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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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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Bi-Lingual Toddlers: Encouraging Language Development

I am continually amazed at the ability of babies and toddlers to absorb a second or third language. I shouldn’t be surprised since I share the facts with parents and best ways to expose their child to a second language. But still–I call it magic! Once again, I was at the home of a 19 month-old who is primarily hearing English, but has the opportunity to hear Spanish from an adult, 2-3 days a week. Little Maddie is raising one hand and saying, “mano,” and raising the other hand and saying, “hand.” She is showing that she knows that two words in different languages can represent the same thing. This knowledge that words actually stand for objects is an early metalinguistic skill, when someone can think and talk “about” language.Maddie was starting to “mix” English and Spanish words in her mini-conversations. This is typical of a child learning two languages and will begin to diminish as she gets fluent in both languages.Typically, children aren’t exposed to two languages equally. In Maddie’s case, she is hearing far more English than Spanish so she is speaking in two-word sentences in English and still using only single words in Spanish. Her Spanish will catch up as she logs more hours hearing it and using it. Maddie is showing an understanding that one adult represents Spanish and her mom represents English. She speaks Spanish to her adult friend and English to her mom. Children are able to separate situations and people by the language that they speak to them and therefore answer appropriately. If you’re exposing your child to a second language at an early age, or considering it, here are some advantages that are listed in the literature:

  • Higher capacity for learning the second language as teens or adults
  • Helps their minds expand linguistically in a way that gives them an educational advantage later
  • Deeper appreciation of language and how it words (metalinguistic skills)
  • Comprehend written language sooner than their peers who speak one language
  • Advantage of knowing 2 cultures and being able to speak to a wider range of people

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Learning Language: A Toddler’s First Words

Once again, I had a play session with a mom who told me that her child “didn’t have any words yet.” Her little Will was fifteen months old and typically at that age, children should have a few words that they are saying. I always encourage the parents to listen a little closer and usually they identify some words that their toddler is using.

There is a big variance in what children chose to say first. Unfortunately it isn’t usually “Mommy” which would sure make us moms feel really good! But first words are those that are meaningful to the child. One little girl said, “tickle” first because her mom played a tickle game with her that she loved. A little boy who loved his grandpa and visited him often at his car dealership said “car” first. First words are not going to be accurate in terms of their sounds, as a matter of fact they may not sound anything like the word, but for your child they represent that object or person. For example, “da” means more, “g” means dog, and “ish” is fish.

How can you tell if your child is truly saying a word?

A true word:

1. Must have meaning each time it is used. So each time your toddler points to the TV and says “do” for his Elmo DVD, it has the same meaning which can be “I want my Elmo DVD,” or “I want to watch my Elmo DVD.”

2. Shows your child’s intention to communicate. “do” is being used to communicate with you that he wants to see his Elmo DVD.

3. Is used flexibly in different contexts—home, school, or a playmate’s house. So if you are at home or at grandma’s house, your toddler would use “do” to communicate the Elmo DVD because “do” is a true word representing that object no matter where your child is.
4. Is a simple one or two syllable utterance that stands alone, with a pause after it
5. Is used in conversation with people.

6. Is determined by its usefulness in your child’s environment. First words are often objects, people or pets that are integral to your child’s daily activities such as dog, ball, juice, or cracker.

Listen closely and you will start to hear the differences in the utterances your child makes. Sure enough, the longer I played with little Will and his mom, who I referred to earlier, the more little words we heard. He rounded the corner and said “uice” in response to mom asking if he was hungry or wanted juice. When who told him not to go up the stairs he said something resembling “no.” Always reinforce your child’s attempts at words even though they might not sound correct. When he says “da” for cup, simply affirm him with “Yes, you want a CUP,” emphasizing the correct way to say the word he intended. This gives your child the correct model for him to imitate and internalize.

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Using Language When You Discipline Your Toddler

I had a “play on words” session with a mom of a sixteen-month-old today and she asked about discipline. She said she hasn’t changed the volume of her voice yet and mostly “re-directs” her son when he is doing something wrong such as going for the electrical outlets or the fireplace

I told her there is no reason to raise your voice because your tone can send the message. I was recently with a fifteen-month-old and his parents and I was amazed at their consistent and effective discipline with their little boy. When he started to do something dangerous they simply said, “No, sir” in a calm but firm voice. Now, mom is from the South which explains the gentile manners, but her quiet manner was very effective and consistent.

Here are some tips on using language to manage behavior when you have to discipline your toddler:


  1. Don’t overuse “no” but save it for issues of safety and disobedience. The word will become less effective if it is overused.

  1. Simply state your child’s name and “no” followed by a simple explanation such as, “Lily, no, the stove is hot.” Or “No, Sam, we don’t touch the fireplace, it burns.” Young children can’t comprehend a long explanation and it is better to have effectively related the concept of “no.” Since their attention span is short, they may go right back to the forbidden object, so you will need to repeat yourself. As your child’s understanding of language develops, she will begin to connect danger or “no” with the simple consequences that you have linked with your use of “no”: outlets—dangerous, fire—hot, stove—burn etc.

  1. Re-direct your child to something safe and interesting to play with. Offer a few choices and then join in her play, letting her decide what toy to play with.




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Speech and Language Delay in Toddlers

I often run across parents who are concerned about whether their toddler is delayed in language and should be evaluated. Many times I get calls when a child is around 15 months old. Recently a dad contacted me concerned that his 15-month-old Jack wasn’t saying any words yet.

I am not surprised that parents become alarmed at this age because this is just about when a child typically begins his “vocabulary explosion”. The second half of the second year is when children start to say all those wonderful rich words that they have been storing up in their minds!

Typically a child will say his first word around her first birthday, are saying 6-10 words by around 15 months and by 2 years of age they should have around 50 words and be putting two word together like “my truck” or “blue ball.” I advise parents to wait until about 18 months and if your child is not saying any words, speak to your pediatrician and consider contacting a speech pathologist for an evaluation. A good place to start is your Birth-3 Provider whose number you can get from your pediatrician. I know in the state of Connecticut their evaluation is free so it is helpful to get their professional opinion on your child’s language level. Many components are looked at, not just the number of words your child is saying. They will evaluate what your child understands, gestures, means she is using to communicate etc. If you are looking for a private speech pathologist you can log on to the ASHA (American Speech Hearing Association) website and find a professional in your area.

Do not panic. I see some 18-20 month-olds who look delayed and some indeed need intervention but others just need a “jump start” by giving parents suggestions and strategies on how to talk to their child to encourage language. (offering choices, modeling speech not asking too many questions etc.)

It is always best to go with your intuition. As parents you know your child the best. I am so impressed with the information parents give me, because they know their child. If you feel she is behind and should be checked then pursue it.










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Typical Language Development for Your Three-Year-Old

This week I was working with a child turning three soon and the mom asked me what was typical language development for a three-year old?  I shared the following with her.

By 3 years of age your child is likely to:

  • Be around 80% intelligible, still substituting and distorting some later developing consonants such as th, ch, sh, j, f, v, l, s and r
  • Understand about 900 words
  • Understand what it means to do something “later”
  • Listen to a 20 minute story
  • Understand the prepositions “in”, “on” and “under” and will follow directions using those words.
  • Follow a 3 step direction such as, “Get your shoes, put them on and come to the table.”
  • Answer simple “Who?” “Why?” “Where?” and “How Many?” questions
  •  Ask simple questions such as, “What’s that?”
  • Ask lots of questions to gain information as well as your attention!
  • Use “is” as in “The boy is running” and “The ball is blue”.
  • Use 4-5 word sentences, containing a number of grammatical errors
  • Use the pronouns “I, me, you and mine”
  • Describe interesting experiences in his recent past
  • Initiate a conversation starting with, “Hey Mommy or listen Mommy” and give a monologue with details about something interesting to him
  • Use speech to comment, “I can’t find my truck”, as well as express feelings, “I can’t fix it.”

Play is an important vehicle for expanding your child’s language. Take a puppet or “little people” figure and “talk” to the one in your child’s hand. Carry on a pretend conversation using people, animals or little figures. At first your child might not respond, but carry on the conversation yourself and he will eventually enter in. Through your play conversations you will be modeling questions, using prepositions, introducing new vocabulary,  and narrating your play. 

I have posted an article today on strategies for encouraging your three-year-old’s language which should be helpful.



































Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Books, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Great Books for Your Baby

At around 3 months of age, babies can see most colors and are interested in looking at a book just like a toy. Bright colors against a contrasting background (especially white) attract their attention. Throw in a good dose of rhythm, rhyme and beat and you will fascinate them with your reading. Here are a few of my favorites to start out your library:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? By Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. I haven’t met a 3 month old who hasn’t listened intently to these stories, examining the bright colorful collages of each animal as I flipped the page.

Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti. This big peek-a-boo book reveals the sound and inviting face of each barnyard animal as you turn down the flap.

Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magsamen. The simple text and pictures grab your baby’s attention as bees buzz, birds sing and monkeys play. But, keep your eyes and ears open for a surprise visit by the butterfly finger puppet delivering a kiss and perhaps a tickle.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. This is a wonderful bedtime tale of a little one and his parent declaring the immensity of their love for one another. The endearing illustrations tell the story too.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Rosemary Wells. Sing the lines of this nursery rhyme as you page through the heart-warming illustrations of a little bunny preparing for bed—bathing, getting on pajamas, having some warm milk and even gazing at the stars before hopping in bed.

Baby Talk by DK. We know that babies like to look at baby faces so play peek-a-boo with this book, revealing darling wee ones narrating the action with “yum, yum,” “hee, hee,” and “boo hoo.”

Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton. Things are going well when the cow says “moo” and the sheep says “baa” but who said pigs can sing “la la la?” Sandra Boynton’s books have all the requisite beat, rhythm and rhyme to keep your baby’s interest.

Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Priddy Books. Here’s a soft book with lots of textures, wings to flip and legs to crawl. The text has some spunk too.

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Top Preschool Books to Stimulate Language

Here are some of my favorites, old and new for your preschooler to encourage language through a great story:

 The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens. Check out my review. Kids love this book for the zany antics of the prairie dogs with their fuzz and the wild vocabulary and comical alliteration.

 Clancy the Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume. This is a new book with a clever story about being different, discrimination, and grace.  There is lots to talk about as you encourage your child to predict what will happen, talk about feelings, solutions, and how to react to someone who is different.

 Amos and Boris by William Steig. This is a clever book about adventure, rescue, friendship, and sacrifice. It is packed with good vocabulary.  Try other books by this author.

 Picnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia Polacco. This isn’t just another Halloween book, but a clever story of competition, courage and finally friendship. The illustrations are magnificent with their detail and action. Lots of predictions can be made based on these beautiful drawings.

 Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andrede and Russel Ayto. This is every little boy’s dream, to uncover a pirate captain in a closet and set sail with him. Of course they encounter the ferocious pirate dinosaurs and a battle ensues. The illustrator has created beasts with “tonsils wobbling ferociously at the back of his throat” who have a whimsy about them who draw us in to a tale created in a little boy’s mind. Talk about what you would do if you met a pirate in the closet?

 I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe is a lovely tale about self-esteem, listening to criticism, acceptance While the little cricket was wishing he was a butterfly, after the frog at the edge of the pond told him he was ugly, the ladybug wisely replies, “…you must learn to be content with what you are and not mind what a silly old frog tells you.”  Friendship finally brings acceptance. There are many themes to talk about with your child after reading this story that relate to her life—teasing, feelings, self-worth, friendship and acceptance.

 The Featherless Chicken by Chih-Yuan Chen. In this playful tale, a featherless chicken is trying to part of the gang of artfully adorned chickens. Finally when he acquires a costume of leaves, silverware and a fish can, he looks good enough to join the others. This is another story about fitting in, being transparent and having a roaring good time!After reading this book, it would be fun to make a collage costume for your own featherless chicken.

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She was Extinct by Mo Willems. Loveable Edwina meets her match with the incorrigible Reginald who is trying to convince her she is extinct. This story is about winning over a bully with kindness. Talk about ways to show kindness to those who are nice and not nice to us. 

Chuck Lends a Paw and Funny Bunnies on the Run by Robert Quakenbush are full of  laugh-aloud consequences for the antics of bunnies and mice. You can use these books to ask questions like “Why did that happen?” since there is a reason for all the catastrophes in the stories! These are early readers but can also be used as read-alouds.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Book Review, Books, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment