Welcome to Preschool

Okay, this weekend I encountered two moms who were a little anxious about sending their first child off to preschool. Ironically, one mom was worried because her son would be the oldest in the class and the other mom was concerned about the opposite—that her child would be the youngest.

As parents, we all want our children to have the best advantage educationally and that can start with preschool. Many want their child to be one of the younger ones in the class to glean all that knowledge from the older kids (we’re talking months here!) and others think their “older” child will be the leader. In fact, both can be true but age isn’t everything. Language skills vary among two and three-year-olds and contribute to the mix. Children who aren’t talking as much will find that they have to communicate to get their needs met. As parents, we often anticipate their needs, handing them their juice or a snack before they even ask. Not so at school. On the other hand, those children with stronger language skills will develop a confidence at being able to direct pretend play or participate in interactive story time.

The important thing is to give your child time to adapt to the class and then assess. If she is still way behind the skills of the other children in the class or way ahead, you might want to meet with the teacher and make an adjustment. Children react when they are bored or in way over their heads.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Preschool Class, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Toy Review: Freddie the Firefly by Lamaze®


If you thought fireflies were only fun at night, you haven’t met Freddie. Freddie the Firefly provides lots to talk about as your baby explores his colors, textures, sounds and activities. Babies are hard-wired to learn language, but their language is stimulated when you talk to them. You need to choose toys with many features that are flexible, so as your child picks up the toy day after day, you have plenty to chat about.

Take advantage of Freddie’s language-enhancing features to stimulate your baby.

• Find a Friendly Face: Great language toys always have a face. Babies, attracted to faces at birth, talk more to faces. When a toy has a face, it becomes animated so you can feed it a meal, take it for a ride or have a chat. The black and white contrasts on Freddie’s back attract your newborn who loves to look for patterns in darks and lights. Talk about the dots, circles and wavy lines. By three months, your baby can distinguish most colors so Freddie’s bright contrasting colors are a feast for baby’s eyes.

• Colorful Contrasts: Explore Freddie with your baby, describing the colorful contrasts: red, orange, purple, green, turquoise, and black.• Feels Good: Give names to the textures: soft, furry, white ball; smooth, shiny green bump; fuzzy turquoise pocket; hard, bumpy red ladybug; smooth shiny, peek-a-boo mirror; slippery antennas and hard circular rings.

• Sounds Alive: Freddy sounds alive with his squeaker, crinkly wings, rattle, and clinking rings.

• Take Action: A good language toy is flexible with moving parts so you can vary your play with your child. Freddie is ready to play peek-a-boo with his mirrored wing and hide and seek with his ladybug under the wing and in his pocket. Offer Freddie a snack, fly him around the room, or let him take a nap perhaps with a washcloth for his blanket.

As your baby starts to pick up Freddie the Firefly and explore his features, you should describe what he is looking at. Research shows that when you follow your child’s attention and talk about what he is looking at, he takes in more language. At first you will be holding Freddie and describing his features to your baby. But, as he starts reaching and selecting a toy that interests him (5-6 months), you will want to stop directing the commentary and follow your child’s lead. Talk about what he is looking at, mouthing, or feeling.

Moms have told me that Freddie is a good friend for a long time.

Buy Freddie the Firefly now

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Book Review: Max’s ABC by Rosemary Wells

max-abc.jpgTraveling through the alphabet with Max is quite an adventure. Our beloved Max, who managed to empty the contents of his room into his pocket in Max Cleans Up, is at it again. This time, his Ants escaped looking for Birthday cake and manage to follow a trail down Max’s pants in search of anything sugary like Cranberry juice, making their way through the house with Ruby in pursuit. Unlike many other alphabet books that highlight a letter with a word on each page, this clever storyline links the letters of the alphabet so seamlessly that it can stand alone as a storybook.


Young children’s literature should have rich stories, stimulating concepts within the content, and a storyline your child can relate to. Max’s ABC introduces large colorful letters on each page but also presents a story full of concepts appropriate for your preschooler. Ants climb “on,” juice is poured “onto,” pants come “off” and “on,” popsicles are “in,” ants try to nibble “through” and a trail goes “underneath.” Words that describe spatial relations are all part of a preschooler’s world as she explores inside and out. And what child isn’t fascinated with bugs?


One reason Rosemary Wells’ books are so popular across age groups is because she pours lots of content into a short text. I have seen a two-year-old and a six-year-old enjoy the same book because as the child gets older he is entertained by the humor and innuendo in her books. So your eighteen-month-old can enjoy the bright colors, vivid pictures and two to three lines under each picture, while your 3-year-old will be drawn in by the whimsical illustrations, letters to learn and adventure.


Parents are often proud when their child knows his letters but the next step is to know that a letter represents a sound. As you are reading Max’s ABC, you can point to the word beginning with the highlighted sound and spend a little more time making that sound. A two-year-old can have fun imitating your sounds while a four or five year old can have fun thinking of other words beginning with that sound too.


Buy Max’s ABC now

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

Top 12 Games for 3-6 year-olds

  1. Mystery Garden” by Ravensburger, 4 years and up
  2. I Spy Bingo” by Briarpatch, 4 years and up
  3. Hisss” by Gamewright, 4 years and up
  4. Race to the Roof” by Ravensburger, 5 years and up
  5. Cariboo” by Cranium
  6. “CooCoo the Rocking Clown” by Blue Orange, 3 years and up
  7. Goblet Junior” by Blue Orange, 5 years and up
  8. Zingo” by Think Fun, 4 years and up
  9. Elefun” by Hasbro, 3 years and up
  10. Froggy Boogie” by Blue Orange 4 years and up
  11. Diggity Dog” by International Playthings  3 years and up
  12. Funny Bunny” by Ravensburg 4 years and up
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

The Vocabulary Explosion

I love to read research and see it played out with kids. Today I saw Jack, 22 months, and was reminded again that kids really do experience a “vocabulary explosion” during the second half of their second year. Not everyone explodes like Jack! I had seen him for a “play on words” session three months ago and he had about 15-20 words that he was saying consistently. Today he was talking in 2-4 word sentences like “Soccer ball shirt” and “Daddy read books.”

How does this happen? By talking a lot to your toddler, naming everything that interests him in his environment (usually knowing safari animals are not as helpful as naming his clothing, toys, and food), and adding on to his words with one or two more words you are expanding his vocabulary. When he says “truck”, you affirm him with “Yes, a blue truck” or “Yes, the truck goes.” Children are like sponges at this age and can pick up many new words each day.

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

Book Review: Baby Can’t Sleep by Lisa Schroeder

baby.gifPersonally, counting sheep has never put me to sleep and the delightfully entertaining ones in Baby Can’t Sleep will keep you awake too.

First-time author, Lisa Schroeder takes on the challenges of the bedtime ritual. After kissing baby’s head, “Mommy says ‘Good Night!’ and goes to bed.” Now a tired Daddy takes over and suggests counting sheep. These magical sheep have the opposite effect intended as baby perks up watching sheep chasing fireflies, riding in a jeep, and “playing in the pool-wearing suits that look real cool.” Dad is getting tired but baby won’t snooze so mom takes over and promptly falls asleep.How many times have you found yourself dozing off as you finish that last book for your child at bedtime? Even the family dog gets in the act, bringing a toy sheep to comfort the baby at the end of her day.

Often I am asked to suggest books that Mom or Dad can read to their baby and older sibling together. This is one of those books because children of different ages are entertained on different levels. Babies are attracted to the lively rhythm and rhyme as well as the bright, exciting illustrations in this book. Toddlers relate to the story of Mom and Dad’s efforts to get them to bed, and are entertained by the goofy sheep dancing, floating and swinging. Plus, this is a counting book. Two to four-year olds will enjoy this book for the fun of counting, the familiar story line, and clever antics of the sheep. With a three or four-year-old, try to add on to the story with more adventures with the sheep. Provide a first line and let your child finish it like, “eleven sheep on a hike, wishing they could ride a ____.” Progress to giving them just the first phrase and see if they can complete the rhyme. Or have fun simply saying rhyming words like “sheep, beep.” Because the understanding of rhyme is a precursor to reading, it is important to look for books like Baby Can’t Sleep that tell their story cleverly in rhyme. Having fun with rhyme teaches children that sounds and language are exciting. It encourages them to be creative story tellers.

Buy Baby Can’t Sleep now

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

Game Time

Today I was playing with one of my favorite 4 year olds, Max. He loves games and usually beats me. As we started, I asked who should go first. Pointing to the directions, he said he always goes first because he is the child. When I said, “Well, what am I?” he said “a human!” I guess humans go second.

 We were playing a new game that I had brought for the first time. Max was the third four-year-old boy who refused to play at first, and after a round of Coo Coo The Rocking Clown, was pleading with me to bring it again next time me met. Preschoolers love to play games—and win—but get frustrated with games that are only up to chance. I find that three to six-year-olds like a challenge with a game that requires some strategy and thinking. Check out my “Top Ten Games for 3-6 year-olds”.  Children take turns adding wooden balls for Coo Coo to juggle, hoping he won’t roll over and dump the pieces. Kids learn balance and strategy by placing the small, medium and large balls in precarious places to set up the “humans”

they are playing with. What makes Coo Coo fun is that he can roll way over and not topple!

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

Are You Listening?

After spending a fun, chaotic week in Wisconsin with our extended family of 16, I am reminded of the energy it takes to “listen” and how important it is for our kids. As parents we are so intentional about “doing it right” and stimulating our children with the right toys, books, activities, and classes that we sometimes forget the importance of listening.

Recently I heard a dad telling about his five year-old daughter who loves to play house. He was recruited to play “the dad”, as usual. As she was chatting away, he would occasionally contribute as the pretend dad but he was trying to read the newspaper at the same time. Apparently he wasn’t responding enough and she finally came over and put her hand right down the center of his paper, looked him in the eye and said, “Daddy, you’re not listening to me.” To which he responded, “Yes, I am.” “No”, she said. “You’re not listening with your face!”

Don’t we all want others to listen to us with their face? Babies yell out to us and aren’t satisfied, until they see our face. That’s when they light up with a smile. A three year old asks us a question and wants our full attention, for his follow-up!

Researchers looked at babies when they were five months old and again when they were 13 months. Babies whose parents paused and then repeated their child’s sounds, were found to be stronger in vocabulary, attention span and pretend play than those children whose parents didn’t pause (listen) and quickly responded.

Often when our kids’ vocabulary is just starting to explode between one and a half and two years of age, if we wait another second or two before giving them what they are gesturing for, or answering them, they will give us more sounds, words and language. I have had parents tell me that encouraging them to pause is one of the most valuable things I have taught them.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddler | Leave a comment

Welcome to Play on Words

Welcome to my blog. It is my mission to provide moms, dads and caregivers with great ideas on how to talk, read and play with your child to stimulate language development and have fun in the process! My hope is that this will be an interactive place where you can share what works and what doesn’t. What books does your child really attend to and respond to? What toys keep her interest and stimulate talking?

Many parents that I work with have become experts in spotting toys and books that have the features to encourage language.  They know how to pick a good language toy.  When I go to their homes, they show me their child’s favorites and I share them with others. Here is an opportunity for us to get ideas that have been tested by the best critics—your children!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds | Leave a comment