Toy Fair 2015 Roundup, Top Trends Through a Learning Lens

Crayola dragonEvery year I feel like a kid in the candy store as I span the New York International Toy Fair’s nearly half million square feet encountering a talking dinosaur, life-size lego R2D2, Worry Eater, flying helicopters and minion mobs. I’m pumped up seeing all the innovation, creativity, and energy as I search for new products with fantastically fun learning potential. Now that I can take a breath, put my feet up and digest all the new products from over 100 companies we saw, here are the trends I see:

1. Dinosaurs are hot in anticipation of the June release of the movie sequel, Jurassic World. But honestly, just take a walk through preschool and kindergarden classes and you’ll know that kids are fascinated with these prehistoric animals with or without a new movie coming out. Peaceable Kingdom’s new game, Dinosaur Peaceable Kingdom Dinosaur EscapeEscapeis one of their creative cooperative games that preschoolers love, as you race the board to get your dinosaur safely home before the volcano is constructed and erupts. HABA’s Sand Glove Dinosaur allows kids to slip on a life size digger for pretend play, while Galt Toys added a sibling to their highly popular playnest family with Playnest Dino, whose large smiling head invites conversation with little ones. Wonder Forge commands preschool games with another Eye Found It! game, where players have to spot objects in any of the 4 time periods from prehistoric (dinosaurs) to the present, learning a little history along the way.

2. Creative Design/ Customization became an extension of last year’s STEM and Goldieblox movie machineSTEAM trends. I am seeing more depth in the science, engineering kits to allow for more open ended learning and play (reinforcing language) with what kids construct. Thinkfun’s Maker Studio puts the pieces of learning in the hands of kids as they take off making it their own. Learn the concepts of friction, torque and propulsion while making your own car out of a Wheat Thins box, becoming the centerpiece of later pretend play. Love that Tegu has added magnetic blocks with a hint of a face to bring up the language level of pretend play in their Stunt Team and Future series. Goldieblox continues to intersect engineering, language and creative play with their new Movie Machine, allowing kids to create their own movies. One of my favorite new companies, Build and Imagine has 3 sets in the aquatic theme with magnetic story walls to construct and many magnetic props to add to the wall as kids invent and re-invent the story.

3. Open Ended Play thankfully is a recognized toy trend this year by the Toy Industry Haywire's Worry EaterAssociation. I wish it were on the list every year, because that’s how kids learn through play, with fewer directions and less prescribed instruction. One of my favorite new products this year is Haywire’s Worry Eater which has been wildly popular in Europe and I expect the same in the US. Kids simply write down their worries, unzip their fuzzy friend’s mouth, tuck their slip of paper in and whoosh, the worry is gone.  It can bring on a chat about feelings, naming emotions and problem-solving while building language skills. Doll play is wonderful for open-ended imaginative play, especially with a few well-thought through props. Corolle’s new Mon Premier Bebe Bath Fresh Riviera has a new retro clothing design and is ready for the beach or tub play with the Bath Accessories Kit. Plan Toys’ modular Creative Playhouse uses so many interchangeable pieces to change up the function and story. Flip over a solar panel and you have a garden or tennis court. Janod’s Princess Palace cleverly uses the box to become the palace with wooden figures to attend the feast.

4. Real Talk With Dolls and Characters. Okay I am tip-toeing through this category because the “less is more” speech therapist in me has always wanted less talk by the toy and more by the child. I’ve seen how too many automated responses in a toy can actually inhibit talking in your kids as they are stopped mid-talk, get distracted and lose their focus and attention, But now I hear that Mattel has found that the number one request from girls is to have a Barbie that talks back and forth with them and these new conversational toys have come a long way from my favorite doll, Chatty Cathy, whose pull string activated several recorded responses. My own research causes me to take note–when I showed a girl a doll this week she said, “Does she talk?” I stand open to trying these new toys and will let you know what I think and see when reviewing them with kids.  Mattel was showcasing both a talking Hello Barbie, connected to the cloud, with many branches of conversations based on a child’s response and preschool character, Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo,who has lots of recorded educational content but also records your message and turns it into a song–mine was “I love New York!”  Talk to Cognitoy’s  GreenDino (ages 4-7, available in November) and it feels a bit like conversing with Siri, although the voice thankfully has a more child-friendly feel. They’ve partnered with IBM tapping into Watson, the supercomputer.

5. Tweens’ Crafts are everywhere, sometimes taking over a booth that had much more variety last year. How many pieces of jewelry can a girl make? Apparently a lot! One of my favorites is Wooky Entertainments’ Charmazing kits where tech meets arts and crafts as girls customize their do-it-yourself charm bracelets that name their attributes. The free app gets the conversation going with other fashionistas and encourages trading charms.

6. Several big names in infant/baby lines are featuring a Toned Down Infant Kathe Kruse bearPalette when it comes to baby equipment and toys. I’ve seen the move to “grey” nurseries  in the homes I’m in each week, and get that parents are the ones buying the products and desire something more serene to fit into their home decor. But, let’s not forget that babies and kids love and are attracted to bright contrasting colors. Who knows, maybe they sleep better without all the high impact jungle, forest and circus themes. I will say Hape’s Kruse, the beautifully re-branded line from German doll maker Kathe Kruse has added their signature “K” organic fabric stuffed animals, nickibabies, and blanket babies in Tiffany-quality boxes with silver K charms to other colorful collections.  I was delighted to see Yookidoo again as each of their baby and preschool toys have a special learning edge AND they still believe in bright colors. Their Gymotion Activity Playland (I declared, “Finally something new in baby toys!”) sports a motion track buggy over the top that can come to ground level too to transport any of the soft characters and move those that baby wants to swat.

This year I had fun shooting about 21 short videos of the learning edge I saw in new products. Stay tuned as I will start posting those next week. Here’s a sneak peek:

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Babies, Elementary School Age, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toys | 1 Comment

Reading Carryover for Older Articulation Therapy Students

Geronimo Stilton bookI have found that kids enjoy reading or repeating phrases from books they are interested as they progress past preschool games. This week I asked a 2nd grader what books he is reading and he got so excited he took off to get them for me.

He brought me his Geronimo Stilton books, adventures about the lead mouse who was born in New Mouse City, Mouse Island. He is the editor and publisher of The Rodent’s Gazette, New Mouse City’s most widely read daily newspaper. He told me he Geronimo Stilton pageloves when his mom reads him these stories at night so I started reading it, having him repeat phrases with his target sound in them. I knew it was a high interest activity when I asked him too get his book and he came downstairs with a stack of 10 books in the series! “A robot vehicle called Solar will only allow one mouse to be its driver” certainly passes the test for having lots of /l/ words for practice and sparks the interest of a 7 year-old boy.

 

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Heart shaped mochaHappy Valentine’s Day to  you all! I will be spending Valentine’s Day with my sweetheart at the International Toy Fair in New York City.

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What Articulation Norms Do You Use?

Melted crayonsThis is a great question and I often pose it to other private therapists that I meet with so I am keeping up to date with the latest. I regularly use norms to point out what is typical development for parents, nursery school teachers and pediatricians. I do notice quite a variance between what different therapists consider “typical development” for expected acquisition of sounds and run into therapists who are working on a sound earlier than I would.

So it was with surprise (and always great respect and admiration) that I read Pam Marshalla’s answer to this question because she has devoted her SLP career to becoming an expert in articulation and phonology. After citing research on vowel and consonant acquisition she makes this statement in her “Speech Pathology Answers and Advice:”

“Using the norms as a basis of deciding when to enroll clients in therapy is a remnant of an earlier age. Stimulability and readiness are more important determining factors today.”

However, she goes on to list the most recent research on norms if you have to use them.

Somehow, I found her advise somewhat liberating in an age of “evidence-based” practice and the pressure to produce research to back therapy decisions.

 

 

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Kids Making Their Own Language Toys

Mail truck with drawn figureOkay, it’s an ice storm in the northeast today and I am once again stuck inside, so I found myself going through old pictures. I came across this one from a therapy session that exemplifies what I am constantly teaching parents and preschool teachers–the importance of having play figures in the toy mix. This child apparently got it as she added her own drawn mailman when one wasn’t available.

Having paper, markers or crayons, scissors and tape or glue always handy is open-ended fun. Kids can “make” what might be missing in the toy box whether it is an accessory or figure to complete their story line. One time I was following a horse theme with a child who loves horses and we stopped to cut strips of yellow hay out of paper. We put them in buckets, carried them to the barn and fed the horses. At different times, we have made a leash for a dog, food for his dish and a crown. Possibilities are only limited by a child’s imagination.

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When Parents Let Go, Kids are Free to Write

Caroline's mudge journalI love watching the progression as kids learn to write, from their earliest inventive spelling to writing a coherent journal entry. I spent a lot of time with a little student I have, drawing pictures of the beginning, middle and end of the story we would read so he could verbalize and re-tell as well get a little practice with his handwriting. Now he is in 2nd grade and his printing is clearer than mine.

I received this darling journal entry from a budding reader and writer in first grade telling about Henry and Mudge an The Long Weekend. The “problum” was obviously that Henry and Mudge are “so burd,” seeeng as they can’t play outside and their dad tells boring jokes! The “Slushin” is that they followed mom’s suggestion to make a castle–what fun! I wrote back to mom and said obviously Dad was boring and Mom had the lively ideas to which she said, ” It just goes to show you what can happen when a controlling mother stopped focusing on her daughter’s spelling every word correct, her writing flourished!” Now that is honesty and a great tip for fellow moms.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, writing | Leave a comment

The Power of a Picture Book

imgres-1I’ve gotta say there’s not much that gets me quite as excited as discovering a fantastic new children’s picture book and usually the author behind it! In the last few years, here are some stand-outs that pack some powerful messages of overcoming fear, encouraging others, finding friends among those a little different than ourselves and doing our best:

Author Susan Hood turns out to be a neighbor of mine, introduced through a fellow speech-language pathologist. Formerly an editor for Scholastic, Susan has taken off on her own and produces one gem after another. My favorite book to give little girls (and tell children’s store owners about) is “The Tooth Mouse,” the adorable story of Sophie, the little mouse who aspires to succeed the aging Tooth Mouse, who wants to retire. Susan’s “Rooting For You” is about a little seed embedded in the soil who refuses to venture out,  grow up, sprout, break new ground, go toward the light, and bloom. With the help of his cast of new friends–worms, ants, beetles and spiders–this seed blooms into the beautiful sunflower he is intended to be.

 The Pout-Pout Fish series by Deborah Diesen ( check out her latest, baby book, “Sweet Dreams, Pout-Pout Fish”) is a wonderful collection of our grumpy, grouchy fish who turns himself around in several adventures.  I’m not sure where I picked up my first Pout-Pout Fish book but was so in love that I wrote to the author. Subsequently I went on vacation and came back to a lovely hand written letter from Debbie Diesen with some little paper Pout-Pout activities. I remember telling Debbie that her book will be on the New York Times bestsellers list and guess what? It was. We even exchanged notes about the existence of a real pout-pout fish which I happened to see on a trip to our local aquarium. She is a former school librarian which explains all the rich vocabulary she includes in her books, refusing to “dumb down” books for kids.

Just last week I was reading “Two Speckled Eggs” by Jennifer K. Mann, one of my recent favorite discoveries! A tale about finding a friend who might be a little different, this book sparked a long conversation with a 2nd grade boy who had been bullied the year before. He said, “I’m different.” to which I said, “Why?” and he went on to tell me he was the best reader in class and other positive characteristics he was proud of. He obviously got the point that “different” can be “good.”

Let’s be sure to take a minute while reading a favorite picture book and talk about it, letting the lessons, experiences and feelings sink in for further conversation.

 

 

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

Playonwords.com Named Top SLP Blog on ASHAshpere again

shutterstock_193639475I am honored to be named to “Heidi’s Top Blogs” (Heidi Kay, Founding Partner of Pediastaff) on ASHAsphere this week. Playonwords.com is among the 12 best SLP blogs chosen by Heidi based on “some of her personal favorites of those bloggers sharing all of their insights, opinions, tips and activities free of charge.”

I enjoy sharing ideas, therapy tips, new terrific toys to spark a speech-language session and just plain funny stories I gather through my trips to my client’s homes and classrooms.

Just this week, I saw a former client and asked her about her nanny, since we had had some conversations about that topic each week when I was working with her son. She departed this bit of wisdom, “I only hire former waitresses or nurses because they aren’t afraid to clean up crap and wipe bottoms!” I looked at her and said, “That needs to be shared on my blog!” This is partly what keeps me going, is all the interesting moms, teachers, and kids I see every day and what I learn from them.

So, it looks like this blogger is still running. Get ready for some interesting posts beginning next Saturday as I enter the Jacob Javits Center and walk miles through the Toy Fair. Can’t wait!

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Two Speckled Eggs by Jennifer Mann, Lesson Plans

I’ve started up my video reviews, giving language boosting tips to parents, using favorite PAL Award winning toys, books and games. I couldn’t resist sharing this gem of a book, “Two Speckled Eggs” by author/illustrator Jennifer Mann.

 

As a parent, you can up the language level of your book time with a few tips such as

  • Talk about the book. Don’t feel bad about pausing on a page to talk about what is happening. I call it “hanging out on a page.” Research actually shows that children show greater gains in language skills when an adult talks about the story as well as reads it. It is called Dialogic Reading.
  • Check out facts about the author and illustrator. Kids love to hear about where they live, if they have a pet that might have inspired the story, or in this case the fact that the author and illustrator are the same person. Jennifer Mann was an architect before she wrote children’s books.
  • Thinking, reasoning, questioning. How is an architect related to an illustrator? One little boy told me, “An architect makes things and an illustrator colors them.” He was close! As I began to read the story and he saw Lyla Browning off by herself with a magnifying glass he said, “She’s like an architect, discovering things!” Relate the author’s inspiration from life experiences to the story. How does it connect?
  • Relate the book to life. Kids were making fun of Lyla Browning because she brought in  a curly hair tarantula for show ‘n tell. “Blecchh! Disgusting, gross.” What could we say that would encourage Lyla? What can we do when kids are mean?
  • Name their feelings. How does Ginger feel when the kids are wrecking her games? When they don’t like her cake? When Lyla offers a ladybug? Mad, sad, disappointed or frustrated?
  • Comparisons. How was Lyla’s present different than the others? One child compared the wrappings, “Lyla’s was in a plain box with the top open and the other ones were brought in a special way, gift bags, bows and ribbons.”
  • Go beyond the story. My little friend launched into telling me about his friend, Lane, who ruined his 5th birthday party because he broke all the presents and made him sad. And, Lane’s dad didn’t do anything about it which he didn’t understand. Wow, there was a lot to talk about after he shared his experience related to the story. He also started talking about being different and said he was the only different one in his class. As I probed a little more, as to why he was different, he said, “because I’m the smartest and I read the best.” He clearly gets the concept that “different” can be a good thing.

Click here for my full review.

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

Sneak Peek at New Games Debuting at New York Toy Fair

10411742_786615528040756_2922957804707997368_nBlue Orange (they brought us the fun Spot It! game series) has a big surprise for you…

They tell us,” We  will release our  first “heavy” board game this year. We have long sought after a gem of this quality to enter this genre, we hope you have as much fun discovering this game as we had developing it.”

In New York 1901, relive the historic years of the founding of New York that led to what the city is today. Build bigger and higher skyscrapers on some of Lower Manhattan’s most iconic streets (Wall Street, Broadway, Nassau, Cedar and Pine). Raise one of 4 legendary skyscrapers, the Park Row, the Singer, 10931317_10152986926314002_6614871837762385102_nthe Metropolitan Life or the mythical Woolworth and make one of them the crown jewel of your real estate empire!

I’m a fan of Rory’s Story Cubes and their language learning and creative story telling potential. Rory tells us to look out for their new licensed Rory’s Story Cubes sets – Batman and Moomin, sets  designed to bring new members into the Story Cubes family and appeal across generations.

20708_10152954901431166_4542092461044163863_nPeaceable Kingdom makes fantastic cooperative games for preschoolers and early elementary aged kids. They’ve given us a preview of their new Cauldron Quest, where you can help save the kingdom from an evil wizard! Cauldron Quest has players working together to get the three correct ingredients into the Cauldron before all six of the paths are blocked.The game is for kids ages 6 and up, and is fun for 2-4 players. If you know anyone who loves spells and potions, Cauldron Quest is for them! Check it out: http://peaceablekingdom.com/Products/Cauldron-Quest-Cooperative-Board-Gamebrbr__GMC6.aspx

The hype is growing as we lead up to the Toy Fair. Stay tuned…

 

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