As playmates choose different characters to represent they can try out different social/emotional roles. They behave differently if they are the mommy cat or her kitten, learning to portray a character and how he or she must feel. Kids learn to take turns, even in negotiating the plot’s twists and turns. Little brother entered the play and chose the roof for a slide. That took us off into a new area and eventually big sister had to ask him to stop:)
  • creativity: Each room is a blank canvas as kids turn a living room into a pet shop, patio into a garden and family room into a gnome’s play room. Any dollhouse has open-ended play opportunities but some designed to be DIY give kids even more freedom to add their creative touches such as Hape’s DIY Dream House  with its empty picture frames and magnetic wall accessories to move about, as well as Plan Toys’  Creative Play House with modular rooms, movable staircase and walls , 2 solar cell roofs that can flip and become a garden, and 2 glass fences. Kids provided some solar energy and even designed a tennis court on the roof!
  • fine motor skills: As Caroline adeptly re-arranged furniture, plugged in electric lights and handled the tiny accessories, I watched her deal with her pretend world on a miniature scale. Parents are often looking for activities to strengthen fine motor skills for handwriting. Did they think of playing with a dollhouse?
Posted in 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

The New Grandma is not the Old Grandma

IMG_0490The reaction I had from my Grammy friends after I posted the NogginStik video, got me to thinking about the power of Grandma (and Grandpa of course)! I loved both of my grandmothers dearly but I don’t have one memory of them playing with me or reading me a book. I got my favorite set of pink kitchen appliances for my dolls from Bama and she introduced me to paper dolls to cut out at the back of McCalls Magazine (ok I am dating myself) and led me into imagination land in her toy closet, but sit at the table and play dolls or a game? No. Don’t get me wrong, all the love was there with beautifully hand written notes to congratulate me at every new stage of my growing up, spoiling me with handmade doll clothes and giving the biggest hugs.

But my Grandma friends are actively engaged in their grandchildren’s developmental milestones, asking for toy tips, how to build their grandchild’s language, when to worry and what books are the best. They get down on the floor and play with the kids. Personally I can’t think of anything more fun than giggling while constructing a fort, making breakfast on the pretend stove,  hiding in the gingerbread house with my grandkids or boarding the bus for a ride through Stepping Stones Museum.

There’s a powerful audience out there who has already raised their kids and is ready for round two on the floor for play.


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Old Toys That Still Rock!

IMG_1498As I am cleaning out in preparation for moving out of state, I am finding several old friends who have been by my side for many years of speech therapy. Pardon the nostalgia but they are attached to so many fun memories and were there for me when I needed them–meaning when a child was hard to get to cooperate, talk or listen, these old friends stepped right in and helped generate playful talking.

One is the old Fisher Price pirate ship with a working cannon and shooting spear. (may not be made anymore because of that!) At one point it was so important to my work that I had a second one for spare parts. I just googled it and found only a few images. Apparently it was made in 1995 and is the very first Great Adventures™ pirate ship made by Fisher-Price. I got both of my ships and accessories from Tag Sales. By the way, I just saw it on eBay for $125 in a sealed box. They missed out on a lot of fun over the last 20 years by leaving it in a sealed box.

IMG_0190Another special friend has been the Play-Doh First Creations Super Suitcase. Hasbro couldn’t have known when they named this how “super” this toy is. Many a child stopped resisting and forgot he was complying (talking) as I offered him another shape to continue making a vehicle out of a blob of Play-Doh. The train was a favorite as well as the whistle top on the truck. For fun I googled it and it is available on Amazon as a “collectable.” See they know the value of these oldies but goodies.

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NogginStik PAL Award Video

I’ve been a fan of SmartNoggin Toys and recently had the opportunity to team with them, making a video of their “NogginStik” light-up rattle. Capturing the babies’ interest and joy in watching and playing with the NogginStik was such fun.

Loaded with developmental learning features, the NogginStik was developed by early learning specialist, Marcia Haut. Marcia and I immediately clicked as therapists who “speak the same language” and both have a passion to help parents get the most fun and learning out of play time with their babies.

Listen to the tips on how to maximize learning while playing with your new little one to promote language learning.

  • Babies: Describe what your baby is looking at like a running commentary–what is he feeling, seeing and hearing–to encourage language development and listening skills, using rich vocabulary, not baby talk. “Look at Noggin’s face change from red to green. He’s moving over to this side and back to the other side, up/down, across, on/off” etc. Babies pick up more language when you are talking about what they are focused on and interested in so follow their focus of attention.
  • 3 months: Continue to pass the NogginStik back and forth and up and down, encouraging visual tracking, a skill needed for later reading, describing the action, colors and sounds.
  • 6 months: As your baby starts to reach and grab, learning cause-effect, describe how the NogginStik changes in colors and sounds.
  • 10-11 months: As your baby is learning to imitate, play a little game of shaking, banging and moving, pause and let her imitate you, describing her actions.

I gave each mom a NogginStik to take home and have heard that it is their baby’s favorite and mom’s “must have” toy in the diaper bag!


Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, play, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Desperate to Find That Missing Play Piece

IMG_1534I was going to title this blog, “The importance of Play Accessories ” but that sounded too boring so instead….”Desperate to Find That Missing Play Piece!”

As  I get ready for the Toy Fair, where I have to make quick analyses of hundreds of toys and games, my radar is out, looking for toys that have the best accessories to stimulate conversation and dialogue in play. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I had just begun my speech therapy session with a 4 year-old girl and we were assembling Malia’s Beach House. Build and Imagine’s CEO, Laurie Peterson, knows the value of accessories in pretend play as she provides categories of magnetic props to carry the story in different directions–food, clothes, toys, musical instruments, pets, beach or garden features. As I was playing with my little friend, I realized the magnetized telephone was missing. This is clearly my most effective prop in the set to generate language and the kids’ favorite too.  I asked my friend if she’d like to help me search my car. When I opened the IMG_0185hatch, there it was (only about 1/2”tall) dropped in the locking mechanism of my trunk! After borrowing a tweezers from the nanny, I was ready to continue play.

Each category of accessories provides an opportunity for a new chapter in the story–making lunch, getting ready for school, singing songs and making music, or planting a garden.

As companies are pitching their new products to be introduced at Toy Fair, I am already seeing gaping holes in the accessory area. It’s obvious to provide clothes for a figure doll but how many other categories of props can you offer for expanded imaginary play? A beach bag, sword or guitar can take the story down three different paths and provide the opportunity for learning while using new vocabulary, settings and plots.

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