Resources for Great Boy and Girl Books to Build Language

Each time I visit my local library I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot! My first stop is the children’s library and their selection of new books. I have found several wonderful stories there. Then I move to the picture books, armed with excellent resources for choosing good books by Kathleen Odean, Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. I use these books a lot to broaden my scope of great authors and illustrators. Sometimes we get “stuck” and choose the same books or authors. I wanted to share these guides with you:

Great Books for Babies and Toddlers: More Than 500 Recommended Books for Your Child’s First Three Years:

This book has a wonderful introduction on how to read to your baby or toddler, extending books into their life experience, and tips for parents including tricks to help the reluctant listener stay interested in a read-aloud. It includes nursery rhymes, fingerplays and songs but is predominantly an annotated list of picture-story books, including appropriate ages.

Great Books for Girls: More Than 600 Books to Inspire Today’s Girls and Tomorrow’s Women:

In Odean’s forward she cites the criteria for her selections–stories about “strong girls and women” who were “creative, capable, articulate, and intelligent.” Her 600 choices are broken down into picture-story books, folktales, books for beginning readers, middle readers and older readers. Within the ability levels, choices are broken down even further by topic under fiction and biography and nonfiction. Her annotations and age suggestions are very helpful in matching books of interest to your child. Make sure you get the revised edition from 2002.

Great Books for Boys:

Understanding that boys face different challenges than girls, Odean has aimed at her male market. Again she annotates each selection, giving appropriate age ranges, and dividing her entries by reading ability and genre.

So next time you go to the library or your favorite book store, look for these resources or take yours along!

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

Pacifier Giveaway?

Parents of different aged children ask my advice about when to dump the beloved “binkie.” The latest inquiry came last week from a mom of a 3 month-old. I was having a “play on words” session with her and she was apologetic about using the pacifier and asked if it was okay. I told her of course it is okay for an infant. Since babies are born with a built-in need to suck, they will use their thumb, fingers, lip or pacifier. Ideally by the time your child is one year old, when he can hold and cup and drink form it, he can  give up his pacifier.

The trouble is that our little toddlers can become obsessed with their pacifier, far past the age of it’s usefulness. I get discouraged when I see a toddler walking around, well-rested after a nap, happily exploring his environment and sucking on a pacifier. I know clever marketers provide specialty straps to ensure that you can clip the pacifier to his clothes so one will be available at all times. But what is your child missing out on? Language. I tell parents to think about trying to talk with a big plug in your mouth. It’s hard, it sounds funny and it isn’t fun. Pull that plug out and you will be surprised at how your child talks more freely. Dentists will also tell you that prolonged pacifier use can lead to dental problems.

Now the question of how to wean him from his beloved pacifier. “Nanny 911” featured an episode recently on this very topic. The nanny made an elaborate pitch to the 2 year-old that he didn’t need his pacifiers anymore since he was a big boy and he should put them in an envelope for the “Paci-Fairy.” Somehow she convinced him and they mailed an elaborate envelope to the fairy. The next day, much to his delight, a return envelope was addressed to him and it contained several toy animals as a reward for his sacrifice.

You can also try the “slow” method of restricting pacifier use to nap and bedtime. I tried this with my oldest son who was addicted to his binkie. He was compliant about leaving it on his bed, but he would run in there periodically to suck on it, and then leave! Finally we boxed them all up for a friend’s baby who was to arrive soon and needed the pacifiers much more than my big boy.

Good luck. I know from experience that it’s not easy.

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More on my Search for Best Language Toys

Okay, I was sharing some highs and lows of my trip through the Javits Center at the International Toy Fair:

High: Step 2 makes wonderful kitchen sets that children enjoy with their realistic features, and lots of opportunities for creativity and role-playing. Put on your chef’s hat and you have a choice of a “Custom Kitchen” with all the features of home, or a larger “Lifestyle Deluxe Kitchen” that includes 38 accessory pieces and plenty of storage when you are whipping up that yummy dinner. The “Life Style Walk in Kitchen” accommodates more children and would hold the interest of older preschoolers with a stool to pull up to the counter, the attached dining area, a microwave and a grill!

One of their new products is a 50’s diner with one side a short order cook area complete with the basket of french fries to dip in the oil, while the other side has a pretend jute box and two seats so the cook can pass your order through to your table! Kids are really going to enjoy this two sided play area and parents are going to be taken back to the 50’s.

Low: I saw too many American Girl wanna-bes with a surly edge and their “life story” books that were less than interesting.

High: I was introduced to line of toys based on a new children’s show on PBS called “WordWorld.” I was less impressed with the bucket toy sets for a barn and house because I didn’t think they had enough interesting pieces for extended pretend play, but the TV show, partly funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is definitely worth watching. The darling figures of a dog, ant, pig and frog have bodies made up of the letters that spell their animal. They have to solve life’s problems by building words that then “morph” into the object. Many emergent literacy skills are taught in a lively format as the dog has to make a cake in time for the party but only has “ake” to work with. He tries several different beginning sounds until the”c” completes “cake” and a cake appears. The pace is nice for a preschooler and I highly recommend you check out your local listings and watch WordWorld on with your child.

Low: I saw too many one-time, one-use toys where the child was to build a model or puzzle, and “educational materials” were included to read about what they made. Whether it was a puzzle that gets glued to cardboard after it is made or planets in the solar system, let’s give the kids something to have extended play. How about creating toys around that theme that become interactive with the child so learning can occur through experience, not reading a note-card on each item?

High: The “Amazing Baby Series” by Silver Dolphin has introduced an excellent book on baby sign language: Amazing Baby A First Guide to Baby Signing. The author, Katie Mayne, is a teacher of the deaf and founder of Tiny Talk UK. She has included all the essential information for teaching your baby to sign–when to start, how to do it and where to begin. The large simple photographs show both parent and child signing which adds to the wonder and fun. As a speech-language pathologist, I particularly appreciate the author’s categories of signs beginning with a few simple but essential signs like “more” and progressing to further categories of signs. This is obviously written by a therapist who know and works with moms and babies. I think I will end on a “high” today!

More tomorrow.

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

What’s new at the International Toy Fair to encourage language?

I can’t begin to capture the excitement and joy I felt going up and down the isles of the Jacob Javits Center filled with the latest and greatest toys! Of course I was on the hunt for great toys to encourage language development through creative play. I want to share some of the highs and lows of my quest.

High: New games at Blue Orange. I love their games, the colors, the feel of them, the multi-faceted abilities they draw upon, and strategy required to play them. A favorite from last year is “Froggy Boogie” where the little frogs are trying to escape their parents and travel around the lilly pads to win. New games are coming out that involve penguins guarding their colored eggs–yes you have to remember where they are, and a new twist on dominos called “Fundominos.” Keep your eyes open for them. Other great products from this company for the preschool set are “Zimbbos!” and “Coo Coo the Clown”, both balancing games that require fine motor skill and strategy to keep the clown and elephants from tipping.

Low: I was lead on a walk through a new dollhouse by an very enthusiastic salesperson. She excitedly showed me how to walk my little girl figure to the bathroom, press down near the potty and a flushing noise was made. Then if I pretended to wash her hands at the sink, a voice from the dollhouse spoke and said something about “flush and wash” and reinforced my good habits. Again the voice from nowhere spoke and directed my figure to the kitchen to eat some fruits and vegetables, reinforcing good habits, but this time in food choice. Wait a minute. Isn’t the idea that I should be leading the play, not the voice withing the dollhouse?? Your child’s language is enhanced when she is the leader of her play, not the toy. Her imagination and pretend play is actually limited by the toy suggesting her play route.

Okay, enough for tonight. I will give more highs and lows tomorrow.

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

Seeking Great Language Enhancing Toys at the International Toy Fair in NYC

Wow, did I have a stimulating time at the International Toy Fair in New York City this week! I was surrounded by the energy of inventive, creative people introducing the latest in children’s toys, games, books and media. I had the privilege of meeting Claire Green, the president of Parents’ Choice which bestows its prestigious awards on products that “help kids grow–imaginatively, physically, morally and mentally–fairly priced products that are fun, safe and socially sound.” Check out their website for outstanding leads on toys, games, books, music, television, software, websites and magazines:

Claire was joined by Wendy Smolen who is a toy expert having been an Editor at Parents Magazine and Nick Jr. Family Magazine. They have teamed up to form the Sandbox Summit,, which is “a series of conferences exploring how technology is changing the ways kids play, learn, and connect in a digital world.” Those of us who are always seeking out the best for our children will be looking to their insight.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Toys | Leave a comment

Count Your Toddler’s Words for Language Evaluation

I visited two homes this week of children 16-18 months because the parents were concerned that their child was only saying two words and might not be progressing on time in his language development. As I have said before, I get a lot of calls to check on kids’ language development around 15-18 months which is just about when they are supposed to launch into their “vocabulary explosion” where they can say several new words each week until they have about 50 words and are putting two words together like “big car” by the age of 2.

Once we started talking and I played with their child, I realized (and the parents did too) that their child was really saying many more words that mom or dad realized! Both kids had over 12 words that they were saying: “bye bye,” “tickle” and “Sponge Bob.” As they listened to their toddler, and focused in on hearing his words in their context, they realized he was saying far more than they thought. One little boy was having fun turning the light switch on and off. As I kept narrating what he was doing, he said, “li” for “light.” Parents have to be little investigators to figure out some of the words because toddlers don’t articulate perfectly. Listen for a similar vowel or beginning of the word and you will discover that they are naming more things than you realize.When you hear a word like “li,” respond with a wonderfully affirming, “YES! that is a light!” Always model the correct way to say the word. This will encourage your toddler to keep talking and keep trying to communicate with you.

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

Check out My New Video Reviews of Toys that Enhance Language

I am excited to share my new videos of toys that enhance language. Parents always ask where I “find” these good toys that capture their child’s interest and stir their imagination. They wonder why their child can play so long with one toy and continually come up with  fresh conversation. A good toy or game that enhances language: 

  1. Encourages skills that are age-appropriate so your child is free to explore, discover and create in that environment such as the “Folding Castle Playset” 
  2. Is flexible with many moving parts, compartments, openings and surfaces so your child’s play can change direction and her storyline can continue to evolve through many episodes, such as the “Tree House Playset” by Melissa and Doug.
  3. Provides lots of opportunity for description introducing rich vocabulary which is tied to reading comprehension years later, such as “Freddy the Firefly” by Lamaze.
  4. Is open-ended, meaning your child steps in as the “Director” of play, using the toy to tell his story, not the other way around, when the toy dominates play and your child simply pushes buttons for a response, such as “Rub and Dub, Pirates of the Tub” by Alex toys.

Let me know what you think of the reviews and most importantly, please share any toys, games or books that you have found to be stimulating to your child’s language development and play. Use the comment section and share what has captured the interest of your child. Thanks!

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

Toy Review: “Funny Bunny” by Ravensburger, Great Gift

21duvgyvol_aa165_.jpg Grab your four bunnies and take off on the path to be the first to capture the carrot. Oops, it’s not that easy. Take your turn, pick a card and see if you advance 1, 2 or 3 spaces unless you get the “click the carrot” card. Then you get to turn the carrot until it clicks and the bottom drops out from under a space on the path. It’s a good thing that you have four bunnies in case you lose one through the hole. Believe it or not, kids love to pick the carrot card, even though they might lose a bunny and definitely don’t advance. It’s just plain fun to click that carrot and see who might drop off the game! Strategy comes into play when a risk-taker advances just one bunny while another child will play it safe and keep several bunnies on the path in case one is clicked off.Fun, engaging games, like Funny Bunny, encourage lots of social language, as kids discuss strategy, cope with winning and losing, explain to others how to play the game and learn to take turns and negotiate.

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

Toy Review: “Three Little Pigs Play Set” by Melissa and Doug


51s1v8oensl_aa280_.jpgStep back in time with this classic, the Three Pigs, and bring on the fun! The chubby pigs are the perfect size for a toddler’s hand to squeeze and let out a squeak. They can hide in their color-matched soft homes with plenty of doors and windows to open and close to teach early prepositions like “in,” out,” “ back” and “front.” Kids love to stuff the big bad wolf (and all the pigs for that matter) down the chimney and watch him magically appear inside the house. Carry on little conversations with your pigs as your toddler chooses one to speak for too.

Language enhancing toys have lots to describe. Babies and toddlers’ receptive language (understanding) has been outpacing their expressive language (actually saying words) as they hear and store new vocabulary words. But at 1 ½ years, they are entering the stage of their “vocabulary explosion” when they can actually learn several new words a day. As you are playing with your child and describing her action with the toy, your job is a lot easier when there is a lot to describe in terms of texture, sounds, color, size, and shape. Point out the straw, stick and brick houses, shiny, smooth and soft surfaces, big, little and medium—sized houses, match the colored houses to the pigs and talk about shapes.


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Buy Three Little Pigs Play Set by Melissa & Doug now

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Dads encourage language development too!

It is such a treat to be welcomed into homes and ushered into the playroom and see what a child’s world looks like. I have seen rooms filled with so many toys that there is no place to step, and other play areas with just a few thoughtful toys set out that the child can choose from.

The other day, I was at Will’s house and Dad had been on child-care duty the day before. 15 month-old Will proudly ran into the “house” that dad had made with him the day before, layered from 3 cardboard boxes, complete with cut out windows, doors, and shrubs colored on the sides. What a creative dad this little guy has! This was the perfect toy–several moving parts, the ability to move in and out, behind, next to, to pretend and hide. So many times we think as parents we need the “best” house or kitchen set with the most bells and whistles when in reality, the simpler, child and dad-made product wins out. There were no doorbells, switches, buttons or lights to distract Will and he could direct the play without distractions.

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