The Importance of Pretend Play for Language Development

When you watch two three-year-olds preparing a meal at their kid-sized kitchen or taking their trucks for repair or cars to the car wash, you know that they are doing more than just playing. Their creative and inquisitive minds are bridging the real world with their pretend world as they invent stories, collaborate with a friend, take turns, and take on roles in their pretend world. Children practice story-telling as they invent characters and change the action. These scripts are building their language as they expand on their theme whether it is shopping, cooking, driving or taking a sail. Good story-tellers enjoy reading because they are interested in stories, and go on to be eager writers because they have been practicing inventing stories orally.

Beginning at 1 year of age, your child might pick up an empty cup and pretend to drink. At 15 months, she might offer that same drink to her teddy bear, now involving others in her pretend play. From 2 to 3 years of age, she will enjoy imitating your activities with miniature replicas of adult “toys” like a vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, or dare I say iron?? Kids like the noises of my toy iron but it makes most moms groan and say they don’t use one!

chilren's play pirate shipI had a gratifying experience with one of my favorite 2 1/2 year-old playmates, Ian, the other day. I had introduced him to the fun of pirates with Rub a Dub, Pirates of the Tub (see my full review under “reviews”) and the Mega Bloks My Pirate Ship. He couldn’t wait for me to arrive with my pirate ship and gang. His mom told me that after I had left the other day, she found him in a large basket, with a tiny wheel he had found, pretending to drive his pirate ship. Hooray! His imagination had been stimulated and he extended our play to his own creative plot. I suggested that mom gather a few more props to be available for him so he could lead the play and use his imagination. The next time I came to his house, there was the basket with an empty toilet paper tube for a telescope, a stuffed animal owl (hey a parrot wasn’t available) and a small wheel for driving his vessel. I always encourage parents to have props available to spark your child’s imagination. You are being the producer of his play, by putting out good props but not the director of his play–that is your child’s job! Stand back and enjoy the show.

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

Do Babies Need Flashcards To Learn Language?

Whenever I speak to a group of new moms, I learn what is on their mind. Yesterday I talked to a delightful group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital and some of the same questions came up like how to raise your child bi-lingual, what about baby talk and when should we dump the pacifier. But a new question to me came up–Is it okay to use flashcards?

I’ll be honest, my first reaction when I hear the word “flashcards” is wait a minute, that’s what you use to drill skills with kids who are behind. Why would you use them with your baby or toddler? Then I remembered several moms whose homes I have visited who shared “cards” that their children loved. These sets of sturdy cards with individual objects, animals, and things that go can serve the same purpose as a good book if used properly.

You want to be your child’s play partner, not a teacher drilling words or concepts. Kids like play, not pressure. So use the cards (I prefer to call them that rather than flashcards) as you would a good book whose pages you would describe. “Here’s some sticky red jelly that we can put on your sandwich.” After naming the object, use the word in several sentences describing the object and relating it to your child’s experience to expand their language. Do NOT use the cards as a drill to try to teach your child numbers or vocabulary. They will learn these concepts naturally as you have fun with the cards and enjoy the play experience.

Kids like to manipulate the cards and choose ones for you to elaborate upon. The cards really become a book taken apart so your child can hear about the pictures in whatever order they want. One set that is loved by kids is the My First Touch and Feel Picture Cards by DK. The series includes First Words, Animals, Numbers and Counting, and Colors and Shapes. These interactive cards have textures to describe and keep your child interested. A 9-month-old will enjoy looking at the pictures and start to become interactive, feeling the textures, while a 12-month-old or 18-month-old will start to name the pictures.

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18 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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6 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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At six months of age, your baby can understand a few words she hears frequently, is babbling to herself and others, experimenting with her mouth and vocal system much to her delight! She might start a conversation with a yell, or laugh when something strikes her fancy. This is a time to continue to talk and read to your baby as she is listening to differences in sound combinations and words. Chose interesting toys and books to match her growing listening and talking skills:

Manhattan Toy Put and Peek Birdhouse is one of my personal favorites and kids love it too. You can open, close, take in and out,look through and in the birdhouse to gather up the four amusing birds. Each one is different enough for you to describe their textures, colors, shape, sounds and patterns to provide lots of vocabulary for your baby.

Lamaze Trotter the Pony has some pretty wobbly legs that you can tug on to show long and short. Each hoof makes a different sound to describe and he iscovered with varied textures–bumpy corduroy, shiny smooth tail, slick rings, fuzzy face and slippery feet. Babies love his curly hair atop his head and smile in response to his face.

Melissa and Doug Deluxe Candy Jar Fill and Spill is filled with goodies that all have a face–giving your baby someone to converse with–whether it’s a wrapped candy, lollipop or gingerbread man. These soft candies are the right size to shake and chew on and later take in and out of the candy jar. The clear plastic allows you to see and talk about all the goodies inside.

Tiny Love Activity Ball is constant entertainment to your little one as he starts to sit up and swat the bulgy eyed ball to get it to move. Every swipe at it evokes a noise to teach cause and effect. Describe all the parts on him–bumpy rings, patterned arms and legs and pull the lets and head out for fun. Kids love to chew on his antennae.

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3 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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At three months of age, your baby shows excitement when a toy or book is placed in front of her. Now she can move her eye muscles to examine things of interest, identify most adult colors and is generally interested in looking at a toy or book. Language enhancing toys for this age have lots to talk about as you describe the toy, read the book or talk about the illustrations. Therefore chose toys that have contrasts in color and pattern, texture, and sound as well as flexibility in movement so you have opportunities to describe using varied and rich vocabulary.

Freddy the Firefly, My Friend Emily the doll, and Pupsqueak the dog by Lamaze all meet these requirements for multiple opportunities for description. As your baby looks at the toys, give her words for the various characteristics like smooth, rough, bumpy corduroy, or blue, orange, red and yellow tummy, or crinkly, rattle, or squeak. Each little square of fabric around Emily’s skirt provides the opportunity to talk about different shapes, textures and sounds. Each toy has an opportunity for movement or change that you can describe: lift up Freddy’s wing for peek-boo or go flying, take Emily for a walk or sit down, and feed Pupsqueak his bone. Research shows that the more you talk to your baby, the better it is for her language development. So having toys that are stimulating on many levels, builds her language. That being said, don’t forget to have breaks too! No one likes continuous talk.

Whoozit by Manhattan Toy: is a baby’s favorite with varied black and white contrasting patterns on the back and a smiling face on the front with seven appendages to flog and rattle to keep your little one entertained.Many variations have been introduced like Baby Whoozit and Baby Tizoo who sports pink for the girls. Lots of textures and shapes to describe, this toy even has a peek-a-boo nose.

Tug and Hug Horse by Sassy: has plenty to entertain your baby too. With some hard surfaces to plunk as the horse trots off, this toy has stripes, polka dots and bright contrasting colors. Just press his saddle for a trot, a neigh and clearing his nose! Pull on his legs and describe long and short, in and out. His friendly face invites conversation and attracts your baby to stimulate talking. Babies are attracted to faces and talk more to a face, especially a familiar one. Always look for toys with a face to encourage language.

Taggies Look at Me! Activity Mirror: is angled for your baby’s best viewing and engages your child with eight faces on one side that they can manipulate as they get older–feel the fuzzy bear, flip back the giraffe and pull on the hippo. Lights and sounds can be activated but aren’t necessary for the fun. Flip it over when baby is bored and you have the three pigs to put in their numbered houses and the cow to jump over the moon.

Play With Me! Activity Bumpers: by International Playthings has stimulating action on both sides, first a black, white and red penguin and zebra with clever tags to play with in a mane or hand, and then a multi-colored side bursting with a cow jumping over the moon, a pig peek-a-boom, a fuzzy lamp to pull up and down and a taggie rainbow in the stars.

Peek-a Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti: This clever, bright contrasting flap book engages babies every time I read it. It has all the components for a perfect read-aloud for your baby–rhythm, bounce, fun, rhyme, bright contrasting pictures and fun animals. Just as your baby is looking at the picture and listening to the rhyme, you flip down the flap to reveal the cute animal face and say its sound.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr/Eric Carle: This book is a crowd pleaser for babies to kindergartners. I have never read this to a 3 month old who didn’t look enthralled as I read the text. The bright, beautiful collage illustrations of the individual animals are exciting and the repetition of the “What do you see?” promotes learning and gives comfort to a child over repeated readings.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney: There is no end to the love a mother has for her baby as this mama bunny and her baby try to one-up each other in the breadth and depth of their love for each other. The intricate drawing and soft colors match the lovely story.

Baby Talk by DK: At 3 months, your baby will enjoy listening to you say baby’s first words and flipping the flaps but as she gets older she will enjoy becoming active in the reading process. Babies love to look at other baby’s faces and these will capture your baby’s attention as they reveal some first words that babies speak like “yum-yum” or “hee-hee” or “boo-hoo.”

Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star by Rosemary Wells: As part of Wells’ Read to Your Bunny, Very First Library, this book is a song put to pictures. Each page has a stanza from the song, a constellation in the sky for mom and dad, and a beautifully illustrated sequence of mama bunny getting her baby ready for bed including her bath, pajamas, a cup of milk, a story and lights out.

Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magsamen: This is part of a new series, the Snuggle-me stories which include a little finger puppet of a butterfly whose purpose is to give kisses at the end. What parent doesn’t want to “tickle, giggle and play?”

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton: A perfect beginning Boynton book, this tale is about the farm animals and the sounds they make. Everything is fine until the pigs say “la la la.” Boynton’s humor keeps parents and kids coming back for more! She has lots of fun, goofy sounding words that promote listening skills and teach kids that sounds are fun like “snort,” “snuff,” and “ruff.”

Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Priddy: Cloth books are perfect for little hand to grab as your baby approaches 6 months and wants to put everything in her mouth! The problem is that many of the cloth books don’t have strong contrasts in colors like the board books for have a good tale to tell. This book and its series has clever rhymes about Sally Spider, the dragonfly, beetle, worm and others. Kids love the shiny and textured fabrics used on the bugs.

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Game Review: Froggy Boogie by Blue Orange Toys, Ages 4-6

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Ages 4-6

Grab your kiddie frog for a boogie around the lily pads. The trick is that you can’t be “seen” by the googly eyes of the adult frogs or your froggie is frozen in place, unable to advance toward the finish. What kid doesn’t enjoy sneaking past his parents’ watchful eyes?

Each adult frog, painted two delightful colors, lies waiting in the middle of the pond. Roll the dice of colors, match the two colors that come up to the adult frog and pick up one of his bulbous eyes to reveal if he has “seen” you–a green stamp of the frog lets you know “yes” and a blank means “no.” Let’s hope it is blank and you can sneak on past the adults to the next lily pad.

Although this is a game of visual memory, kids love the suspense of taking a peek under the eyes to see if they are caught. In addition, Froggy Boogie is a game of counting, visual discrimination and matching with colors, and requires no reading so the whole family beginning at 4 years can play. I’ve seen families of siblings up to 7 years giggle their way through this game together. Language is enhanced as the players discuss strategy, offer help, figure out whose turn it is and negotiate.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Your Personalized ABC Book

One of the blessings of my job is that I get to know some wonderful families. When I work with children in their homes, sometimes several times a week, the dogs and cats treat me like family as so do the parents and kids.

Yesterday I was invited over to Betsy’s house to catch up on life since I dismissed Betsy from speech therapy several months ago. The whole gang was there including dad who was home sick from work. He was a good sport and played games with us as I tried out a few new products coming out that I am reviewing.  Parents that I’ve worked with always give me good toy and book suggestions based on language value. Betsy’s mom showed me her personalized ABC book, My Amazing Alphabet Adventures, that was made through Shutterfly that I wanted to share with you. Mom sent in a head shot which was superimposed on cute bodies engaged in all sorts of fun. Each letter page has many words beginning with that letter in the print describing the picture. It isn’t the best literature but it is packed with words that emphasize the letter and relate to the adventure in the picture. So check it out and add it to your ABC collection.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Preschool, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

A Stimulating Mobile for Baby

When I visit homes, I always ask the mom and dad what toys and books their baby likes. At my last visit, I noticed a mobile on the floor, outside of the crib. Mom said her little boy loved his Infant Stim Mobile by Manhattan Toy so much, especially the line drawing of a little child’s face, that she had to take it down at nap time because he kept talking to the face and not going to sleep! We know that babies are attracted to faces and talk more to faces so this little guy just confirmed the research.

The Stim-Mobile is a clear alternative to the stuffed animal mobiles that rock and roll. This mobile is incredibly simple with its line drawings in black and white as well as color. The pictures face the baby and are interchangeable which relieves boredom, and allows you to move to color as your child moves out of the newborn stage. Amazingly enough there are no gadgets to move the mobile or lights and sounds to add to the mix.

It’s not that I am opposed to the popular stuffed animal mobiles with mirrors, sounds and sometimes lights. But every baby is different and some prefer a quieter mobile to look at. One of my favorites is the Fisher Price Rainforest Peek-a-Boo Leaves Musical Mobile. It soothes and provides bright stimulating critters and waving leaves to watch but doesn’t overpower baby with continuous loud music that can’t be turned off. As a matter of fact, there are three settings–combinations of light, motion and music–to choose from, including just motion and light, if you want the sound off. Personally, I would love to nod off to the noises of the rainforest, with leaves fanning above my head. Another useful feature is that as your child grows, you can remove the mobile and leave the base attached to the crib for a night light and soothing sound machine.

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Great ABC Game at the Fish Counter

Last week a mom asked me for suggestions for toys that teach the ABC’s. My response was that the ABC’s as with other “academic concepts” such as numbers and colors are best learned through experience and you don’t necessarily need a toy.

Well, this weekend I was observing in one of the best classrooms–the grocery store! As I was waiting at the fish counter, I watched a dad manage his three little children, ages 2, 4 and 5. Mom strategically, left the cart full of kids and dad parked at the counter while she ran around picking up items on her own. Suddenly I heard, “I see an S.” and “I see a W.” Across the plexiglass covering the fish were specials written in bold colors of magic marker. These little kids were calling out letters in the “Previously Frozen Swordfish” sign and making a game of it. See how learning can be fun? Letters make a lot more sense when they are useful, not just remembered in a toy whose electronic voice calls them out when you push a button. Don’t get me wrong, some of those toys can be fun as children are learning to name letters, like the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics, but the swordfish sign links letters to life.

After a long wait in line, I stepped up to order and I heard the cart leaving behind me with voices saying, “Goodbye blue, goodbye purple,” calling out the colors in the sign.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | 1 Comment

Raising Your Child’s Reading Level

“Are you always supposed to read at their level?” This was a question posed by a wonderful mom I met yesterday for a “play on words” session with her 5 month-old. Her little John is an interested listener when mom reads his favorite books, Goodnight Moon, Big Red Barn and That’s Not My Teddy by Usborne. But mom confessed that sometimes she gets a little bored with the board books and sneaks in a little Winnie the Pooh or Dr Seuss. Good for her!

When talking to new moms and dads about reading to their babies, I always encourage them to go outside the box. Certainly, babies prefer the rhyme, rhythm, short lines, fun sounds and wacky stories of the board books, but try adding a great piece of literature aimed at a bit older child that still has bright, intriguing illustrations, and lots of beat to the story. When I have play sessions with parents of 6 month-olds, I always bring along Giraffes Can’t Dance by Andraae and Parker-Rees. Why? Because I am always learning from the parents that I teach. When I met with a mom of a 6 month-old, I asked my usual question about what were her son’s favorite books. She replied, Giraffes Can’t Dance. Now I was familiar with that cute tale of poor Gerard the giraffe who buckled at the knees every time he tried to dance because I had read it to 3 year-olds. I was sceptical that her baby really sat for this longer story until mom proceeded to recite the story from memory! This story has engaging illustrations, wonderful rhyme, beat, and vocabulary.

Certainly the “mommy boredom” factors need to be considered. We read with more emotion, interest and more often to our children when we like the books too. That is why I love Sandra Boynton books like Moo Baa La La La, Barnyard Dance, Snuggle Puppy and The Going to Bed Book and Rosemary Wells’ books like Goodnight Max, Max’s Bedtime and Max’s Breakfast, because I am entertained too and continue to chuckle each time I read them!

By the way, John’s mom discovered that John loved Horton Hatches the Egg, one of her favorites too, because of the lively rhythm that Dr. Seuss is known for. Hey you may as well get to know Horton because his new movie is coming out soon.

So try out some new books and let me know in the comments how it is going and what book intrigue your child.

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