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


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.

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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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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