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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Birthday Game for 5 Years and Up

One of my favorite game buddies is Justin who turned 6 today. He loves to try a new game and can even stand to lose which is rare for a boy his age. He invited me to try out his new present, a game called “Sherlock” by Playroom Entertainment, which was loads of fun. Place eight picture cards face down in a circle and then send super sleuth, Sherlock, off to remember what is on the cards. If you remember the picture you are directed a certain number of spaces in a direction to guess the next card. If you are correct, the card goes face up and you collect it. The winner is the first player to collect 6 cards.

Now wait a minute. This sounds easier than it is–yes, I lost to Justin today. this clever game requires you to remember the identity of the cards as the mix keeps changing. Counting and following directions are involved as well as visual memory. Lots of conversation is generated as participants are helpful or try to trick you.
Another nice feature is this game comes in a small box, easy enough to take along on a trip and the price is right too.

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

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: www.parents-choice.org.

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, www.sandboxsummit.org, 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