Best New Picture Books to Spark Conversation and Language Learning

I’ve promised to get out some lists of my favorites, whether tech toys, games, pretend play toys or books. Well I just love hanging out at the book store and visiting old friends and seeing new ones on the shelves. I guess if I had to analyze myself I would say that I’m attracted to picture books that have a seemingly simple story but lots of depth in terms of fantastic vocabulary, rhyme, content and/or conversation starters. AND I love illustrators that make the story come alive but leave some concepts to the imagination and room for descriptions and analysis. Here are some favorite PAL Award winners:

Double Take! A New Look at Opposites by Susan Hood and Illustrated by Jay Fleck. Double take is exactly what kids AND adults do as they read through Susan Hood’s latest picture book, packed with language learning, and clever fun! Susan Hood’s books inspire thoughtful conversation, description, comparisons and verbal perspective. Fleck’s vintage illustrations delightfully depict  opposites, some more subtle than others that kids loved to discover. Beginning with a simple in/out, asleep/awake set of opposites,  the author lets us know “while those pairs are plain as DAY and NIGHT, not every duo is so BLACK and WHITE.” The perspective changes for near/far or strong/weak, depending on what character is added to claim the title. The elephant looks strongest until the whale shows up! “Now just when you think you’ve mastered that notion, watch relative words set matters in motion.” Take a look from a different point of view, up close or far away, and see how dashes and dots become a butterfly. I loved reading this book to a 7, 9, and 11 year-old and watched them try to describe the message here. “It’s good to look in a different direction!” said the 11 year-old. Talking about perspective, point of view and comparisons was a rich exchange of ideas and could even be applied to how we view friends and classmates that might be different than we are.

Ally-Saurus & the Very Bossy Monster by Richard Torrey. I was excited to see the return of Ally-Saurus,  in Richard Torrey’s new book, “Ally-Saurus & the Very Bossy Monster,” as she was a favorite in my speech therapy sessions as kids LOVED her freedom to be creative and imaginative! Now our little girl with the dinosaur spirit picks up her play in this new story as she “stomped, roared, danced and laughed” until she and her buddies were stopped by the new girl on the block. Every activity was ruled by Maddie, precluded by “You have to…you can’t …you mustn’t,” taking the fun and spontaneity out of pretend play. Finally Ally-Saurus stood up to this bossy newcomer and set her own rules that included, “any, whatever we want, and super” as they took on their dinosaur and master of ceremonies personas to prepare for an amazing monster dance.Torrey’s newest book, again provides a wonderful story to stimulate conversation about different kinds of friends, how to deal with a bossy kid, inclusion, standing up for yourself, respecting differences and more. As a speech pathologist,I find his stories inspire conversation on many levels about how to use your words to deal with a tough situation common to kids.

What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamaka, Illustrated by Mae Besom. This is

the story of a child who wakes up one day surprised by his idea, tagging along behind him, not knowing where it came from or what to do with it. I love the beautiful descriptive vocabulary used to describe this companion as they journey through the story–strange, fragile, magical, silly, weird, waste of time, different or crazy. Each word invites a conversation about why the little boy could be thinking that. What happens throughout the story? His dream grows, they become friends, he tends to it, believes in it, and comes to love it into taking flight, to change the world! Click here

Big Words for Little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson and illustrated by Hsinping Pan. I first learned of this book when it was being promoted on the Today Show. I loved the concept as I am tired of picture books that dumb down vocabulary for kids. This may be the opposite as it is an ABC book filled with multi-syllabic (9 syllables in the first entry for A) that have fascinating, silly and whacky definitions with playful ilustrations to get the imagination going. “Arachibutyrophobia” (spell check apparently hasn’t heard of it either) is not a word I learned in my family as we loved peanut butter so describing someone with “an alarming fear of peanut butter sticking to the top of the mouth” wasn’t necessary. At first you might think why would I want to read these long words to my kids? It’s actually a wonderfully engaging way to practice reading skills. Each word is divided by syllables of 2-4 letters with those accented in capital letters AND they are just plain fun to say! Which words sound like what they mean? “Catamampus” sounds like “tilted, diagonal, or just a little bit crooked,” right? I learned so many new words–I might just be a “Fliggertigibbet.” You’ll have to look that one up. As I progressed through the book I felt like many of the words sounded like their definition. It’s loads of fun to read with a child. Click here

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. WE start our day again in the construction site with trucks stretching and rolling out of bed to discover a task too big for the five-truck crew. “Cement Mixer is thinking fast, he gives his horn a blaring blast!” Rinker’s tight, playful rhymes generate a clear message of fun and bounce for little ones as the story adds a helpful truck to each of the starting crew. “Skid’s breaker bit blasts rocks so Dozer can make his way to clear the rocks while Excavator and Backhoe team up to dig the trench, set the pipe and cover the hole. A wonderful tale of cooperation and teamwork, this book would be a wonderful lesson to share with a class about working together, using everyone’s talents. Click here

Be Brave Little One by Marianne Richmond. What a sweet story that explores what it means to be brave, a mother’s dream for her child. Sharing the different sides of bravery, “Be brave to step up and try something new. Be brave to step out when it isn’t for you.”  I love how the author sees bravery in participating and sitting still when you’ve had enough. The contrasting messages are ripe for conversation starters with kids challenging them with all sides of bravery and to “be brave to be with your feelings, each one: the happy and sad, the silly and glum.” This book can show kids that bravery can be in the biggest most outlandish situations as well as the quiet, contemplative ones. That’s a big concept for little ones. Click here


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Book Review, Books, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Great Kids’ Tech Toys for Holiday Gifts

As you know I get excited about great toys that teach! Here are some that I have awarded with our PAL Award as well as new findings that I think would be lasting fun and educational for our kids. Several of these are on my list to give to the grandchildren ages 1-11.

LeapStart by LeapFrog. This popular kids’ interactive learning system has now expanded its content to be applicable through first grade subjects. LeapStart comes with a Preschool to First Grade Sampler Book, introducing parents and kids to all the possible learning activities to teach reading, math, problem solving and life skills. Press the magic stylus to the page and the activity comes alive with questions, naming, comments and descriptions. Books (sold separately) range from Preschool “Alphabet Adventures’ to “Kindergarten Amazing Animals” and the new “Learn to Read” series, which I’ve ordered for the twins getting ready for kindergarten. Scarlet Skunk wants to get to her picnic in the treehouse but needs to read 5 words, taking her through a river, mushroom patch and flowers on the way! Kids can opt to hear the whole page read, or just the word, hear the sound of a letter, or letter name.

Q Wunder App by EQtainment. My 4 1/2 year-old grandson wanted to keep “playing” this engaging group of videos, songs and cartoons that help kids understand important EQ concepts like empathy, point of view, flexibility, patience, helping, friendship, motivation, problem solving, focus, know yourself, grit, emotions, responsibility and manners. Kids can’t get enough of learning alongside little monkey Q, “I love this!”  Best of all, we found ourselves applying the lesson’s practical applications soon after. While waiting for me to set up a game, my friend said, “Waiting is boring!” to which I replied, “Let’s practice a little patience like Q.” So we started singing a song with hand movements, just like Sofia taught us!  What a fun way to raise our children’s awareness of their emotions, building social skills and practicing better behavior. Q Wunder app.

Bluebee Pal Parker by Kayle Concepts. Want to play and learn with a soft, cuddly monkey who can read along with your child?  Parker is the perfect learning pal.  Connect Bluebee Pals to a Bluetooth enabled phone, tablet or laptop from Apple to Android and they become a cuddly learning friend, adding a physical (think sensory plush), visual and auditory dimension to learningKids were fascinated by our pairing Parker with a reading from Winnie the Pooh’s Heffalump, with realistic mouth movements and a soothing story being told. My first grade teacher friend shared that Bluebee Pals are her kids’ first choice during their “Smart Time” each morning. She uses them to pair with educational apps and stories to be read so the students can read along. Bluebee Pals can read a story, converse by phone or lead a sing-along, making learning fun. 

Meccano Micronoid by Spinmaster. Robots are hot this season with the R added in STREAM. Meet Micronoid “Switch” and “Basher,” two of the Micronoid robot gang who were easily assembled by my 12 and 10 year-old friends, anxious to start playing with them. The three mode functions along with programming options keep play interesting, silly, entertaining and challenging. These robots love to dance to the beat of your music and even coordinate when in close proximity. The autonomous mode is just that, Switch and Bash did their own thing including giggling, babbling, dancing, sneezing and singing, all intriguing to 8 year-olds and up.  Customize their walking and turning sequence and record what you want them to say in their robot voice. These robots can draw children in for some language learning play as kids ask questions, learn some early coding,  record appropriate conversation related to movements, engage in pretend play, and sharpen listening skills.

littleBits Droid Inventor Kit. I’m a fan of littleBits, the easy-to-use color-coded, magnetic and reusable, “electronic building blocks empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small.” I just ordered this kit for my grandson who loves legos and building creatively, is crazy about Star Wars and is in love with droids. Kids build with 6 bits, droid parts and customizable stickers and then use the free droid app to take it on 16+ missions. I’ll let you know what my builder thinks but littleBits are already a go-to project in his house.

Kano Computer Kit. With all the emphasis on toys and games that teach coding, why not go right to the source and learn by building your own computer? I saw this kit recommended on the New York Times Holiday Gift Guide today and with just a little research see that it has gotten great reviews. Kids can learn how to code art, music, apps, games and more.







Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Best Water Table for Christmas

Sounds a bit like an oxymoron, water table in the winter, right? But my niece a asked my advice on the best water table for her toddler as grandma wants to give her one. When I looked up my favorite “Tropical Island Resort” by Step2, I found that it was unavailable. That’s the toy industry. Find a great toy and it runs its course and poof! It’s gone. So many kids had hours of fun with that water table, flipping characters off the diving board and sailing characters along the waterways.

With a little investigation, I found a very similar water table that can also flip kids, Splish Splash Seas Water Table by Step2. This size is accommodating to several kids as they stand around the table and coordinate pretend play, AND get a little wet which is always fun.

By the way, if you find yourself in a cold climate this winter, try putting down a shower curtain and have a little water play if you are stuck inside!!

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

Don’t Miss the Depth of Learning in Legos

As I am sitting at the table, blogging next to one of my grandsons, I hear “1, 2, 3, 4…” and am reminded again of the many dimensions of learning kids are exposed to when they play with legos.

Over the 35 years that I did speech therapy, I used lego Duplo sets over and over to encourage single words to little sentences through pretend play with their favorites,–My First Shop, Family House, Big Farm or Pizzaria.  Sets for 7 years and  up were essential to keep the attention of boys in particular ages 6-9. They would do most any task if the reward was building with legos!

Now I have a 7 year-old next to me who is putting together lego’s Star Wars “Imperial Assault Hovertank,” and I hear him counting slowly to 20. So many visual spacial skills are tapped as he is looking and thinking in 3D, matching a piece to the illustration and then to where it is placed on the model. He was counting the bumps (sorry there must be a more scientific term) on a flat piece to match the pictured illustrations. Following directions teaches kids to follow a sequence, as well as patience, essential skills for success in the classroom.  Picking up, pushing on and removing the little pieces build fine motor skills too. “Oh no, how do I fit this thing in?” was overheard as my grandson had completed two structures to be combined. Time to call in some problem solving and critical thinking to find the error and correct it. He flipped the directions back a few pages, “I’m gonna go back here and see how it goes on.” Finally, whether your builder made a model or created his own space ship, fort or house, creative play ensues, building stories that feed into reading and writing skills. 

Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Elementary School Age, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Announcing Playonwords’ Top 10 PAL Award Picks 2017, Holiday Gift Guide

We’re excited to announce our Top 10 PAL Picks for 2017! These toys, games and media products have displayed the fun factor with kids and families and/or gotten kudos from elementary school teachers or therapists, and displayed the intrinsic design to build language skills.

Many grandparents and parents have told me they take this list along when doing their holiday shopping. These are the toys that I believe have lasting play value and are fabulously fun to play with, whether constructing a pet place, making a Time Capsule or pushing a ball popping bull dozer! Take a look:

Here are 2017’s Top 10 PAL Picks – See each of their reviews at

Top 10 Toys: Infant

  • Baby Beats Monkey Drum by VTech
  • Janod Baby Forest Train
  • Janod Stacking Pyramid-City Friends
  • Janod Zigolos Forest Stacker
  • Janod Zigolos Pull Along Rabbits
  • Kaloo Kaloodoo
  • Kaloo Plume Rabbit Doudou Raspberry
  • Lil’ Critters Huggable Hippo Teether by VTech
  • Pull & Discover Activity Elephant by VTech
  • Sleepy Glow Bear by VTech

Top 10 Toys: Toddler

  • Bigjigs Toys’ Kelly Doll
  • Brio: Light and Sound Fire Truck
  • Farmers Market Playtime by Seedling
  • Grippies Stackers by Guidecraft
  • Janod Mini Story Safari
  • Magicube Polar Animals by Geomagworld
  • Pop-a-Balls Push & Pop Bulldozer by VTech
  • SmartMax My First Safari Animals by Smart Toys and Games
  • Step & Learn Scout by LeapFrog
  • Under the Sea Puppet Playtime by Seedling

Top 10 Toys: Preschool

  • Alex Discover Ready Set Money
  • Dog Stage Puppet by Folkmanis
  • Doll Family Mansion by Hape
  • Go! Go! Smart Friends Shimmering Seashell Castle by VTech
  • Luvabella by Spin Master
  • Magicube Polar Animals by Geomagworld
  • PAW Patrol My Size Lookout Tower by Spin Master
  • Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart by LeapFrog
  • Tree House by Plan Toys
  • Zoo Jamz Stompin’ Fun Drums by VTech

Top 10 Games: Preschool

  • Alex Discover Play All Day
  • Alex Toys Future Coders Bunny Trails
  • Alex World Map in the Tub
  • Disney Jr. Mickey and the Roadster Racers Bump ‘N Race Action Game by Wonder Forge
  • E-I-E-I-GO! by Mindware
  • Janod Penguin Skittles Game
  • Monkey Around by Peaceable Kingdom
  • Soggy Doggy By Spin Master
  • The Rainbow Fish Share and Sparkle Game by Mindware
  • Where’s Bear? by Peaceable Kingdom

Top 10 Toys: School Age

  • Dig it Up! Discovery Kit by Mindware
  • Gym1 Deluxe Indoor Playground
  • Hen Puppet by Folkmanis
  • Interchangeable Farm Stand, Furniture For 18″ Girl Dolls by The Queen’s Treasures
  • K’Nex Education STEM Explorations Roller Coaster Building Set
  • Lilabell by Living Puppets
  • Meccano Micronoid by Spin Master
  • Pet Place by Wonderhood
  • UNBORED: Time Capsule by Mindware
  • World’s Greatest Magic Show by Thames & Kosmos

Top 10 Games: School Age

  • Eye ‘N Seek by Blue Orange Games
  • Gumball Words by SimplyFun
  • Ideal 4 Way Spelldown
  • Krazy Wordz by Ravensburger
  • LeapStart by LeapFrog
  • Tall Tales by SCS Direct
  • Telestrations 8 Player: The Original by USAopoly
  • Top Trumps by Top Trumps USA Inc.
  • UNBORED: Carnival by Mindware
  • WordSpiel by Set Enterprises, Inc.

Top 10 Books and Media

  • 2-in-1 LeapTop Touch by LeapFrog
  • Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
  • Bluebee Pal Parker by Kayle Concepts
  • Double Take! A New Look at Opposites by Susan Hood
  • I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney
  • LeapFrog Academy by LeapFrog
  • Parker, Your Augmented Reality Bear by Seedling
  • Tad’s Get Ready For School Book by LeapFrog
  • Q Wunder TV Show by EQtainment
  • Q Wunder App by EQtainment


Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment on FOX6 Milwaukee Today!

FOX6 Milwaukee 8-17-17

Back to School for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

Sherry Artemenko, Speech Language Pathologist and Toy Expert is here to share super fun toys and games for babies, toddlers and preschoolers to build language skills, preparing them for future learning.

Today I am featuring some of the PAL Award’s latest winners that spark great fun and can start building the foundation for a successful school experience.

Scoop & Learn Ice Cream Cart by Leap Frog, 2 and up, ($39.99)

  • Who doesn’t like ice cream? cute cart, great pretend play, learning
  • Put instruction cards in cash register,
  • Listening and following directions in sequence, important skill for classroom
  • Tells you what flavor to get with your magic scoop, topping
  • Order ready, hit the bell, take payment
  • Playful phrases teach flavors, toppings, numbers, colors and counting
  • Roll cart to the next customers

Available at Target. Click here

Farmer’s Market Playtime by Seedling, 2-4 yrs, ($24.99)

  • Seedling Littles for kids 2 and up
  • Like when creative play can be on the move
  • Grab tote of veggies, set up your market–tomatoes, strawberries, carrots
  • Little friend held tight to her money, lent me some to buy her $52.00 carrots!
  • Imitating everyday experiences-set up shop, arrange the stand, selling, negotiating money, talking about food preparation

Available at Seedling. Click here

Bigjigs Toys Kelly Doll, 12 months+, ($24.95)  

  • spunky little doll with pigtails, yarn hair and sweet smile.
  • perfect for toddlers ready for pretend play around 12 months
  • Can imitate daily activities and role play with doll, building language–dressing, eating, playing, sleeping, trip to the doctor

Alex World Map in the Tub, 3+ ($16.00)

  • Kids love Alex’s bathtub toys, pieces float and stick to the side of the tub
  • Fit together 30 pieces of puzzle with continents, oceans, animals, famous landmarks–Sydney Opera House, Pyramids etc             
  • Learn words associated with places that are illustrated

Available at Amazon. Click here

Lil’ Critters Huggable Hippo Teether by VTech, Birth+, ($9.99)

  • Makes me smile
  • Nice size and weight for babies to grab, cuddle and teethe or chat
  • Different colors, textures, slippery crinkly hands–parents to describe to build language
  • Big smiley face invites conversation, babies talk more to faces
  • 30 songs, sounds and rhymes when you push the heart button
  • Great for tummy time when baby gets bored, easy take-along toy
  • Babies are decoding sounds in strings of meaningful language

Available at Amazon. Click here

Soggy Doggy by Spin Master, 4+, ($19.99)

  • Hilarious splishy splashy game  
  • Roll the dice and move to the matching colored space
  • Perform a task with either the paw or bone dial–give shower or advance dial toward a shaking dog
  • Sends you back to start
  • Matching colors, counting, following directions and social language

Available at Target. Click here

Doll Family Mansion by Hape, 3+, ($199.99)

  • Don’t know about you but I loved playing with my Mom’s dollhouse
  • 7 rooms of fun, 2 patios, retractable garden, working lights and doorbell
  • Little friends 7-9 dove right in arranging 28 accessories, role play
  • Awning became star gazing spot with bed, Dad grilled kabobs
  • So many accessories matching themed rooms, outdoor spaces->creative threads in the story, building language skills
  • Big for several kids to play collaboratively, spinning a story
  • Car sold separately

Available at Hape. Click here

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Games, Language, Toddlers | Leave a comment

PAL Award Winning Games and Puppets on FOX6 Milwaukee Today!

Face-to-face fun: Toy expert talks about the best games for kids of all ages

Family Games and Activities for Smart Summer Play

Summer is a great time to gather the family around a fun learning game that can include everyone, even your preschooler

Sherry Artemenko, Speech Language Pathologist with over 17,000 hours working with kids can help parents choose fun games and activities full of learning that advance language skills.

Of the top 7 toy categories in the industry, Games and Puzzles is the fastest growing segment according to a study released last fall. Within Games and Puzzles every type of game is growing–family strategy, board games and even preschool games.

I love this trend as it means parents are valuing game time with their families, where we can turn off the technology and have great face to face collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, pretending and FUN together.

Sherry’s PAL Award winners shared today are at

Here are some of Sherry’s new PAL Award winners in the Game category:

Monkey Around by Peaceable Kingdom (2 and up) $17.99

  • Preschool games are becoming popular..Peaceable Kingdom knows how to make learning fun
  • Banana tree, banana, and illustrated cards for “together” and “solo” activities
  • Our first card, “Hold hands and hop around the room,” lots of giggles
  • Build skills to follow directions, work together, learn new vocabulary (spacial concepts, body parts), strengthen fine and gross motor skills
  • Did 5 activities, “Can we do it again?”

The Rainbow Fish Share and Sparkle Game by Mindware (3 years and up) $19.95

  • Based on the well-loved book, “The Rainbow Fish, “used so often in speech therapy
  • Each player gets a rainbow fish, rolls the die to select colored or shimmery scale, or “share” option
  • Game designed to reward sharing
  • Lots of discussion on who might need a scale the most, why sharing is important, learn social skills
  • Asked child what she liked about game,”I like the sharing side!”

Tall Tales by SCS Direct (4 an up) $34.99

  •  Kids are great story tellers –gets their imaginations going
  • Reach into blue fuzzy bag for character or prop to direct the plot–dinosaur, rocket ship, flower
  • Choose setting cards—-game show, zoo, forest, airplane interior
  • Learning story telling, association, naming and description–reading and writing
  • Kids said, “You try to make a story to match the picture and you can’t peek in the bag!”
  • Teachers and therapists love it

Telestrations by USAopoly (12 and up) $29.95

  • Telephone game sketched out…hilarious group game
  • Take turns sketching out a word or concept–dollhouse, rowboat, guacamole
  • Pass to next person to write their guess, next player draws and so on
  • Worse the drawing skills the funnier!
  • “Sleepwalker” became “stalker” and “grasshopper” became “hot air balloon!“
  • Lots of chat and explaining by the original artist at the reveal, defending their choices.

4Way Spelldown by Ideal, Alex Brands (6 and up) $19.99

  • Push down the dice popper to reveal the 2 letters you must use to form a word
  • Flip over the block for each letter you include in your word
  • Only given 1 vowel so have to think in blends and longer words to finish first
  • Spelling, reading, vocabulary building

Rainbow Croquet Caddy by Hape (3 and up) $59.99

  • Portable outdoor fun
  • Kids can set up, play, supervise wherever there is a patch of grass!
  • Practice counting, naming numbers and negotiating play
  • Started naming their teams, putting the wickets farther apart and in areas of the yard that look fun
  • Builds social language, taking turns, planning and giving tips on how to hit the ball

Summer is a wonderful time to put on a puppet show with or for the family:

Lilabell by Living Puppets (3 and up) $99.90

  • So big she grabs kids’ attention
  • She visited a first grade classroom and charmed the kids, got the shy ones talking
  • Kids give her voice, can move her tongue which is great for speech therapist
  • Move her arms, fingers, mouth and tongue for animating your story
  • Puppets inspire story telling through dialogue and narration which builds language skills for later reading and writing

Folkmanis Puppets: Toad, Stage Dog, Hen Puppet (3 and up) $29.00-$59.99

  • Folkmanis puppets bring animals alive
  • Stage Dog moves his tongue so speech therapist can teach placements for sounds
  • Hen: feathery plush body with movable beak and dangling legs for a cluck around the barn
  • Toad: warty plush body and pop eyes, can move his forelegs, tongue and mouth
  • Folkmanis puppets come with background information and fascinating facts on each animal that inspires kids to craft their story
Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Games, Language, play, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

New Take on Stacking Blocks for Kids

It’s funny what themes hit me as I walked through the International Toy Fair in New York City last February. I tend to see beyond the obvious, STEM, collectables, robots–at the finer tuned changes in toys. This year I wanted to write a blog about new ways to use stacking blocks for kids.

I’ve always been a fan of beautifully illustrated stacking cardboard blocks because kids love to pile them up and knock them down. As a speech language pathologist, I am looking for potential for great story-telling using the blocks as parents come along side their children and enter into their play, talking about the scenes as the kids select the blocks. Here are some very innovative, new ways to play with stacking blocks!

Janod Stacking Pyramid–City Friends delights kids with scenes from the city where 9 animal families live.  Each side of the cube is a mini story, two mice having a little kiss outside the elevator, a donkey washing his hands, a tiger looking at the flower shop, a panda baking a pie or a giraffe working out, to name a few! The blocks can be ordered 1-10, teaching numbers and sequence, or matched by color to learn beginning colors. One of my favorites is tiger and bunny having a cup of coffee together. Kids can’t wait to crash it down but guess what? That’s okay because now we can build horizontally. We joined our cubes to make a city scape with mouse roller skating past a store, bunny talking on her cell phone and elephant offering fresh squeezed lemonade. There is such a huge opportunity to describe setting and action with the animals walking through the city. Parents will love to join the play as there is much to contribute by describing each cube that their child places down and is looking at. After our masterpiece we get to swat at it and start over too!

Where’s Bear? by Peaceable Kingdom became a favorite game with our preschoolers. Good question! Where IS bear is what we asked our 2 year-old friend. We began with playing with the beautiful blocks, chocked full of items associated with different rooms in Bear’s house–bathroom, kitchen, living room, play room, bedroom and the base is his back yard. Older brother and sister loved stacking the blocks for play but we spread them out for 2-year old brother. Everyone said hide your eyes and one player hid the bear under a block. Then we modeled, “Where is Bear?” “Is he under here?” “No” or “Yes.” There is so much language learning as a parent or sibling models asking questions and answering them. Of course Bear was the hit of the game, “Hello Bear,”  our 2 year-old liked the bear so much he made off with it and acted out some fun in the kitchen, “I go find a bear.” “Put up up up,” as Bear walked up the refrigerator and “I walk” as he moved along the kitchen floor. “Look Bear, come back!” This game can clearly grow with a child. His 4 year-old siblings loved it and played in a bit more traditional way, stacking them by size, making everyone close their eyes, and hiding the bear for the reveal. We even started asking our questions based on the items in a room, “Is the bear in the room with the crayons?” or “Is the bear in the room with the potty?” On top of each block are several objects pictured to find on that block. Kids learn vocabulary associated with rooms in the house and daily living besides so many grammatical structures like asking and answering questions, all on top of having loads of fun playing with the family!

Available on Amazon, Click here

Hape’s “Stacking Music Set” can be stacked or placed horizontally as kids are invited to play each block that holds a musical instrument–xylophone, washboard, drum, cymbal and shaker. When they say, stack, they mean it since after a concert, kids can nest each block and carry away the set with a handle. Research links language and musical processing as they engage in similar areas of the brain. Experimenting with beat, rhythm, and tone, kids are building listening and discrimination skills for language learning. (available in the fall)

Posted in Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers | Leave a comment

Spring PAL Awards on FOX6 TV Today–Keep Reading Skills Sharp! is on FOX6 Milwaukee today sharing 2017 Spring PAL Award winners,

“Toys and Games to Keep Reading Skills Sharp Over the Summer”

Summer is a time to take the academic pressure off of kids and have fun. Why not play with a great family game or toy that can reinforce learning skills for reading: phonics, spelling, vocabulary, or story telling while having fun?

Sherry Artemenko, Speech Language Pathologist with over 17,000 hours working with kids can help parents choose fun toys full of learning while advancing reading skills.

Sherry’s PAL Award winners shared today are at

Here are some of Sherry’s Spring PAL Award winners in the Pre-literacy/Reading category:

Gumball Words by SimplyFun (8 years and up) $34

  • Who can pass up a gumball machine for learning spelling, vocabulary and reading?
  • 2 stages: first move your coin tokens to collect gumball letters to build words–short term memory, spacial skills, spelling, vocabulary, reading
  • Next build words maximizing the length of the words and using bonus high-counting letters

Eye ‘n Seek by Blue Orange Games (6 years and up) ($13.99)

  • Well known for their “Spot It” games where you match images
  • Everyone gets a fun picture wheel with 3 windows for matching images
  • 6 possible games, one you turn over a card and look for image starting with the same letter…Pyramid/Pizza
  • Other option: player describes a card and other players have to guess what picture she is describing, great for building vocabulary

LeapStart  Interactive Learning System by LeapFrog (2-4 years)  $39.99

  • Jam-packed with school and life skills–ABC’s, numbers, writing, science, math
  • Downloadable Parent Guide with tips on activities parents and kids can do together
  • Need interactive component with little ones to keep their attention
  • Comes with a book, others sold separately

Krazy Wordz by Ravensburger (10 and up) $19.99

  • “Making sense out of nonsense”
  • Players pick 9 random letters and 1 topic card–super hero, yoga pose, insect…
  • Create a word that doesn’t exist but fits the topic
  • Reveal everyone’s topic cards plus a few fake ones and players guess your definition
  • Use phonics and spelling skills to create a word that represents the meaning in how it sounds. “Glug”= witches’ brew ingredient, “Glas” +luxury hotel

Bluebee Pals by Kayle Concepts (Pre-K-3rd grade) $64.99

  • Where cuddle meets technology
  • Connect Monkey to a Bluetooth enabled device–phone, tablet or laptop and they become a learning pal
  • Gave some of these to a 1st grade classroom and they were the kids’ favorite activity during “Smart time” as the animals “read” to the kids, lip synching the words to stories or learning apps.
  • learning to read through many channels–auditory, visual, sensory, keep attention

Kalou Rouge Rabbit (birth and up)   $32.99 and Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood

  • Grab your stuffed bunny and cuddle up for a story.
  • Important to read to our kids, even after they have learned to read because we can read stories with richer vocabulary and complex story lines than they are able to read.

Additional PAL Award winners to help sharpen reading skills that were invented by those in the know–parents!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Games, Reading | Leave a comment Announces 2017 Spring PAL Awards

Congratulations to all our Spring 2017 PAL winners!

Take a look:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment