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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Build and Imagine Sets Ignite Pretend Play with Kids on the Autism Spectrum

IMG_1283I love to share amazing experiences I have with kids, ones that surprise even me as children lead the way and show new dimensions of play with an outstanding toy.

I’ve been having one of those “Wow” experiences while working with a 4 year-old boy on the autism spectrum.  It wasn’t that many months ago that Sam (not his real name) did not know how to engage in pretend play and showed little interest in playing with peers or alone with representational toys to encourage language like a fire station with firefighters, playhouses and little people or a zoo set. He has made steady progress learning to follow my model in play, becoming fascinated with Max and Ruby books and their plush figures, expanding his play with props and PlayDoh. Fast forward to the last 2-3 weeks and we have made a major jump. I thought I would bring  Build and Imagine’s  “Fairytale Theater” set for our play time, even though it was a stretch, as it involves a lot of creating, modifying, building and initiating a story. Add to that the mom said he doesn’t like fairy tales because he is scared of them. One of our goals is that he “speak” for his figure and engage in conversation with mine.

IMG_1287Sam loved setting up the magnetic panels and decided we were going to the castle to see the king. He chose the boy figure, dressing him while I was the girl. We went through the forest scene, knocked on the castle door and he placed his figure in front of the armoured guard in the throne scene to start talking to “the king!” We asked him for breakfast, waited for it to be prepared and then went back home.

Many children on the autism spectrum have intense interests in specific things, often mechanical, like elevators, light switches or doors. One can take advantage of these specific interests and  integrate them into therapy activities. Sam focuses on doors so the magnetic panels are appealing, especially the Fairytale curtains that can open and close. I use it as motivator, telling him that he can put the curtains on at the end to complete his show.

Sam liked the Fairytale Theater so much that I brought “Malia’s House”and “A Day at the Beach,” wanting to see what he would do with 2 sets–perhaps too overwhelming. They have taken over our therapy sessions because Sam’s pretend play, creativity, and flexibility have expanded exponentially! The minute he greets me at my car he asks if we can play “The Beach Game!” Now he starts assigning roles, that I am Skylar and he is Graham (he named the figure). Yesterday we visited Skylar’s house, ordered our lunch from Mom through the pull down window, swam in the pool, ate lunch and then returned to Malia’s house to play some music and sing on our microphone. Play moved on when Sam said, let’s go out to the swings!

Mom sees the impact of a toy that can inspire and grow a child. She told me yesterday that the play is extending outside the therapy sessions. He is going into his playroom now and continuing some of the dialogue and themes started with the beach sets. (When I first met Sam, his playroom was loaded with vehicles and had very few figures to inspire dialogue. He wasn’t interested in playing with play people.) Additionally he played with a dollhouse at grandma’s over the weekend that hadn’t been of interest to him previously.

Near the end of our play, Sam looked at me, pointed to Malia’s house and said,  “This is a schoolhouse,” and we were off and running with a new story theme! Sam is now directing the play which maximizes  learning.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Language, Preschool Class, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Pumpkin Books for Speech Therapy Activities

Pumpkin patchIt’s that time of year again when classrooms are a buzz about pumpkin patches, corn maizes, harvest time and seeds. I have a real live pumpkin experience going on along the front walk across the street. A cool mom allowed her little boy to plant some pumpkin seeds and the vine has taken over her front bushes! What a great learning experience to watch the fuzzy green ball at the end of the flower grow into a pumpkin.

Since I have several children on my caseload with word-finding difficulties, I am always on the lookout for books that use and enrich curriculum vocabulary. I ask teachers for a list of their vocabulary by subject and search the library for appropriate books. I also use these books to build vocabulary, talk about activities in sequence (carving a pumpkin or drying the seeds), and work on oral comprehension and answering wh-questions.

I wanted to share my pumpkin stash with you all:

3173770“Life Cycle of a Pumpkin” by Fridell and Walsh Each page is illustrated with a photograph of a step in the cycle from seed, seedling, vine, flower, pollination, growing, ripening, and harvest. What I like about it for a language lesson:

  • simple, short bits of information for each step
  • informative close-up photos for description
  • new vocabulary words in bold (vine, tendrils, seed, wither, pollen, etc)
  • a few simple facts on each page

images“The Pumpkin Book” by Gail Gibbons gives bite-sized details of the growth cycle of pumpkins with delightful illustrations but also includes:

  • the special role pumpkins played in the first Thanksgiving
  • the origin of Halloween
  • how to properly carve a pumpkin which would illustrate a nice sequencing activity
  • how to dry seeds

51kWjvoH2CL._SY373_BO1,204,203,200_“Pumpkins” by Burckhardt is the simplest of the group with 2 or 3 sentences per page and photo illustrations.

“The Pumpkin Patch” by King is again a nice amount of information for early elementary aged children and can be modified for preschool.

  • again, simple, informative bits of information
  • illustrated with photographs
  • fun facts like farmers’ seeds are coated with pink powder to keep insects from eating them–makes for a good listening activity!



Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

Paint and Play-Doh Spark Fun in Speech Therapy

As I review toys and games for the fall PAL Awards I love to see what kids teach me about the products. Certain ones provide great fun in my speech therapy settings.

Today I brought Crayola’s “Color Wonder Light-Up Stamper” to the delight of the little boy I was working with. When working on articulation (sounds), we SLP’s are always looking for fun reinforcing activities. My little friend liked this self-contained stamping and coloring set so much he said to me, “On this Christmas, did you wish for this?” 10 disks snap on the stamper so kids can press them in the invisible 3 colors of paint. Then press on the magic paper and the image appears. Although we were working on final /l/–whale, smile, turtle, shell–he naturally began to illustrate and tell a story. Drawing an underwater school for the animals, he stamped a fish inside the door who became the teacher, ringing the bell to call sea animals to school.

IMG_1029Another winner with kids is Plan Toy’s “Build a Town Dough Set.” Kids really showed me around this set, using the big roller for lined roads and railroad tracks, while pulling out the handle and attaching it to other patterns to stamp into the dough. I was working on “is” with my little girl friend as she brought her favorite horse figures which were just the right size for our cars that we made from molds to put on the axles. Her shoes became their home as they traveled back along the road!

Simple, well-designed toys provide the environment for modeling target sounds or language structures, while expanding and building skills while having loads of fun!

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Book Lovers Feast At the Elkhart Lake Library Sale

IMG_0725One of my favorite surprises this summer was our local library’s summer book sale at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. I actually made 2 stops there in one day. First to pay “full price” for some books at 50 cents each and then to return an hour before closing to get a bagful for $3.00. Since my grandkids were coming in a few days and I have some new readers, I loaded my bag with paperbacks for the 7 and 8 year-olds, including Gary Paulson books, some picture books on raccoons and otters for the younger ones and even got “The Indian in the Cupboard” for read-aloud time with Sheshe and Artie!

What a great way to encourage reading for my kids as well as me, as I checked out with my 22 books (with room left in my bag)! Thanks to all the volunteers who helped make this event a success and the amazing staff that runs one of the nicest children’s libraries I know.

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Back to School and Back to Blogging

IMG_1005I am reminded it is Back to School time as I see empty busses practicing their routes, parents running around with lists in their hands looking for that specific folder, paper and binder that the teacher requested, and kids cramming to get their summer reading done! Of course as a speech-language pathologist I’m in that “scheduling” mode, playing that game of chess where I move my little clients around my week’s calendar, hoping to get contiguous appointments that are also semi-close logistically as I drive to their homes! All fun of course as we are glad to see one another again after our summer break.

Speaking of which, I took a bit of a break from blogging which makes me really eager to share fun experiences, therapy tips and toys and books I have discovered that hone language skills while having fun. Check in for some helpful tips and share some yourselves!

Back to School seems to focus on the kids going to “real” school, beginning with kindergarten but let’s not forget our preschoolers. This summer I’ve had a chance to play with some wonderful 2,3 and 4 year-olds with great products to encourage pre-literacy skills, playing with letters, sounds and words. Here are some of my favorites:

1456_front-1260x1024Thanks to Alex Toys, learning letters is fun! Kids need lots of repetition to remember the alphabet so why not make it a game? My little friends loved picking up one piece of the 2-part puzzle per letter, identifying the picture and searching for the other half. Where are the buttons for B? Dots for D? or Cars for C? Favorites were E for eggs (kids love food!), U for Umbrella and R for Rocket. Many letters became the shape of the object like “Owl,” “Monster,” and “Ice cream.” Several levels of language and literacy learning are tapped as kids see the letter, a corresponding word that begins with that letter, and start to associate the letter with its matching sound for later reading success. Oh, did I mention they liked climbing up the ladder on the L, and cooking up the E in their kitchen for some eggs? Who knew it would spark some pretend play too!

  • Busy Builder Wagon by BKids980-004852-80-Product-11-300x300Toddlers gravitated right to this wagon full of learning among a playroom of toys. They got right to work pushing it around the floor to get things moving. It even went along on a walk outside in the street! With little rings to twirl and gears to turn, the wagon kept their attention when they finally took a rest stop. The 12 blocks each have an animal pictured and 3 letters or numbers so they can learn to recognize and name a zebra, hippo or whale while locking them together to build a tower  of ABC’s and numbers. As kids get interested in letters, these blocks are a perfect venue for practicing how to say them, increasing their repertoire of sounds as well as naming the alphabet. The wagon served as a carrier for favorite objects too like their water bottle and stuffed animals.
  • Giant Floor Puzzle ABC Monsters by Janod.  janod-abc-monsters-giant-floor-puzzle-50-pcJanod got it right when they combined some popular themes for early learners–ABC’s and monsters! Kids loved assembling this giant 50 piece puzzle of fun and fuzzy, silly toothed characters. “I need a pink A with glasses” and “D is a dragon (I thought his teeth looked like piano keys!)” commented my little friend and we searched for the next letter. “C is wild and look how many eyes F has.” Lots of fun observations and chatting went on as we put together our ABC puzzle, talking about the quirky monsters. My friend loved opening the box and finding a nice size poster of the alphabet we were trying to duplicate. Kids learn their letters through experience and a lively puzzle is perfect for some ABC talk, as they build language and literacy skills while having fun!
  • ABC Puzzle by Ravensburger.  07545Sounds simple enough, but an 80 piece puzzle ups the challenge for a 5 year-old and up. Luckily the alphabet theme is cleverly woven throughout the puzzle to give location clues for pieces based on letters, matching objects and people, and the printed word corresponding to images. My little friend found a piece with the bike first and said, “I need a B.” and “The B is blue, can someone help me?” after consulting the drawing on the box. Then I hear, “R is for robot,” as he searches for the letter and parts of the figure. After assembling different letters and corresponding pictures, he started to order them according to the alphabet. He finished the puzzle declaring it, “Pretty cool,” and declared, “I wish D could be for drums, because I play drums. This puzzle gets kids thinking on the language level besides working on fine motor and spacial skills. With three possible clues for each segment, the letter, corresponding picture and written word, kids get a literacy work-out too as they link sounds, letters and objects and figures to the written word.
  • Tiggly Words by Tiggly.  Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 8.04.12 PMMeet the newest member of the Tiggly family, “Tiggly Words,” designed to help kids discover the love of reading as they “play” with their hands-on vowel toys interacting with their tablets. A,e,i,o, can be used with 3 apps, Submarine, Tiggly Tales and Tiggly Doctor. Take a tour of the ocean with your submarine to find a blue hexagon to start up your letter game. An elevator, underwater tree house, octopus pad and circle of coral need vowels to reveal words beginning with or using a,e,i,o,and u. “A” reveals alligator, astronaut, ant or an ax who cleverly comments,”No way, time to split.” while an egg cracks and a tiny dinosaur swims out. Elk says, “Wrong floor, this isn’t the lodge,”  adding a little humor for parents listening in. Tiggly Tales is my favorite as it is simple and entertaining in its content and graphics, focusing on the learning of letters and their associated sounds. Beginning and ending consonants are literally loaded onto the deck with a space in the middle for kids to drag or stamp their vowel sound to complete the 3 letter word. h__g reinforces correct responses, hug, hog and hag (depicted by a witch flying by on a broom which kids loved) while incorrect letters inserted medially are ejected by a spring. Kids liked the quick success they could achieve as they experimented with vowels and were rewarded with cute illustrations. It was fun to see them quietly sounding out their possible words before selecting a vowel–just what we want them to do!  B__g was completed to say bug, bag, big and bog, with cartoons appearing to tell kids their answers were correct. Tiggly again has combined traditional and digital play to encourage emergent readers to learn through fun discovery!
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Dads in Prison Connect With Their Kids Through Reading

ABC BookSpending some time in Wisconsin this summer, I naturally enjoy learning about what is going on, unique to this area. I was riding my bike with a friend who lives at Elkhart Lake several months a year and volunteers at the local prison. He shared this article from the Sheboygan Press about a program at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in rural Plymouth. Incarcerated fathers can qualify for “For The Love of Reading ” program where they practice and then record “reading a children’s book aloud, along with a brief message of love and encouragement to their children, urging them to continue reading on their own or with a guardian at home. The DVDs are then mailed to their children.”

Apparently the program has sparked a change in attitude toward reading for the dads themselves. School was often a challenge for these men, and reading in particular. Since literacy is so embedded in learning, competency affects school performance and attitudes toward school. One dad has even picked up on the love of reading through this program of giving to his kids. “I didn’t realize how important it (reading) was back then,” Ramirez said. “Honestly, being locked up, having the time. … Out there, I wasn’t much of a positive influence because I was worried about how I was going to make the next dollar, but when you have time to sit back and actually think about where you went wrong, it definitely helps.”

Taking the time to “practice” reading the stories for their kids, these dads are inherently learning many of the keys to literacy– emotion expressed, lively dialogue, the elements of a good story–as well as learning to love reading, so everyone learns while making a special connection between dad and child. I applaud the facilitators of this program as as it helps reduce recidivism as well.

Look at what the power of reading can do!



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Worry Eaters Offer Opportunity For Kids To Share Concerns

We find PAL winners are natural subjects for developmental videos.  Showcasing differentiators of great language toys, I demonstrate how to optimize play with some amazingly fun toys and games that provide great opportunities for learning.

Recently we sat down with some kids to introduce them to the Worry Eaters, as I wanted to demonstrate how these little plush friends could start the conversation about what is concerning kids in their world. I was amazed at the depth of conversation that ensued and wanted to share it with you.

Worry eaters drawing

“I worry about being teased.”

Worry Eaters with drawing

Flamm getting ready to “eat” the worries.

The kids came over and immediately were drawn to the cute plush characters with big zippered mouths. When I asked them what they worried about, they opened up and just kept coming up with more personal concerns for an hour, until their mothers came back to pick them up. (Mom’s first question was, “What did they say?”) I asked them to write down what they were worried about, or draw it, so we could tuck it into the Worry Eater’s mouth to keep it for us. All old enough to write, they enjoyed illustrating their worries too, which seemed to help them express themselves. The group dynamic encouraged more worry sharing as kids went from topic to topic like school–worrying about taking a test, achieving grades or forgetting homework to relationships–feeling guilty about how we treated a friend, not being invited to a birthday party and listening to everyone talk about it on Monday, or worrying about being assigned to the same cabin as your friend at camp. Being teased about being small, embarrassed about a bad haircut, scared of movies, worried about making a sport’s team or winning a game, getting a shot and as one little girls said, “I’m worried about worries!” all came up.

As our chat went on, the two youngest contributors went off into the other room and entered their imaginary world, using their new Worry Eaters in pretend play. When we happened to peek in, the Flint and Bill were sliding from chair to couch in an imaginary zip line! It was fun to see the relationship grow between child and Worry Eater, as the kids each left with one that they had chosen. The next day, I was driving by Georgia’s house and saw her getting on the swing with Flint. Her sister reported that he had gone swimming with her the day before (by accident fell in the pool) but survived just fine.

It was exciting to see how a toy can elicit so much sharing among children and an adult, encouraging emotional language learning and healthy discussion.

Posted in 10 and up, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language | Leave a comment

Summer Speech Therapy Steps Into The Community

Volvo visit GM 2015

Rob, Westport Volvo’s GM, Rob, always has time for James

Many older speech therapy clients have goals about interacting in the community with socially appropriate greetings and conversations, so summer is a perfect time to get out into our towns and practice what we’ve learned throughout the year.

Volvo visit mechanics 2015

James talks about Lee all year and Lee keeps a picture of the two of them on this computer screen

I really look forward to these “outings” as James calls them or “outings with a purpose” from my end. Clearly his favorite visit is to the Volvo dealership in Westport, CT, where he feels like a rock star as every employee he meets warmly engages him and showers him with “goodies” as he calls them. In preparation for our visit yesterday, we had to go over the fact that we can’t ask for presents
but need to wait for people to give them to you, and James was very respectful of that. He did put on his new Volvo T-shirt to surprise his dad when he was picked up. (Dad has another kind of car so we like to rub it in:)

It’s so refreshing for me to see a whole workplace where I can bring my friend with special needs to reinforce his learning and encourage him in an area of high interest, cars.  These visits provide the topic for many conversations throughout the year as James remembers every detail of his visit, and comments how everyone likes him there. Can’t beat that feeling!

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