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

Toy Review: “Treehouse Playset” by Melissa and Doug

31ywxcgzq5l_aa160_.jpgLanguage enhancing toys have moving parts and opportunities to change the action and therefore the story. Kids can’t wait to enter the Tree House Play Set by Melissa and Doug, traveling up the staircase before someone on the third floor pulls up the drawbridge, relaxing on the swing, pulling a bucket up three levels, letting down the ladder to escape, resting on the hammock or tricking someone crossing the bridge’s trap door! The six moving parts, including pulley-operated systems provide for lots of imaginative play and adventure. With plenty of room to navigate, the tree house accommodates children or siblings of differentages, creating multi-layered stories together and building language skills.

I’ve seen children get inventive, hoisting up characters in the bucket, sending the enemy to the “dungeon” below the trap door and use the swing as a bed. There is no end to imaginative play with this tree house. The set comes with a boy and girl who have been assigned various roles such as princess and prince, but children can’t help bringing additional playmates to the house such as pirates, dolls or critters to joint the action. It adds to the complexity of the story.

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

Toy Review: “Chunky Puzzles” by Melissa and Doug

31wkf6tl7sl_aa160_.jpgWhat toys encourage language development? Look for toys that have flexibility—ones that can be used in many different ways. They inspire your child to be creative and use his imagination. Something as simple as a puzzle should have more options than just placing pieces in the intended slot.

Chunky Puzzle Farm Animals, Safari Animals and Dinosaurs by Melissa and Doug have thick enough pieces that the animals can “stand up”, move around, get a bite to eat or roam on the floor at a pretend zoo or farm. I hear far more language from a child as he pretends with the animals and lets them loose!

The puzzle pieces from Vehicles can go for a sail on the sea, line up on the train track, fly overhead or race down the road with narrated sound effects. Now your child is naming the pieces as well as expanding his vocabulary through pretend play, using verbs, pronouns and prepositions.

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Buy Safari Chunky Puzzle By Melissa&Doug now

Buy Melissa & Doug Dinosaur Chunky Puzzle now

Buy Melissa & Doug Vehicles Chunky Wooden Puzzle now

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

Toy Review: “Rub a Dub, Pirates of the Tub” by Alex

016803.jpgRub a dub dub, who let the pirates in the tub? Your little mate will love the floating, squishable pirates who can squirt water from their mouths and spray enemies with their cannon. Choose from the 38 pieces to construct your island with pirates, a treasure chest, palm trees or birds. Set it afloat and you can start on your raft—sails, pirates and barrels of goodies can be included. Don’t forget your map and compass to keep you on track. Climb onto the floating island and hide out in the cave. Have I mentioned that the octopus and shark are on the loose? Don’t forget to decorate the tub with the foam puzzle pieces that stick and float, building the big pirate ship, compete with sails, steering wheel, lookout and flag.

With all the interchangeable pieces that fit into slots on the floating islands and raft, your child’s pretend play can expand and change with his imagination. Every bath time can be a different story line. All of the pirate accessories stimulate his imagination to create his story. Research has linked pretend play with language development and practice in story telling prepares your child to eventually write creative stories.

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