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!
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Preschool, Reading | Leave a comment

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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New PAL Winners Bring Great Fun to Smart Summer Play

Pacific play tents teepeeSince I am busy reviewing so many fantastic new products for the PAL Award, I have been a little lax in blogging for which I apologize to my readers. I did get “back in the saddle” tonight and I’m on my third blog. It feels good to back on I haven’t forgotten you. I wanted to share some of the toys and games that surprised me with an extra element of fun or learning that I maybe hadn’t even anticipated. Here goes:

For summer outside play Pacific Play Tents two winners were great fun on the front lawn. Kids couldn’t wait to paint “The Painting Teepee” with their tubes of red, green and blue paint. After decorating, their creation was a perfect prop for pretend play. The girls ran to pick up the “12′ Kaleidochute Parachute” starting with a game they knew from PE class but then went on to giggle and chat, inventing one game after another. Many caused them to be wrapped around in the parachute and laughing on the ground but they knew the rules.

851399_001Another toy that gives kids an opportunity  for open-ended summer play is Step2’s Home Run Baseball Trainer. With its zig zag ball delivery, players could anticipate when the ball would drop and were more successful. Just tap the release lever with your bat and wait to slam the ball. Fill the base with sand or water for stabilization and fit your water balls in the spots. All the neighborhood kids lined up and couldn’t wait for a turn, from 5-10 years old. This stand-alone sports trainer allows for kids to have a pick up game of baseball without dragging mom or dad out to pitch (for which I am thankful!) With just the kids engaged, they had to make their own rules, manage turns and even designate those to fetch the balls in the bushes. Outdoor play is healthy and great for social language skills as kids learn to effectively negotiate, plan and and solve problems as they keep the game going. All I can say is, nobody wanted to go home when mom called them, one little friend declared, “I LOVE baseball,” while another asked it he could come back when we do it again!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment Presents Their Spring 2015 PAL Awards today

Here is the full press release.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 10.34.40 AM

Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Apps, Birth-3 year-olds | Leave a comment

Spring PAL Awards Announced on NBC CT TV

Had a fun live interview with Kerri-Lee Mayland, sharing 7 of our Spring PAL Awards. Wish I could have shown all of them because we have a terrific group of fun toys, games and books that can encourage and build language skills through fun play. Check out the full list of winners.  Here is my segment from Friday, “Best Summer Play with Learning too!:”


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NBC CT Announcing Spring PAL Award Winners on Friday

Tomorrow on NBC CT,  I am featuring some of the PAL Award’s Spring winners that spark great fun and can keep language skills sharp over the summer–encouraging exploration and open-ended play. Here are the new products I am going to share:

All about flexible, open-ended, play using great toys and games that can teach too!

princessPrincess Palace by Janod (4 years and up, $50)

  • Open up your suitcase, reveal a palace complete with kitchen,bedroom, dressing room and garden room surrounding great hall.
  • 28 accessories: set your banquet table for 10 people, host a birthday party with cake, give your princess a ride on the horse drawn carriage
  • 16 pieces of interlocking path
  • Portable story telling
  • Available here

group-lo-resWorry Eaters by Haywire Group (3  years and up, $16-$23)

  • These friends can spark a conversation about worries and fears,
  • Kids write down their worries or draw them, put them in the mouth and zip shut
  • Worry Eater hangs on to the worries for them
  • Terrific language learning tool to start a conversation about what is concerning your child
  • using, learning, building emotional vocabulary
  • Available here

sq-579B_Jungle-Fun-ABC-PlayMat_frontangle-300x300Jungle Fun ABC Playmat by Alex Toys (1 year and up, $50)

  • Kids loved popping out the letters as they named them
  • Even used the plastic zippered case to put them in as named them
  • Corresponding animals Z is for zebra, B is for butterfly
  • Pictures to describe to build language: the duck is on the crocodile’s back
  • Available here

Bakery Shoppe WThe Bakery Shoppe Set by The Queen’s Treasures (8 years and up, $130)

  • Who doesn’t like a trip to the bakery with your favorite 18” doll?
  • Girls got right into role-play as one took over the cash register with money
  • treats are sold separately, but even come with a bakery box
  • great for role play, dialogue and story telling
  • Available here

imgres-2Maker Studio Construction Set by ThinkFun (7 years and up, $20)

  • very innovative company, great price point for all the learning included in this set
  • Box full of parts and gadgets, instruction booklet using elementary science and engineering concepts
  • create your own toys
  • made a well with a winch out of oatmeal container
  • learn problem solving, vocabulary of engineering–spool, connector, gear, rod and purpose
  • challenges-rescue a toy out of the well
  • Available here

shoppingHucklebee by MindWare (18 months and up, $20)

  • Parents ask me most frequently for toy suggestions for toddlers
  • Hucklebee is great because it comes with 50 suggested activities for interaction with  this cute bee,
  • following directions to shake Hucklebee and then shake yourself all over.
  • colors, shapes, counting, body parts, action words and pretend play
  • Available here

imgres-3The Painting Teepee by Pacific Play Tents (3 years and up, $170)

  • kids saw the teepee and couldn’t wait to personalize it with the paint tubes
  • moon and stars to warrior on a horse
  • really sturdy for pretend play, can handle several children
  • discussed designs and started up their story
  • Available here
Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Birth-3 year-olds | Leave a comment

Delivering Speech Therapy Backwards

Hape Beauty kitEvery now and then we are challenged with a child who just can’t seem to produce the target sound, even when we try all our tricks. I was faced with just that the other day, as a 3 year-old has not been able to produce /t,d/ in spite of requests from her DADDY, who was GaGa!

I have used Pam Marshalla’s techniques for getting a production of /s/ from /t/ so I decided to work backwards since this little girl had an approximation of /s/. We were playing with my popular Hape’s beauty kit when Katie took off her shoes so I could “paint her Toes.” She couldn’t imitate /t/ so I just started bombarding her with /s/ sounds as I gave her a pedicure. She kept repeating and then I changed to a /ts/ with lots of emission of air and eventually moved to /t/. Next thing you know, she was repeating /t/, /t/, /t/ as we painted her toes!

This is what continues to excite me about being a speech therapist, that I have to be creative in accomplishing goals.

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Jimmy Fallon Campaigns for DADA as First Word From Winnie

imgres-8Okay let’s take a look at the combination of two things I enjoy when I get a chance– watching Jimmy Fallon and reading Parents Magazine. I think Jimmy Fallon is so clever, funny and kind. That’s why I like to watch him. And since he has become a parent he makes parenting a laughing matter too.

The most recent Parents Magazine included an interview with Fallon about the first children’s book he authored since becoming a dad, “Your Baby’s First Word Will Be DADA,” about the importance he placed on daughter Winnie saying  “Dada” as her first word. He claimed to try to trick her into saying “Dada” first, by labeling everything “Dada”  from “bottle to diapers to strawberries.” Now  we know that isn’t the way to build language skills but it certainly might get a child to say Dada if she hears that word exclusively, and gives us a laugh in the process.

I can’t wait to get the book and post a review. Just have to wait until June 9 to get a copy! Stay tuned.

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