Book Review: The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

great-fuzz-frenzy.gifViolet, the dog, innocently drops her tennis ball down a prairie dog’s tunnel, setting off the “fuzz frenzy.” “Boink, thump, rumble, and plunk” is just the beginning of this delightful journey of a fuzzy ball through the land of prairie dogs, filling your child with rich vocabulary and delightful drawings. Bossy Big Bark is the control freak who wants everyone to stay away from the questionable object while Pip Squeak ventures forth for a look. The new found fuzz is stretched, tugged, spiked and twirled into creative hats, belts, rabbit ears and Indian headdresses. Children learn that language is fun when combined in tangles like “fuzz fiesta,” and “fuzz fandangle.” Naturally there is competition over who will get this new green fuzzy treasure and Pip Squeak is mortified that he had started a battle over the fuzz. Big Bark returns, having stolen all the fuzz, only to be plucked up by an eagle in need of a meal. The prairie dogs rally to save one of their own and Big Bark returns in his protective role over the pack.

Children like to match the drawings with the descriptions: “top dog, corny dog and frilly dog.” Take some time to make a list of your child’s descriptive words for Big Bark (bossy, ornery, inconsiderate, impatient) and Pip Squeak (inquisitive, kind, leader). Building good descriptive words will prepare your child for writing interesting stories. Do they have a friend like Big Bark? Or is their friend more like Pip Squeak? One little girl that I read this book to was having a little trouble with a bossy friend. What an opportunity to work through issues with peers.

Before turning the page of The Great Fuzz Frenzy, make a prediction about what is going to happen. Parents try it too and see what a variety of options you come up with. One little boy saw the sky go black and predicted a storm was coming. All guesses are good and encouraged. This helps your child think creatively, expand on stories, and strengthen his language skills.

Buy The Great Fuzz Frenzy now

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Book Review, Books, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

An Old Friend Returns

You all know that I love a good toy and mourn the loss when a great language toy is retired (like the old Fisher Price pirate ship or Robin Hood’s tree house.)

Well you can imagine my joy in finding the return of the Fisher Price cash register on my Saturday jaunt to Toys R Us this morning! This is a great toy—I know some would say it is old fashioned and doesn’t look like the real thing, all automated and computerized but the truth of the matter is that kids love the play money and can’t resist putting it into the slots and banging open the cash drawer. The cash register is a must for anyone playing store. How else can you keep your money organized??

Children learn best through experience and here is a real life example of sorting coins and learning numbers while exercising imaginations. Younger children will use this toy in investigative play, pressing different keys with varied results. Older children, two and a half and above will use this toy in pretend play, checking friends out of their store. An added feature is that there are no distracting noises or batteries involved.

Recently, I was playing store with a 5 year-old. He had shelves of pretend food, a chalk board to write out the prices, and a wallet full of pretend bills and coins. We could have used a cash register.

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

Speaking of Preschool

We all want to know how our child’s day went at school. I am often asked how to “draw out” a child and find out what he did that day. But when we ask, “How was school?” we either get no response or “Okay.” Hey, we want more details!

“How was your day?” or “How was school?” are questions that are too general for a preschooler to easily answer. A three-year-old would have a hard time coming up with something and a two-year-old wouldn’t have a clue. Instead, comment on an activity or two that you know they engaged in and be specific, “I like your swings. They must go really high. I wonder who gives you a push.” Now you have taken the pressure off of your child to speak, started them off on the topic of school and can pause for their response. Also, open-ended questions like, “I wonder if you used play-doh today?” or “Look at all the colors in your drawing, I wonder what you drew?” Good preschools communicate with parents through notes and quick conversations after school to let you know what they are discussing and reading about such as apples in the fall or snow in the winter and what was particularly exciting that day. This helps you decipher drawings and understand conversations about your child’s day.

Every little painted stone or scribbled drawing your child brings home is a conversation starter. Research was done that showed when four-year-old children brought home objects from preschool including their art projects, the children referred to recent school activities significantly more than when they did not. Take advantage of these masterpieces, asking open-ended questions of your little artist and don’t forget to listen.

Another way to elicit conversation about school is to read a good book about a preschooler’s day and let your child chat about his experience. Preschoolers like to have what is called “book-to-life” conversations, relating their activities to what is pictured in the book. Try reading First Experiences: My First Day at Preschool (Baby Basics) by Roger Priddy or an old favorite, Spot Goes to School, and see if your child might tell about his smock and painting area, snack, friends or story time.

And remember, the most important thing is to listen.

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

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