Announces Fall 2013 PAL Award Winners Presents Their Fall 2013 PAL Awards – Best Toys, Games and Books That Spark Language Development Through Play

Play On Words LLC, led by highly respected speech language pathologist Sherry Artemenko, announces 2013′s Fall PAL Award Winners, the toy industry’s only recognition directed by a credentialed speech-language expert recognizing the language learning edge in exceptional toys, games and books. Sherry’s 35 years of child development experience with over 15,000 hours working with kids empower her PAL selections, popular blog, private practice and media appearances.

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Sherry Artemenko, PAL Founder, and NBC-CT anchor Kerri-Lee Mayland sharing “High Tea,” with PAL Award Winning Wonder Forge creation, “Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Time Game.” (September 9, 2013)

I just love to see what [toys] you bring, because it’s so different every time and you do not disappoint. – NBC-CT’s Kerri Lee Mayland

Southport, CT (PRWEB) October 22, 2013

Play On Words LLC, led by highly respected speech language pathologist Sherry Artemenko, announces 2013′s Fall PAL (Play Advances Language) Winners. This recognition is the toy industry’s only program directed by a credentialed speech-language expert recognizing the language learning edge in exceptional toys, games and books. Distinguished by unique design, quality and character, these PAL winners can generate rich play that advances language. Sherry’s 35 years of child development experience with over 15,000 hours working with kids empower her PAL selections, popular blog, private practice and media appearances.

“I’m excited to see companies integrating language learning in their products to stretch students to collaboratively solve problems and work toward solutions whether creating a project with circuit modules or cooperating on a preschool game to find hidden pirate treasure. Science tools designed for girls 8 years and up include an ‘activity journal’ to record observations and comparisons or create a song or poem describing the moon, building cognitive and language skills while requiring writing. Since PAL winners exhibit intrinsic learning qualities, kids enjoy great play, unaware they’re engaged in practicing communication skills.”


EARLY DEVELOPMENT: Sherry’s daily experience in pediatric speech therapy gives her an eye for the best products to build attention, vocabulary, and concepts through play, preparing children for their first sounds, words and sentences. From listening and learning patterns through a musical gator, pulling a shape-sorting snail or exploring a magic forest of friends in a soft fold-out book, kids learn essential language skills.

  • Busy Bead Maze – Mermaid Adventure by Alex Toys
  • Grow-With-Me Activity Gym and Ball Pit by Infantino
  • Linda Lamb Pull Toy by Steiff
  • Magic Forest Friends by HABA
  • Mighty Mini Band by Hape
  • Musical Gator by Alex Toys
  • Rolling Busy Bus by Alex Toys
  • Sensory Pals by Infantino
  • Touch and Feel Critter Ball Set by Infantino
  • Trampili Elephant Music by Steiff
  • Walk-Along-Snail by Hape
  • Wonder Whale Kicks and Giggles Activity Gym by Infantino

LANGUAGE STRUCTURE: These outstanding products can build language structure, often teaching vocabulary, concepts or grammar while delivering fun. Problem solving, predicting, collaborating, and negotiating while creating working electrical circuits or journaling the dynamics of the moon over time, all strengthen communication.

  • Animal Patterns Puzzle by BigJigs
  • Base Kit by littleBits
  • Disney Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game by Wonder Forge
  • Disney Jake and the Neverland Pirates Shipwreck Beach Treasure Hunt Game by Wonder Forge
  • Disney Sofia the First Royal Prep Academy Game by Wonder Forge
  • Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Time Game by Wonder Forge
  • Doodle Jump by Ravensburger
  • Freeze Up! By Educational Insights
  • Justice League Axis of Villains Strategy Game by Wonder Forge
  • Nancy B’s Science Club Moonscope and Star Gazer’s Activity Journal by Educational Insights
  • Nancy B’s Science Club Microscope and Activity Journal by Educational Insights
  • Nancy B’s Science Club AquaScope and Underwater Wonders Activity Journal by Educational Insights
  • Ooga Booga by Blue Orange Games
  • Rory’s Story Cubes Voyages by Gamewright
  • Stuffed Full of Fun Small Sticker Tubs by PomTree
  • That’s It! by Gamewright
  • Spot It! Basic English by Blue Orange Games
  • What’s the Racket? by HABA

(PRE)READING: Learning the parts of a well-written story in a clever adaptation of a famous fairy tale or meeting the capital letters through poems designed to help remember letter forms, children pick up essential skills to promote reading and writing.

  • Alphabet Anatomy – Meet The Capital Letters by Linda Ann Jones
  • Jumbo Bananagrams by Bananagrams
  • Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet
  • Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School by Candlewick Press

STORY-TELLING/ PRETEND PLAY: Whether preparing dinner in a dollhouse with micro-light fixtures, coupling magnetized cars to animate a train, applying bandaids to make a patient “all better,” or picnicking in a gingerbread cottage, children enter the world of pretend, creating their own stories with a variety of flexible props to guide their imagination. Oral story-telling precedes writing as kids learn the steps to create a good narrative.

  • 3D Dinoland by Alex Toys
  • Disney Doc McStuffins All Better! Game by Wonder Forge
  • Doc McStuffins Get Better Checkup Center by Just Play
  • Fire Station by Hape
  • Gingerbread Cottage Playhouse by Win Green
  • Little Baby Trampili Elephant by Steiff
  • Little Floppy Sissi Piglet by Steiff
  • Mocky Hippopotomus by Steiff
  • Nanoblock Under the Sea by Ohio Art
  • Robo Creatures Assortment by K’Nex
  • Rural Road and Rail Set by Bigjigs Toys
  • Smaland Doll’s House by Lundby
  • SmartMax Tommy Train by Smart Toys and Games, Inc.
  • Take Along Modern Doll House by Playmobil
  • Tickey Toc Talking Tallulah/Tickety Toc Talking Tommy by Just Play
  • Tinkertoy Pink Building Set by K’Nex

SOCIAL LANGUAGE: Pairing closely with pretend play, social language blossoms when children play with toys that encourage extended social interactions. Working cooperatively to fell the teenage mutant ninja turtles balancing in a game, wearing a t-shirt that carries a save the planet pet in the pocket, or assembling a beautiful puzzle with grandma promotes group interaction.

  • Bugs In The Kitchen by Ravensburger
  • Dressing Girl Puzzle by BigJigs Toys
  • Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Flying Attack Skill and Action Battle Game by Wonder Forge
  • NYC Christmas Puzzle by Ravensburger
  • Planet Buddeez Tees and Hoodies by Planet Buddeez LLC
  • Santa’s Workshop Puzzle by Ravensburger
  • Skunk Bingo by Gamewright
  • Walkie Talkies by Backyard Safari

To see all Playonwords PAL Award winners, go to:

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

Easy Gingerbread House For Speech Therapy

5020-Candy-Contruction_sm-337x225I pride myself in surprising kids with new, exciting toys since I have wonderful products sent to me weekly for review for our PAL Award. But I must say, I learn a lot from the playrooms I visit each week, discovering some terrific toys for speech therapy.

Today I was greeted by a little friend’s older sisters who were home for Columbus Day so we all got to have our speech therapy session together which was fun. They introduced me to Candy Construction Building Set by Learning Resources which looks like a sweet spin on tinkertoys. The 92-piece plastic set allows kids to construct a gingerbread house that won’t be tempting to eat, but provide some fun in the making. Round peppermint connectors, large and small swirl sticks, giant gumdrops, chocolate roof panels and block connectors are ready to meet the best of imaginations.

I found this box of “candy” a perfect reinforcing activity for an articulation lesson, as kids practices a few sentences or described what they were going to do with the pieces before adding to the structure. Kids loved playing with it too.

Ages 4 to 8

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Halloween Spider Fun in Speech Therapy

Ah SpiderOkay, spiders aren’t my favorite bug, but as long as they are cute in a book, I am okay with them. Let’s not get into snakes though!

Today I brought out one of my favorite Halloween books for Speech Therapy, Aaaarrgghh: Spider! and had such fun with a little guy who is just starting therapy and not sure if it is fun yet:) I know it is but he isn’t quite convinced. He is working on /s/ and /s/ blends which makes this a perfect book for those goals. This poor spider wants so badly to become the family pet but his rather clever arguments seem to just scare his adopted family. My little friend loves art so after the story, we took a pencil and traced over the raised spider web–which he thought was magic–and then he drew his own spider, which actually looked like a sea anemone but he was very proud.

In looking over past blogs, I found this one worth repeating about the other lessons I did with this book for kids with processing difficulties and autism:

I shared some of my favorite Halloween books last week and have used them when working with kids with typically developing language as well as those with auditory processing difficulties, and those on the autism spectrum. I had quite a fun time with Aaaarrgghh: Spider!with a little fellow on the autism spectrum that I wanted to share.

Our goals include being attentive to a book and answering wh-questions as well as building pretend play skills. It all came together with this goofy book about a spider campaigning to be the family pet! We started out with my wonderful collection of bugs, including spiders, a jar with a magnifying lid, Play-doh of course, and some little Fisher Price furniture and playground items.

We talked about the spiders, chose different ones to look at under the magnifying glass and then read the book. I pointed out the faces of the family and reactions to the spider’s attempts at winning them over. We copied surprised, scared and happy faces. Then we got out the Play-doh and made a web, stuck the flies and bugs in it for eating, and hung the spider down from the web to dangle over our dinner, as in the book. We copied the reactions of the family at the sight of a spider waving over our food.

Then, much to my delight, my little friend took off in his play. I was holding a fly and he had the spider when he hid the spider under a mound of Play-doh and started counting. I followed his lead of starting a game of hide and seek with our bugs! We took turns searching for each other’s bugs and he created two new spots for hiding–great flexible play. Then I got out my Play-doh oven as an option for a hiding place. After our bugs hid in it, he piled several bugs in and started to lift it up with sound effects. I asked what he was doing and he said, “It’s landing.” When I asked what is was (the oven), he said, “A plane.” Wow! That was an exciting step up in pretend play to assign a different use to an object than what is it intended for. He proceeded to fly his “plane” around the room on its way “to London” before it had to land so the bugs could go home.

Little steps like that make my day.


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation, Autism, Language, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Halloween Preschool Speech Therapy Carryover

IMG_4297I have the privilege of working in homes so parents of preschoolers can watch their child’s speech therapy sessions and carry over techniques to further progress. Sometimes they will sit down with us or often, they are “busy” close by but I know they are listening. It takes some time for them to understand what to say to encourage language growth as well as how and when to say it. I am used to modeling words or phrases, pausing and requiring a response that I can shape before reinforcing the child. But parents have to change their behavior, typically, as they realize they have been “talking for their child” or giving them what they want, without requiring some verbal request.

Last week, as I was wrapping up my session, I realized Mom was talking to her preschooler, modeling the words she wanted to use, pausing and encouraging her and she was less frustrated, using verbalizations for her needs more often. It was gratifying to see this change, knowing that now Mom was the therapist in my absence!

As I walked to the front door to leave, Mom said to her daughter, “Say hi to Frank!” and her daughter said, “Hi.” It was a great example of how preschool speech therapy should never end, but be carried out throughout the day.

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

6 Tips For Picking Smart Baby Toys

wrenn and smithWhen baby arrives, it’s time to play. Since newborn babies prefer a variety of shapes, curves, angles and contrasts in light and dark, your face is his first favorite toy! He reacts as you talk to him and smile, watching your mouth, eyes and face move, casting shadows and changing expressions.

But by the time your baby reaches three months, he can see more clearly, focus on an object and is interested in a toy. You’re still a favorite but now it’s time to pick great toys that will enhance language. Certain features in a toy will invite more language, giving you more to talk about as you play with your baby.

1. Find a Friendly Face: Choose toys that have a friendly face. A rooster, a caterpillar or even an apple can all have a face, ready to engage in your baby in conversation with you. Babies are naturally attracted to faces and actually talk more to a face, especially one with lots of expression. Take on the voice for your bug or pony and talk to your baby, describing actions like eating, sitting, playing, or galloping while moving your toy. Blocks and stacking rings are great toys for building that can be animated when they have a face on them. Look for toys with a face.

2. Feels Good: Describe contrasting textures to provide your baby with lots of exciting vocabulary like crinkly, smooth, bumpy, soft, hard or fuzzy. Talk about the puppy’s shiny, smooth paws and fuzzy, squishy tummy, as your baby is exploring the toy. Look for toys that have lots of contrasts in texture—some soft, hard, slippery, fuzzy, bumpy or smooth surfaces. The more contrasts your toy has, the more you have to describe and talk about with your baby. Feeding babies descriptions with rich vocabulary builds their understanding or words (receptive language) and prepares them  to say their their first words (expressive language) around one year of age and build up to 50+ words by the age of 2, combining 2 words together to make their first mini sentences.

3. Sounds Alive: Many baby toys make a sound—a rattle, a jingle, or a squeak. Some even make the sound for the specific animal like a bark for a dog or moo for a cow. Squeeze your little dog to bark or shake your elephant to rattle, pause and watch your baby’s response. Talking about the sounds you’ve heard and repeating them yourself adds interest to your baby’s play and promotes listening skills.

4. Colorful Contrasts: Since newborns focus on the boldest patterns and see only some color, toys with bold patterns of black and white are of greatest interest to them. But, by the time a baby is three months old, he can make nearly all the color distinctions so bring on the color! While a toy with many contrasting colors is exciting to look at, it also provides lots of opportunity to describe the different colors, by the caregiver. Don’t forget a board book with bright colors on a white background serves as an interesting “toy” to look at also. Hold the book up so your baby can see it as well as your face as you read the simple text, or prop it up for a more interesting tummy time.

5. Bring on the Action: Look for flexibility in a toy—one where you and your baby can engage in lots of action to describe. Moving parts like doors to open, peek-a-boo windows, containers to put things in, and openings to push through all provide opportunities to talk about objects in, out, through, and opening and shutting.

6. Peek in a Mirror:  At about 6 months babies react to their own image in a mirror and start to babble and giggle at themselves. Make sure the mirror is large enough so your baby can see herself in the toy. Follow your baby’s lead and let her start the conversation, with you joining in to add to the dialogue.

As a speech and language expert and grandmother of 7, here are some of my favorite PAL Award picks for great play and learning with your baby:

Walk-Along-Snail by Hape

196813209651bThis goofy snail with the wiggly, buggy eyes is a happy companion as he tags along, rotating his shell of colored blocks. Flexibility in a toy leads to open-ended play, as children grow and can remove the snail’s shell for some shape sorting practice.

Wonder Whale Kicks and Giggles Activity Gym by Infantino


Parents appreciate Infantino’s baby products designed for multiple learning stages, keeping equipment to the minimum as little adjustments can take a baby from over-head discovery to lying on her back watching and reaching for the sea animals or turned around to kick the whale’s tail,  jiggling the toys and chatting back to them.

Trampili Elephant Music Box by Steiff


Elephants are a hot item in the nursery these days and this little one invites a hug or coo with his stitched on smile and eyes. Pull his cord to soothe your baby to sleep and know that he is listening to differences in sounds and building listening skills preparing for speech.

Magic Forest Friends by HABA


Magic Forest Friends decorate six interactive sides of a reversible house complete with a bunny to reside inside or out. Describing little activities associated with each animal as well as sensory options both tactile and auditory,  make this playbook an enriching language learning experience.

Musical Gator by ALEX Toys


 Kids can experiment with the beat and different sounds of the instruments, building listening and discrimination skills. Since kids learn to imitate gestures before sounds and words, this Musical Gator is perfect for playing a little game of follow the leader while building skills essential for language learning! Tap two times on the drum and hand the mallet to your toddler, waiting for his response. Then follow his lead to imitate what he bangs next, engaging in your own learning game.




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

Halloween Books and Apps for Speech Therapy

103881798As speech therapists, we love a holiday to use as a theme in our lessons with kids! Here is my post from last year which is worth revisiting for some ideas to get a little “boo” out of kids we are working with:

Halloween is such a fun holiday for kids and provides lots of material to make our speech therapy sessions special!

ASHASphere has a guest post this past week,Appdapted: Halloween Themed Apps by Speech Pathologist, Jeremy Legaspi, which provides a short review of 16 Halloween apps and how to use them for speech therapy–thanks, Jeremy, for the nice list!

As for recommended Halloween books, those of you who know me know that I don’t like the gory, mystical themes of Halloween and prefer the cute and fun themes to share with kids so I thought I would list some my favorites:

  1. The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey. Kids can’t get enough of this book! It can actually be used to discuss the theme of bullying as poor wiener dog, Oscar, is laughed at by his fellow dogs for his shape and called names. Innocently, his mother refers to him as her little Vienna sausage and gives him a giant hot dog bun for his Halloween costume. Not wanting to hurt his mother’s feelings, he wears the costume and bears all the taunts. Who would know that the other dogs would need someone to rescue them from the ghastly monster? In a cute quirk of fate, Oscar is just the right size and shape to take on the “monster!” I’ve used this book for wh-questions, inference, and even as a bit of a social story (particularly the beginning) in language lessons.
  2. Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler. This poor skeleton woke up with the hiccups and nothing seems to help. Every time he goes “hic, hic, hic) the force of the hiccups shoots the soap out of the shower, launches his jaw straight out or detaches his arm at the shoulder. Ghost does his best to scare him but that doesn’t work either until Ghost gets smart and digs in the costume box for just the right prop to get rid of this friend’s hiccups. This book is great for audience participation with the little “hic, hic hic” traveling across the page.
  3. Sheep Trick or Treat by Nancy Shaw. In anticipation of Halloween, the sheep friends make their costumes–a dinosaur, mummy, vampire, witch and two-sheep ape. They set off for the barn to collect their healthy treats of apples, oats and sugar lumps. A wolf hiding in the woods sees the sheep and can only hope to get his tasty treat on their way home. But the sheep stand up when they hear the wolves and guess who is the one who gets scared? This book is in delightful rhyme like the rest of the “Sheep” series by this author and illustrator. There is plenty to talk about as the story takes a twist and kids can explain why.
  4. Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood. This newcomer to Halloween books is among some of the safest to read to little ones, celebrating the fun of the holiday without scaring anyone. Also in delightful rhyme, we are taken out trick-or-treating with the kids as they learn to just say Boo! to anything scary.Here is my full review.
I wish everyone a very Happy Halloween!


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When a Therapist, Client Relationship Doesn’t Work

Artwork big and small peopleI thought I’d blog about a topic that we don’t talk about very much but is part of our experience as speech pathologists. Most of the time we move into a  place with our clients where there is a nice balance of communication and things are “humming” so to speak. Certainly we have periods of time that are more challenging as kids might be more difficult behavior-wise or we need to change up our materials to engage a child that is growing and might need to play with teenage ninja turtles, rather than Fisher Price little people to interest him.

But what about the rare but realistic times when the client-therapist relationship just doesn’t jive. I work with kids so can only speak from that perspective but it makes sense that once in a while personalities just don’t click. Or maybe the delivery model just isn’t the best for a child to progress at the best pace. Working in homes, in a child’s natural environment works really well for me since  parents can easily observe my techniques and their child’s progress, as well as carry out appropriate activities throughout the week until I come again. Kids are usually very relaxed in their natural environment and more verbal, especially if I ask to have a tour of their playroom. As good as that model is, especially for preschool therapy, there have been a few times when a child just couldn’t leave his free form play place (home) and stay engaged in a therapy session. On those occasions I recommended to the parents that they pursue therapy at a clinic or office, not their home.

On the flip side, parents have come to me over the years, disenchanted with their present therapy situation. Some of the complaints have been: a clinic run by an experienced therapist but weekly sessions conducted by therapists with little experience, little communication, inability to observe sessions, and lack of progress. I make it a practice not to criticize other therapists because I would like to receive the same grace so I  simply move forward, addressing the needs of that child.

It’s best for all parties involved to be honest about what works and what doesn’t and move ahead.

Posted in Speech and Language Delay | 2 Comments

Toys and Games Shared on “Teachmetotalk” Podcast today

safe_imageI really enjoyed being a guest on Laura Mize’s Podcast today for “Teachmetotalk” on the topic of “Great Toys From Play On Words.” She is a pediatric speech pathologist who hosts a weekly show highlighting information for parents of children with special needs as well as speech therapists working with the birth-three population. Laura invited me to talk about the value of using toys in sessions with children and at home with parents as well as my recommendations for best toys, games and books for that age range.

Here are the products that I mentioned on today’s show, many of which are PAL Award winners,  with tips on how to use them for language learning. If you have any further questions, feel free to email me:

Age 1 and up:

  • Rubbabu’s “3 D Shape Sorter”
  • Bubbles, especially bottles with the wand attached so you can operate it with one hand such as “Bear Bubbles.”
  • Thinkfun’s toddler games are designed for 18 months and up and can be adapted for younger ages: “Roll ‘n Play”
  • Thinkfun’s “Hello Sunshine”
  • Balls and slides
  • Popper ball machines
  • Hape’s “Mighty Mini Band”
  • Little Tikes “Discover Sounds Tool Box”
  • “Laugh and Learn Learning Piggy Bank” by Fisher Price

Age 2 and up:

  •  Lauri puzzles
  • Ravensburger puzzles-My First Puzzles, Garden animals 2 -piece
  • Playdoh, tubs, oven, cookie cutters
  • Fisher Price little people, vehicles, car wash and gas station.
  • Alex toys ‘ “My 3D Zoo puzzles”
  • Lego duplo sets: grocery store, horse stable, zoo animals
  • Playmobil 123 sets, designed for toddlers, pieces are chunky

3-4  year-olds love games. Here are some wonderful companies who specialize in preschool games and have lots of language learning embedded in them:




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

Toddlers Lead the Play in Speech Therapy

Mr. Potato Head glassesNo matter how much I plan and pack in my therapy bag, I still have to follow the lead in play of the little toddler I am working with. What I thought was a great toy or idea often goes off in a different direction and thankfully entertains and keeps his interest for a productive language session.

Today I had the usual staples and some new finds–Play-doh, Fisher Price little people and vehicles, a car wash and gas station, a slide (great for making balls out of Playdoh and sliding them down for “go,” “down,” “ball” and “uh oh”), Mr Potato Head, and a pull toy and musical station.

Experience shows me that Mr Potato Head never quite gets completely dressed! The toddlers I work with often want to pull the body parts and clothing out of the holes right after we have “pushed” them in. But today took a different turn. Besides wanting to try on the glasses, my little friend found it a lot  more fun to put the pieces in and out of the opening in Mr. Potato Head’s body for storage, than complete him. Of course I went right along and set up a scenario where he had to name the object, and say a number of target words to get what he wanted, “open,” “in,” “out,” “shut,” and “shake!” As long as we can set up a play situation where he thinks he is in charge, but really I am, we are alright!

Posted in Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 1 Comment

PAL Award Winners Offer Back to School Learning on NBC CT TV

PAL winners were featured last week on NBC Connecticut TV as fantastically fun learning products to boost learning at home as kids head back to school. Parents want to know how they can support the learning in the classroom and PAL winners do just that! Toss the flashcards and worksheets and have some family fun while supporting academic skills. Need a little help in writing? Check out the night sky with Educational Insights’ Moonscope and record your observations and comparisons in the companion journal.  Have a little trouble focusing and listening in class? Practice your listening skills while playing HABA’s Loco Lingo games that reward attending to a story, rhyme or riddle.

Visit for all the PAL Winners!

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