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

New Year, New Chapter, New State

IMG_0038Wow, lots of “news” to report here. As of the end of December, I said goodbye to all my amazing families and kids that I’ve worked with in my speech therapy practice to start a new chapter in Play on Words. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every child who taught ME so much and will always put a smile on my face, as I remember them. Please stay in touch! As I said goodbye, some moms cried and kids were so sweet in their expressions as a 7 year-old said, “I’m so sad you’re going.” I even got invited to sleep over next Halloween by my 4 year-old friend!

Since we will be moving to Wisconsin this spring (and winter in North Carolina), it is an opportunity to spend more time on our PAL Award,  searching, recognizing and sharing with you the best toys, books and games to encourage language development through play. The toy industry is exciting because it’s based on kids and play. What could be better? As companies send out catalogues with their new 2016 products, we’re getting ready for Grand Hotel 3 Floorsthe Toy Fair in February. I like Hape’s quote, “Children don’t play to learn, they learn because they play.” Already I see the potential for rich play with Hape’s “High Seas Rocker,” a teeter totter in a tugboat, that could provide hours of pretend play
on the ocean or Educational Insights’ “Once Upon a Craft” bringing stories to life as kids read a book and then decorate crafts to re-tell the story with puppets, characters and props. STEM focused products are hot, particularly aimed at girls. I obviously like the ones that have a language building component like Build and Imagine, and a new company I will look forward to meeting, Wonderhood Toys. Their Grand Hotel and Corner Shops sets are great settings for imaginative play.

Stay tuned, I’ll be giving lots of previews as we ramp up to the Toy Fair!




Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Language, Toys | Leave a comment Announces 2015 PAL Award Top 10 Picks

We congratulate all of our outstanding Top 10 Picks for our Holiday Gift Guide 2015! Take a look and add to your list:

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 11.33.26 AM

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The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish by Diesen and Hanna

imagesYou know what a fan I am of the Pout-Pout Fish and his adventures, especially his first introduction and venturing off to school. Well I just got an advance copy of Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna’s newest adventure, “The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish” as Mr. Fish tackles the holidays, being a bit of a perfectionist as he tries to get the perfect gift for each friend and bake the tastiest cookies. There is a message for kids as well as parents as they read of his frustration and stress until Miss Shimmer gives him the best advice, to give from the heart. Out come the art supplies and the best gifts are homemade.

The vocabulary sets up a perfect language lesson around holiday themes and the clever drawings add much to the story and providing many opportunities for conversation with your kids. The shopping scenes are especially rich for describing and discussing. Here is my full review of this newest PAL Award winner:

I just love the opening stanzas of Mr. Fish’s latest escapade:

“In a festive ocean corner, Fish were decking out the reef, Hanging tinsell, bows and lights, In a holiday motif.”

Can you get into the rhythm of that luscious language?? We are off on another adventure loaded with rich descriptive vocabulary thanks to author, Debbie Diesen, who knows the wealth in words and Dan Hanna who visually transforms the ocean floor into a visual feast of holiday fun, adding details that amuse and enrich the story. Mr. Fish didn’t feel the merriment as he was bogged down with his “to do” list–get the perfect present for everyone and bake the tastiest cookies.   There was much to explore as Mr. Fish went shopping checking out baubles, trinkets, and gadgets like “Massage in a Bottle,” or “Blackbeard’s Other Beard,”while parents enjoyed the deeper meanings of “Mr. Limpet’s Glasses” and “Das Boot.” Mr. Fish was on the move but kept arriving just as the stores closed, unable to purchase a single gift. The gentle voice of Miss Shimmer advised him to make his gifts, “For the best gifts of all come straight from the heart!” This story of keeping our perscpective at holiday time is a great read for kids as well as adults. Cut down on the frantic shopping for the perfect gift and give from your heart. How timely to get that message right before Christmas!


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PAL Award Top Ten Picks 2015 To Be Announced on NBC CT TV Today!

I’m excited to share some of my  2015 “Top 10 PAL Award Picks” today on a segment on NBC CT TV with Keri-Lee Mayland. I wanted to get my list up so those who watch will
have all the details of these outstanding language learning products. Click on the company to read my reviews and see where to purchase the product:

Build and Imagine’s Fairytale Theater (4-8, $35.00)

  • Build_Imagine_LifeStyle-216Kids create stories based on fairy tales
  • Double sided magnetic story panels change up the setting, hop on a pirate ship,or go through the enchanted forest or castle
  • Magnetic accessories turn your characters into an ogre, pirate, princess or wizard
  • Kids are practicing the essential elements for good stories for reading and writing skills

Disney Imagicademy Storymation Studio by Wonder Forge (4 and up, $24.99)

  • Wonder-Forge-imagicademyStorymationKids become the producer and director of their animated movies
  • Beautiful backgrounds and characters from Disney classics, or use clay to form your own characters and props. 
  • Add special effects (bubbles or snowflakes) and music
  • Encourages imagination and creativity while telling the story

Go! Go! Smart Friends Busy Sounds Discovery Home by VTech (1-5 years, $35)

  • pTRU1-19181958enh-z6This smart house has 8 magic point locations activated by Nora
  • She starts singing, talking, and making sound effects associated with the theme of that room
  • Kids were mesmerized by her talking, started talking back, stimulates language

French Cocotte Trolley Cooker by Janod (1-4, $100)

  • The-French-Cocotte-Trolley-837322Toddlers love portable play, kids pushed the cart, opened the napkin, fried eggs for me
  • Terrific for pretend play
  • Utensils attach magnetically to the side so ready for play

Ambi’s One Man Band by Galt Toys ( 1 and up, $21.00)

  • hbqOcpqfToddlers loved this toy, lots of giggles as they explored tooting his horn, banging his tummy which is a drum and his head which is a bell
  • Parents can describe lots of colors and action as child plays to build vocabulary

Dohdles! by Thames and Kosmos (10 and up, $40)

  • imgres-11Such fun playing this game, secretly sculpting their object or person for others to guess.
  • Ask yes/no questions or for a clue as to the beginning letter
  • Kids use deductive reasoning in narrowing their questions from general to specific

Gigantic Step and Play Piano by Alex Toys (3 and up, $80)

  • 715P-Gigantic-Step-Play-Piano-frangle-554x300Talk about active play!
  • Kids initially walked up the scale,  then a little girl started doing Irish dance on the keys while composing music
  • Record and listen or add different instruments
  • Builds auditory memory, listening skills which are always great for the classroom


Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Games, Toys, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Build and Imagine’s Fairytale Video

I’ve enjoyed using short videos to introduce new products and founders of their companies at the Toy Fair, and we’ve started to produce videos of outstanding PAL Award winners to show parents how to get the most language learning out of play, as well as what features contribute to rich creative play with a toy or game.

Here’s our latest video of Build and Imagine’s new building set, “Fairytale Theater.” Kids played non-stop,  continuously inventing stories, piecing together different fairytales all interwoven into their new story. Take a look at some fantastically fun smart play.

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Easy Speech Therapy Session

IMG_1279Okay, now that I have your attention–ha! The funny thing is that last week I had the hardest session with this little 3 year-old girl. When I arrived at her house, she had a grumpy face and was saying, “No” to everything her nanny said. I knew it was going to be a long hour. The next week thankfully her mother had talked to her about cooperating and the consequences of her obeying. I had my usual bag packed with lots of different activities–a craft, a puzzle, PlayDoh, and figures. At the last minute I threw in a Frozen magic coloring book that I picked up in the grocery store checkout line.

Wouldn’t you know that she loved it but asked me to color all the pages which was rather therapeutic for me. Such a simple activity but she just kept repeating my articulation models as I colored for the whole hour! After we finished a page, I labeled all the final consonant words that we were working on so Mom could follow up with some practice. I always try to provide some practice activity because when parents follow up, it makes a big difference in progress. Never mind that one of her dogs really did eat our project from last week. Hopefully he won’t like Frozen cartoons.

If only therapy was always this easy.

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