New Preschool Games from Toy Fair New York 2017

As I walk through the aisles of the New York Toy Fair, I get hit with the amazing ingenuity of toy designers. This year it was evident that there are still new ways to build a child’s memory, vocabulary, concepts and listening skills through fun preschool play. Here were some of my favorites:

  • Peaceable Kingdom’s “Blue Plate Scramble” is a new cooperative game designed around a popular real-life and play theme, ordering at a restaurant. Players have to remember which foods go together (building association skills) on a plate ordered at the Blue Plate Diner. Don’t get them wrong or you have an angry customer! Peaceable Kingdom’s games were always favorites in my speech therapy sessions as kids have to work together to win, building social skills too.
  • Mindware’s “E-I-E-I-GO” is another combination of pretend play that matches kids’ interests as a preschooler. Shake the silo to see what animal the players must match. They roll their dice until they get 3 matches and make the animal’s sound to win a token. Active play is fun play!
  • Janod’s “Happy Tree” by Alex Brands is a new take on a memory game. Kids have to remember sequentially the sections of a tree and what animals are hanging out on each branch, building memory, sequencing, positioning vocabulary, and pre-literacy skills.
  • “PJ Masks Night Sight Game” by Wonder Forge is a creative memory, role-play game as kids wear masks of their favorite characters to be able to secretly “read’ the toy tiles they have placed on their toy shelves. Take off the masks, turn over Romeo tiles and try to match them to the correct row of toys. Put masks back on to see if you win the tiles or Romeo steals them. The role-play and cooperative nature of this game makes it a winner for teaching social skills and language.
  • Spinmaster’s “Soggy Doggy,” game where players race around the board washing the doggy (spraying him in the shower) until he decides to shake himself dry–sending you back to start–generates a lot of wet laughs, while kids learn first game play and  following directions.

Speech therapists can use these games to strengthen the skills I’ve mentioned or adapt them to be a reinforcement for other speech and language goals. Let me know how you have incorporated these games in your therapy session so we can all learn.








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Does Exercise Build Boys’ Reading Scores?

There’s been a lot of debate about the value of physical activity as it correlates with higher cognitive skills and attention. New research from the University of Finland now suggests that “high levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and low levels of sedentary time in first grade were related to better reading skills in grades one to three among boys. Conversely, boys who had a combination of low levels of physical activity and high levels of sedentary time had the poorest reading skills through grades one to three, said researcher Eero Haapala, Ph.D.”

Interestingly, time spent in sedentary activities versus vigorous physical activity did not have the same effect on girls’ reading and math scores.

Are we implying that a fast game of tag or kickball at recess could up boys’ reading skills in the early elementary school grades? Maybe research like this could help in the fight to bring back recess. The growing trend to steal time from recess for added academic subjects has been growing as I see the pressure build to push out free play to be replaced by more structured attention to the ABC’s beginning in preschool.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the benefits of recess for the whole child, physically and mentally: “Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.811 After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively.1216 In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment.8,11,17” 

As an educator/therapist, I certainly can agree with the benefits of physical activity breaks for better learning as well as incorporating movement activities within the speech therapy session. One of my most successful sessions with a young boy was doing articulation therapy while playing soccer in his back yard. It was a bit tricky keeping my word lists in hand and managing my soccer strategy but we had fun as well as made progress on his sounds!






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On the Search for Toys Everywhere

My husband likes Sunday to be a day of rest (he is right) so I declared last Saturday a day of exploration. Since we moved to Wisconsin in the last year I am still finding fun spots in the area. After an amazing donut at Roecks Bakery in Kiel Wisconsin we headed to Sheboygan on Lake Michigan. This smaller city boasts the best kitchen store, “Relish.” I warned my husband that I always find something to buy. So as I was checking out with my terra cotta lined garlic container and butter dish I saw this “Stay Clean Scrubber.” As I was squeezing it, owner Jane told me a teacher bought several of them to give to kids standing in line who have ADHD. It helps them regulate their sensory system and be patient while waiting.

Then I went on to “The Nest” which is a beautiful gift shop on 8th Avenue in Sheboygan too. I always check out the children’s section of stores and found the cutest little mice that would be a perfect addition to a reading of “The Tooth Mouse,” one of my favorite children’s picture books by Susan Hood. All you need is a mouse and cigar box!

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Free “Tall Tales” Game Offer for Teachers and Therapists

My husband has always said the best part of your job is the people. I would certainly agree and I have had the privilege to work with an amazing group of professionals in the school system–teachers, speech, occupational and physical therapists as well as psychologists. Now in the Toy Industry I find the people I work with are creative, fun and have a little of that child spunk in them that spawns fun. I also like the story behind companies, how they started, who conceived of the idea and so on.

This week I enjoyed my visit with SCS Direct’s CEO and President Howard Greenspan. Howie’s passion to provide toys that encourage classic playful learning is evident in his drive to design many dimensions of learning in his toys for lasting play value. When we were talking about one of his newer games, “Tall Tales”, he mentioned that he is giving away a game to any teacher of therapist that requests it. All you have to do is email your name, school name and address to requesting the game and you receive one free! A “game of infinite storytelling,” Tall Tales comes in a cute drawstring bag holding 50 3D game pieces and 24 story cards with various settings. Stories can be told singly or cooperatively with 5 options for play. Sounds like a perfect addition to the therapy bag for generating language or for the classroom teacher to work on oral language or writing. Often kids freeze when the teacher says they should think up a story to write but if they have some visual/tactile prompts the ideas start to flow.

So let’s all thank Howie Greenspan for his support of educators and his generosity in making this offer!

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Toy Fair New York 2017 Toys for Special Needs

Lifesize Lego Batman playonwords.comI’ve always been a speech therapist who uses “off the shelf” toys not “therapy” toys to engage kids with special needs. They deserve to have the most exciting and fun toys and games to play with AND playing with products for typically developing children attracts typical peers to join our play, upping the language input. Here are some products I saw at the Toy Fair that could be helpful to all kids, including those with special needs:

Gorilla Gym is a swing, climb, play all day indoor gym system that fits in a doorway. I hung out on the swing during the show and found it to be a very relaxing sensory experience! This adaptable system is impressively sturdy for kids and adults and offers kid attachments–rings, climbing ladder, trapeze swing and rope– for a variety of activities. Many kids I worked with showed more progress when they were moving and active while working on speech and language goals and this system could be very beneficial for physical therapists and special ed teachers to keep in the classroom.

Walking through the Toy Fair in the afternoon, I was starving and came upon Little Kids’ Little Kids Magic Kitchen SlushiesMagic Kitchen demonstration. After we made ice pops and ice cream they asked my help palming the slushy so it would turn to ice. Seemed like an engaging sensory experience for kids!

Puppets are a wonderful way to grab kids’ attention whether in a therapy session or during story time in a circle of kids. Folkmanis never disappoints with their come-alive animals from all around the world, teaching us amazing facts about precious creatures. Their new “Stage Dog” has a prominent tongue as fingers can open the mouth wide to give kids an added visual as to where to place their tongue in sound production during speech therapy. I was introduced to Living Puppets lovable large characters with fingers, arms and mouths to animate.  Some children with special needs will talk more easily to an animated puppet than to a person as it is less threatening to them. A class of kindergarteners might listen a Living Puppets, playonwords.comlittle longer to directions, or a story when the puppet is moving, pointing and conversing with them. Ask any librarian what her props are for story hour!

Pacific Play Tents’ new Animal Chairs would be a nice option for sitting and paying attention in the classroom for kids that might need some sensory input, It felt like I was sitting in a sling chair and very cozy and relaxing at the end of my day at the Toy Fair.

I had a great time visiting Cloud b at the Toy Fair, maker of cuddly plush animals who offer a unique sensory experience for kids to comfort them through sound, touch and sight. Their new “Super Max” is a special turtle named for a boy with brain cancer. The turtle who radiates stars and three colors is covered in plastic so it can accompany a child to the hospital and be kept sterile. A portion of the profits are given to this boy’s foundation. By the way, I asked how he was doing and he is in remission.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Elementary School Age, Games, Language, media review, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddlers, Toys | Leave a comment

Toy Fair Trends New York 2017

Stepping through the doors of New York City’s International Toy Fair always pumps me up, the air charged with excitement, innovation, creativity, passion and fun!  With a hug from Peppa Pig, I started my search for fun new products embedded with language learning potential. Each year I see more companies going deeper into learning opportunities, especially in the sciences, as projects are linked to real-life experiences and kids are asked to explore, think critically, explain and relate their projects to their world.

 After walking the nearly half million square feet, it is time to put my feet up and share the trends I see for 2017:

STEM is STREAMING: I’m still seeing an amazing emphasis on STEM products that promote science, technology, engineering and math, with the addition of Robotics and the Arts. Thankfully the movement is “growing up” expanding STEM products to relate to real life experiences with guides, questions and prompts to get kids thinking beyond the project, extending and deepening the play experience, building language through critical thinking, reasoning, logic, and comparisons, which are essential skills in the classroom. Guidecraft’s “Block Science” wooden roadway system includes figures sporting math symbols for open ended construction play but adds idea boards to teach concepts such as fractions using large pictures of corresponding structures–bridges, buildings, highways, intersections and further vocabulary–part, whole, divide, add, and total. A new company to the toy scene, Primo, introduced “Cubetto”designed to teach coding to 3 year-olds and up, while moving the wooden robot cube across a colorful cloth graph representing cities, galaxies and oceans, AND the play is based on a children’s story, adding language learning.

Take notice of Toddlers: In the last few years I have seen more emphasis on games for toddlers, started by ThinkFun’s clever “Roll & Play.” Smart move since that is the segment of parents who most often ask me for ideas for toys for their children AND seem to need the most guidance on how to play with them. Peaceable Kingdoms line of toddler/parent games includes “Where’s Bear?” a new take on illustrated stacking blocks where the wooden bear hides under a block for a child and parent to engage in guessing, describing, and deductive reasoning. A parent guide provides many ideas for expanding the play and fun. Geomagworld’s new Magicube sets, encourage toddlers to build polar, river and safari animals and fruit with magnetic illustrated cubes, providing characters for naming and action in later pretend play. Toddlers can join family puzzle play with Learning Journey’s “My First Sing Along Puzzle, Old MacDonald’s Farm, full of large, chunky, colorfully illustrated pieces and a big button to push to start up the sing-along. These new products make playtime fun for kids and parents!

Treat Your Sweet Tooth: Cupcakes are still a hot item but joined by ice Cream, donuts and slushies. Alex Brands’ “Sweetlings” are delightfully cute cupcake characters made 

of whipped clay, begging to be decorated with pretend frosting, sprinkles, and whipped cream. A DIY project turns into creative play as the characters take on their personalities and kids’ imaginations take flight. LeapFrog’s Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Shop is chock-full of learning potential as kids follow the sequence on a card to build their ice cream cone, listening to the oral directions as they scoop, whipped cream and sprinkles. Listening, following directions and patience are all skills that kindergarten teachers value in future students. At Little Kids’ Magic Kitchen demonstration., we made ice cream, pull pops and slushies–the real thing–with easy steps for independent play. Okay, if you’re feeling a little guilty about the sugar factor,  Janod’s “Fresh Market”  stand has multiple props 
to encourage creative pretend play–cash register, scale, fruits, veggies and shopping bags. Cooking, baking, and prep are great language lessons for building math vocabulary, sequencing and following directions.

Classroom Ready Toys: I was excited to see so many outstanding products adding a corresponding curriculum, and lesson plans for the classroom. Teachers and therapists are creative, busy people who really appreciate well-planned, fun activities to support learning in their classroom, as evidenced by the popularity of “Teachers Pay Teachers.”  EQtainment who introduced us to their little monkey Q last year, teaching kids social, emotional skills through their game and book, showcased their new app, “Q-Wunder, Social and Emotional Skills=Fun.” This comprehensive kid-friendly emotional intelligence curriculum includes Q Wunder interactive kids’ show, original pop songs, music videos and fun educational games. I would love to hear about behavior before and after using this curriculum in the classroom. Arckit, the freeform architectural modelling system, has a 10 lesson plan education plan already in place in the UK and is working on one for the US. A Sketchup extension task, asks challenging questions, “What issues can you spot if this is a real build?” and “What improvements can you make?” Students are increasingly being asked to explain, evaluate, and extrapolate their work in the classroom. Mindware’s “Keva Connect” has many complementary lesson plans to teach mathematical comparisons, graphing, habitat awareness, research skills etc. on their website. Get kids up and moving as they build, navigate and create some pretend play scenarios with Weplay’s Icy Ice and Coral Adventure. User’s Guides and website videos are especially helpful to teachers. Investigate Solar Energy with K’Nex Education with a downloadable Educational Guide that includes the Teacher’s Guide with Common Core Standards alignments and ideas like keeping a journal for reflections–taking in the language component.

Tummy Time Tips: My baby visits frequently include parents’ frustration over how to keep baby entertained to add minutes to tummy time. Pacific Play Tents is introducing their first baby product, “Sea Buddies Tummy Tunnel,”  designed with a clear peek-a-boo window for siblings to cheer their new baby along. Baby fits comfortably in VTech’s “Tummy Time Discovery Pillow,”  designed with exact measurements from tummy time testers and multiple activities to hold attention.

Best in Show for Combining Multiple Modes of Learning FunI had to have a category for the toys I was most impressed with that combined multiple dimensions of learning. Kids learn best through many dimensions–hearing, seeing, and feeling so what could be more fun for learning than Spinmaster’s “Soggy Doggy,” game where players race around the board washing the doggy (spraying him in the shower) until he decides to shake himself dry–if you get wet, go back to start. Educational Insights’ “Illumicraft Light Up! Journal,” encourages language expression, writing and critical thinking while kids can “decorate” the cover with DIY illuminated circuits. Talk about combining left and right brain activities! Kids love teddy bears and Seedling’s Parker Teddy fills the traditional cuddly role as well as augmented reality experience as kids can prepare teddy (and kids) for a trip to the doctor, scanning him with the iPad to read film of his heart and bones.

Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Apps, Babies, Elementary School Age, Games, Language, media review, play, Preschool, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddlers, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment

Literacy Lessons Reinforced with Art

Rainbow Fish Literacy/Art Lesson

Rainbow Fish Literacy/Art Lesson

I had a great outing to the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin today. After a yummy lunch in the ArtCafe we visited the exhibits and ended up in the “student” section, art primarily by preschoolers. Can I say that was my favorite exhibit?? I loved that they had a literacy lesson on the classic children’s picture book, The Rainbow Fish. The kids were inspired to paint, collage and make ceramic fish and mobiles as a response to the story. This wonderfully illustrated book is the tale of a proud little fish who learned the joy of sharing and friendship. Hopefully the kids enjoyed a good language lesson too, explaining their picture or sculpture to the class.

Rainbow Fish Ceramics

Rainbow Fish Ceramics

When I was doing speech therapy in small groups of 3-4 year-olds with special needs, I always had an art project to support the story. I used colored shiny paper and plenty of glitter to make the coveted scales and used the pictures for re-telling the story, practicing the grammatical goals we were working on.  The art project served several purposes, it reinforced the story, was a helpful prop for re-telling the plot, and served as a take-home link between school and home to prompt the child to tell a little about what we did that day.

Literacy Inspires Art

Literacy Inspires Art

I loved seeing the ceramic “Rainbow Fish” with a lone sequin pressed into the clay on different parts of the fish, symbolizing all that was left after sharing her beloved glittery scales!

How fun to see art class use literacy for their inspiration.



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

Rule Crazy Reading Game Showcases at Toy Fair 2017

Okay the excitement is mounting on all sides I must say. Company representatives are getting ready to travel to New York City and set up their booths, store reps are getting ready to top their Fit-Bit mileage in 4 days and press representatives are scanning all the incoming e-mail blasts about new products and launches.

Each day we get Toy Fair Press releases and this week it was great to see one from a small company and PAL Award winner, “P. F. Shaggy Launches Rule Crazy, a Multi Award-Winning Board Game to Inspire Budding Readers.” I love when parents, who are on the front line watching their kids learn to read, sometimes with great effort, invent a fun game to teach kids to read. In this case, it’s a father-daughter team, founder-dad, Shahin Orci, and his 6-year-old daughter CFO (Chief Fun Officer), Sabrina, who designed a game for kids 5-8 (grades K-2), Rule Crazy helps children build sentence-reading skills thanks to outrageous vocabulary and imagery, and a mainstream board game format. Rule Crazy also sneakily incorporates 72 sight words to help children master those more challenging, frequently-used words in early reading materials.

This dad-daughter team isn’t afraid to stand up for reading, amidst all the emphasis on the importance of STEM-based products. Don’t get me wrong. I am very supportive of the movement to build interest and skills in our young scientists, especially girls, but I think we overlook the importance of early language skill building and reading. Finding innovative ways to make learning to read fun should be a top priority as proficient language and reading skills are essential in all professions, especially as school and the work force require more collaboration and explanation of  ideas and results.

I applaud P.F Shaggy for bringing reading back into the forefront of top priorities in children’s products:

“Currently, STEM and STEAM-based games are in great demand. However, the makers of Rule Crazy believe that there is another brain-boosting category that must not be forgotten by the board game industry: Reading. Mass market retail shelves today are especially lacking reading-based games for ages 5-6.”

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

Kids’ Biographies Inspire Next Generation Leaders

Kids' biographies by Brad Meltzer

Kids’ biographies by Brad Meltzer

I always appreciate a good biography written for children, especially one that inspires young girls to be their best. During a weekend with some of our grandchildren, I had the opportunity to read about 8 of the books in a series, “Ordinary People Change the World,” by Brad Meltzer. Their other grandma, who is an avid reader, had sent this suggestion to mom who reserved the whole series at her public library, to read to her 6 and 8 year-old. We got started, ironically, on Martin Luther King Day, and pulled out his biography, which inspires kids to love others, do right and use your words to peacefully make change, without violence. Rosa Parks was my little friend’s next choice, which inspired a conversation on racial inequality, daring to stand up for herself on what is right and changing “the rules” to be fair for everyone.  There is thorough content in each life story, with a timeline and plenty of pictures for children to see how a child can grow up to be an adult who impacts the world. When we read Lucille Ball, it was evident that my little 6 and 8 year-old weren’t as familiar with her as I was. I was trying to explain the “wrapping candies on the conveyor belt” skit when I got out my computer and showed the video. Lucille Ball’s humor transcended generations as I was asked to keep playing it over and over! Jane Goodall was a favorite as my 8 year-old had been read several books about this female scientist and even had a doll accessory set with cot, desk, binoculars, journal and typewriter for pretend play. What an inspiring story to teach pursuit of your dreams, patience, curiosity, and making an impact on the world.

These biographies are an excellent source of language lessons for the classroom or therapy, as children can name character traits, accomplishments, and impact on society. Lots of writing prompts come to mind–What is your dream? What is unjust in your world? What do you want to learn more about?


Abraham Lincoln and Lucille Ball.

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

Gearing Up for the Toy Fair 2017!

I’m packing in appointments for 4 full days of exciting discoveries as we will be covering the New York Toy Fair 2017 at the Jacob Javits Center with over 400,000 square feet of exhibit space looking for the best new toys, games and books to build language skills through fantastically fun play!

I’m already seeing some wonderful games to get the mind (and body) engaged in fun educational play. Here are some games and toys that are on my list to see and play:

Cha-Cha Chihuahua The Game of Dancing Doggies by Gamewright. I am always looking for cute preschool games to get our little ones ready for school, following directions, learning concepts and new vocabulary. Jump, jive, and wag your tail! Draw cards to get these peppy perritos to join your doggy dance-a-thon. Paw away another player’s pups with some fetching food, but watch out for “siesta” cards that will send your dog-tired dancers straight to the Nap Shack! End the party with the most Chihuahuas on your dance floor and you’re the cha-cha-champ!  4 and up.

Yookidoo’s Whale Submarine for 2-6 year olds. We all know that tub time is a great opportunity for learning through fun play as kids squirt, dump, pour, soak, float, tip and fill. Creative play around the theme of the submarine diver and whale, encourages storytelling and water ALWAYS adds to the  fun and language learning. I’ve had many successful speech therapy sessions at a little client’s kitchen sink, playing with bath toys.  Yookidoo is known for its super fun tub toys that encourage exploration and pretend play. The submarine can stick to the tub bottom, drawing water through the diver shower head for aiming streaming water at the whale, or a friend in the tub! Be innovative and give a tub toy for a baby gift. They’ll grow into it and older siblings will love you for it.

Think n’ Sync The Great Minds Think Alike Game by Gamewright for the 12 and up crowd. 3… 2… 1… Sync! Meld your minds in this hilarious party game of quick connections. Pick a partner and then, at the same time, shout out an answer to the chosen category. Can you both name a movie princess? An ice cream flavor? How about something orange? Your answers may be great, but they only score if they’re identical! So think quickly, think cleverly, but most importantly- Think n’ Sync! This game gets kids thinking in categories AND trying to match the minds of their partners.

Looking forward to meeting some new Little Friends at HABA USA and their pets and accessories. HABA’s soft light-weight dolls are precious cargo for little ones as they tote them around as  pretend play companions. They know how to cook, sleep, read, play and eat which are all scenarios for building language learning!

Rory’s Story Cubes Fantasia for 8 and up. I’ve awarded many sets of Rory’s Story Cubes over the years and played with them with countless kids in speech therapy to elicit creative stories based on themed images on dice from Batman to Scooby-Doo. Conjure up fantastic fairytales with these new Rory’s Story Cubes. Contained within this set are nine iconic cubes that will help you tell tales of magical feats, mythical beasts and medieval feasts. With 54 images and millions of combinations, your stories will be infinitely enchanted!


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment