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

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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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.

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

Best Questions from New Moms on Baby Language

I spoke to a group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital yesterday and wanted to share what was on their minds:

1.  Should I talk baby talk to my baby?

      I want to make a clear distinction between “baby talk” which is using babyish  words for things such as “ba ba” for bottle or “blankie” for blanket. No, you shouldn’t talk baby talk and use incorrect words for objects. Use the adult words,  “bottle” and “blanket” or else your child will learn to speak using the incorrect names. Baby talk does NOT refer to the wonderful little sounds that your baby is       making. Those “coo” and “goo” sounds are his attempt to communicate with you and you DO want to answer him. When he says, “la,” then you repeat “la.” Pause a second before repeating what he says. Research actually shows that by pausing, it helps your baby increase his attention span and take in new vocabulary.

2.  My three-month-old doesn’t seem interested in books. What should I do?

When I questioned this mom further she was concerned because her baby looked at mom’s face instead of the book. I say, “Wonderful!” He is getting all that great language along with watching your facial expressions and delight in reading a book. Often times when I read to a baby, they are in a baby seat, so they can look back and forth from me to the book. I also made the point that reading to your baby doesn’t always mean reading all the print from start to finish. If your baby is fascinated with a beautiful illustration of bright contrasting colors, stay on that page and talk about it.

3.  Will my baby benefit from listening to me read out loud the adult book that I am reading or does it have to be a children’s book?

Infants benefit from hearing the “rhythm” of our language when we speak or read to them. A newborn benefits from hearing conversation directed at her as well as  reading. You can read The New York Times or your favorite parenting book out loud and she will be building her language connections. As she approaches around 3 months of age, she will be more interested in hearing the rhythmic, rhyming dialogue in a board book along with watching the bright, contrasting illustrations.

4.  What should I do when my baby seems bored with her toys?                    

      You don’t need a large number of toys for your baby but make sure they have the characteristics of a good language toy (see my article on how to pick a good language toy). Babies are attracted to faces and talk more to faces so make sure you have plenty of critters with eyes to attract her and encourage verbalizing.

5.  My mother and I are speaking some Vietnamese to my son. Is that enough to help him become bilingual?

    I am often asked how much exposure a child needs to a foreign language to  become proficient in that          second language. A foreign language class once a week  is not enough to build the understanding and expression of a second language. In a recent article in the New York Times, February 2, 2008, language specialist  Roberta Golinkoff says, “being immersed in the language and living within it are  what lead to language learning, not 20 minutes of exposure to a limited set of  vocabulary and sentence structures or attendance at a weekly one-hour Spanish  class.” The best way for this mom to help her son be proficient in Vietnamese, is  to continue to have his grandmother speak only Vietnamese and have mom do the  same. I assume his dad will speaking English and he will be exposed to English     everywhere else he goes throughout his day.















Posted in Babies, Bilingual, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Toy Review: “Diggity Dog” by International Playthings, Inc.

31dabtfpk0l_aa160_.jpgKids three years and up want a little challenge in their games—not everything left to chance! Diggity Dog is their first pick for fun. Choose your puppy and press the doghouse to listen for the number of barks. Count them out as you land on a space, dig a hole and the little bone sticks to your dog’

s magnetic nose. See if the color on the underside of the bone matches your dog and collect all three before heading home to win. There’s just enough action to keep little hands busy and skill required to keep minds churning. Playing Diggity Dog involves auditory memory (remembering the number of barks), visual memory (remembering where your colored bones are), counting, and conversation negotiating turn-taking and discussing strategy. These are all skills that contribute to language development.


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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: “Folding Castle Playset” by Melissa and Doug

21hk0l8jqgl_aa160_.jpgGet past the guard, drop down the drawbridge and roll up the door of the Folding Castle Play Set and you are in for some fun. The king and queen preside over the castle while the knight can stand guard in the towers, slide open the gate to lock the enemy in jail, hide under the stairs, or chase along the top of the wall. The horse provides an escape or can stay in his stable. Kids love being in charge of the action, which stimulates story telling and builds the foundations for literacy and writing.

Always let your child be the director of the action, not you, the parent. Research shows that parent involvement in pretend play can raise the level of language, but be careful to be a willing participant and not lead the play—that’s your child’s job! Don’t rob her of the opportunity to investigate new ways to use the doors, hiding places and stairwells. This builds language skills as she generates her own stories. The castle is so flexible, that a new story can be told each day as your child invents characters and themes.

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Buy New Wooden Folding Midevil Castle Toy by Melissa and & Doug now

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews, Video Review | 1 Comment