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:


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Spring PAL Awards on FOX6 TV

Had a fun interview on FOX6 TV last Thursday, sharing STEAM toys that encourage language learning.

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STEAM PAL Awards Winners on FOX6 Milwaukee Today

Full STEAM Ahead with Language!

The STEM/STEAM trend is really hot in the toy industry! Sherry Artemenko, Speech Language Pathologist with over 17,000 hours working with kids can help parents choose toys full of learning while advancing knowledge in science, technology engineering, the arts and math. Language arts is increasingly emphasized in school assignments as children are asked to explain their work, predict outcomes, solve problems and draw conclusions.

Sherry’s PAL Award winners are at

Here are some of Sherry’s Spring PAL Award winners in the STEAM category:

SmartMax My First Safari Animals by Smart Toys and Games (1-5) $19.95

  • Magnets are magic to kids
  • Soft touch front and back click together with the body rod
  • Didn’t take long for my preschoolers to create variations with feet sticking up, and combo animals
  • SmartMax sets are compatible so kids added more rods and magnetic balls, calling it a slide and animate and play pretend with their animals

Bunny Trails by Alex Toys (4 and up) $39.99  

  • Part of a new series of games, Future Coders
  • Help bunny find a path through the garden
  • Progress through levels on the cards
  • Break it down into little steps like telling a story
  • Plan to avoid obstacles and get Bunny to the carrot
  • Thinking, planning, problem solving, creative play

Brio Builder Activity Set (3 and up) $69.95

  • 211 pieces–screws, nails, wheels, nuts, blocks
  • hammer, screw driver, wrench
  • to build projects it’s a great parent-child activity at 3
  • make and play, animate with talk and play

Meccano Micronoids by Spinmaster (8 years and up) $29.99

  • Robots are hot this season and we have “Switch and Basher” who have 3 mode functions along with programming options
  • question mode ask yes, no questions
  • dance and coordinate when closer
  • autonomous–giggle, babble, dance, sing, sneeze..silliness
  • buttons to program your own walking sequence, record your voice
  • creative play, alien voices, made up their planets

Dig it Up! Discovery Kit by Mindware (8 and up) $34.95

  • Science kits are popular
  • This one has 12 solid projects for little paleontologists to learn about dinosaurs and insects.
  • Use facts about t Rex and Triceratops to make prehistoric battle scene, placing bones according to how it would happen
  • Amber casting with insects
  • “This is way cooler than the science we do in class!”\
  • Learn, discover and tell a story from the evidence

KNEX Education STEM Explorations Roller Coaster Building Set (8 and up) $39.99

  • Who doesn’t like a roller coaster?
  • Kids can build it, play with it and perform experiments, recording their observations
  • Part of KNEX’s STEM education, for classroom, maker spaces,
  • 3 experiments, test your predictions, analyze your data and record your findings
  • critical thinking, analysis, comparisons–language skills
Posted in 12 years and up, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, play, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

When a Preschool Game Becomes a Puppet Show

A great preschool game has the DNA to teach taking turns, concepts, vocabulary, listening skills and syntax to name a few learning objectives but when kids take off from the game format and launch into pretend play, I know it has that extra special element to spark creativity.

I was playing Peaceable Kingdom’s new PAL Award winner, “Where’s Bear?” designed to encourage meaningful moments of connection between a 2 year-old and his parents. The kids I played with loved this game. My two-year old friend was excited each time his older siblings told him to close his eyes while they hid the bear under one of the blocks. Then we asked, “Where is Bear?” After a few rounds, he became very possessive of Bear and liked him so much he made off with him 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!” Next his four-year-old siblings announced they were going to have a puppet show and left to gather blankets, earphones, tablets and of course the star of the show, Bear. They proceeded to put on a clever “puppet” show with Bear talking and entertaining. The show had to be short because the two-year-old wanted his Bear back!

A board game set-up can be a backdrop for specific pretend play scenarios too, so inviting that kids take their pet doggies, princesses or farm animals and take off from the game to engage in some pretend play. Wonder Forge is known for their creative use of the packaging and props to create a 3D house visited by the Cat in the Hat, an airport or doggie pet salon.

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

Saying Goodbye to Old Speech Therapy Friends

It’s been a year since I packed up all my therapy materials and PAL Award business and moved to Wisconsin. Anyone who does a big move knows that it’s “tedious and disruptive” as one of the movers said. I thought I did a good job but basically got the boxes to Wisconsin but then forgot about a lot of what was in them. So today I went through them all and found old friends. I found Tommy Toot, a little horn by Ambi Toys that helped produce a simple first toot for kids, my Kaufman Treatment Kit and Books that seemed so simple yet worked like magic with my apraxic kids. It was so against my method of speech therapy to “drill” words with picture cards but the kids loved them and showed wonderful progress as we used them. Two of my oldest friends from my clinical practice in graduate school at Northwestern University were my “30,000 Selected Words Organized
by Letter, Sound and Syllable”
and Therapy Kit. The book of words was invaluable before word lists were prolific on the internet and posted by SLP’s offering free lists for all of us. Apparently others recognize its value too because it goes for $2,371.01 on Amazon.. Ah but their copy must be in better condition than mine. My “Therapy Kit” was loved and cared for as I carried it from place to place doing speech therapy. Amazingly versatile and useful, it opens to a triangle with sides of pockets for picture cards, felt for attaching story pieces, and a large mirror. Of course now we use our iPhone as as mirror in therapy. This friend is no longer mentioned on the internet. Anyone remember it?

Friends who are downsizing and moving have told me about a book I should read (in my spare time??) about saying goodbye to possessions and thanking them for their use. So I am officially thanking my old friends who entertained, taught, and made kids laugh while progressing on our speech therapy goals. I will pass them on to continue the good work im other hands!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Apraxia, Birth-3 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

Crayola retires color on National Crayon Day

Okay you heard it here…Crayola is retiring the dandelion color from its 24 crayon box. I sure hope its replacement is bright yellow because kids need that for sunshine faces! Tomorrow is National Crayon Day which my husband just said is synonymous with National Crayola Day. There is nothing quite like getting a brand new set of crayons and judging by all the adult coloring books in prime real estate at Barnes and Noble, adults are finding joy in coloring too.

Setting out a box of crayons and plenty of paper is a wonderful open-ended activity for kids and helps build fine motor skills for writing as well as language skills as kids create stories with their illustrations. Some children find writing a story challenging but will get inspired because they can draw the illustrations.

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

Speech Pathologists Develop New Cookbook, “Dining with Dysphasia”

You know I like to feature projects that speech pathologists or in this case grad students in speech pathology, are involved with to help their clients. A team of grad students from NYU developed a free cookbook filled with yummy recipes for individuals living with dysphagia. The recipes are from a cooking challenge that enables masters students to create recipes that are both appetizing and accessible for those with swallowing disorders. Here’s a short review:

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that can affect patients of all ages under a variety of medical conditions. According to the ASHA, one in 25 adults in the United States experience swallowing problems. However, since the disorder spans across ages and medical conditions, research indicates that its prevalence may be underestimated.

When working with patients with dysphagia, the role of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is to diagnose and manage patients’ dysphagia. However, a recent project from Speech@NYU – NYU Steinhardt’s online master’s in speech-language pathology – sheds light onto not only how SLPs can do more for patients with dysphagia, but also how patients with dysphagia don’t have to let their medical condition impact their eating experience.

Dining with Dysphagia: A Cookbook is a collection of recipes that are both easy to follow and easy to swallow. Based on the NYU Steinhardt’s annual Dysphagia Iron Chef Competition, the goal of these recipes is to make eating an enjoyable experience for individuals with all levels of dysphagia.

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Smartnoggin Introduces Latest Developmental Rattle, NogginSeek

You know how much I love the NogginStik and Moms and babies do too. Here is their latest developmental rattle that also teaches eye tracking, grabbing, reaching and cause effect but also object permanence–the object is still there even if you can’t see it. Watch the little balls circle down the striped tube and disappear, all but one. Then tip the rattle upside down to empty the tube and there they are again!

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