Sherry, thanks for giving us back our son. We are so grateful for everything you did for Ben and our family. Not seeing you every week makes me feel that something is missing… but we look forward to a summertime walk! We miss you,Nicole, mother of 2 year-old boy who was dismissed from therapyWestport, CT
Sherry, thank you so much for working with my girls for so long. Your kindness, thoughtfulness, insight and professionalism made our experience so meaningful. My husband and I appreciate all you have done for them. Let’s keep in touch. Thanks again.Mother of 3 and 5 year-old girlsGreenwich, CT
Thank you Sherry! You are a BIG help and Max adores you.Maria, mother of a 5 year-old boyFairfield, CT
ASHA Leader Magazine is a favorite of mine. I was just reading the April issue and turning down the corners on several fantastic, relevant articles. Here’s one that got my attention, “Speech-Language Impairments Rank First, Second Highest By Age” So Speech-Language impairments are the most prevalent disability category for children 3-5 and rank second in the 6-21 year old category, second to specific learning disabilities, under IDEA.
I guess we sort of knew that, based on our bulging caseloads with preschoolers, right? It makes me even more passionate about calling out the best toys and games and features in play that can build language skills in young kids.
One of the things I love about private practice is that I am in the homes and parents are at least listening if not watching therapy. With my littlest clients I insisted that I had time with parents at the end of a session to demonstrate games, methods and activities to enhance progress on their speech and language goals. I wanted to teach them “how” to select a beneficial toy or game, what to look for and how to come along side their child to maximize progress. Some parents got it right away and started sharing ideas with me which was a joy. Others took longer to get it but they were always willing.
Positive play experiences for children from birth through 5 years can give them a boost in language skills relating to later reading and writing too.
It was a joy to watch my three friends, aged 5, 8 and 9 years old, gather their specimens from outside and head to their new Ravensburger Smartscope to magnify, identify, explore and learn. We started with pollen (since we were all sneezing in the advent of spring), a rose pedal, grass seedlings and bark. We used our iPad to examine our treasures and take pictures but a smartphone or other device works also. The kids were fascinated with what they saw–veins in the leaves and petals, red tip at the end of the grass, linear salt crystals, and the spurs that come off the back legs of a tick. The descriptive conversation flowed fast and easily. You can’t help compare before and after appearances using the Smartscope. “Look it, look it!” “The evergreen looks like a braid. The pollen is woven with hairs on the edges.” They couldn’t get enough of this magnification adventure. The 9 year-old re-appeared with his jar of precious found objects which included several shark teeth and shells. The kids had great fun snapping pictures of the different objects which completely changed close up. They agreed that the sharks’ teeth were the most interesting although in the middle of checking out their objects one of the kids said, “What if I stuck my finger in there? I’m gonna look at my nail. Let’s try Sam’s!!” Ravensburger includes a booklet filled with “places to start” such as water droplets, insects and spiders with suggestions as to what to look for, as well as descriptions of detail and facts to discover about critters and plants found on their poster of the forest, water, meadows, beach and home. My 9 year-old finally looked up from the Smartscope and said, “I’m gonna have some fun times with this!”
Some of you have seen my video when I discovered the prize at the end of the first day of the Toy Fair. The “Teacher Chair” was awaiting me among all the cute imaginative play tents in Pacific Play Tents’ booth. I can’t tell you how comfortable this padded chair is whose back reclines easily to 6 positions. Like many therapists and teachers, I am on the floor a good percentage of my teaching time and it’s becoming less and less comfortable. I usually try to back up against a piece of furniture until it starts to move back with me! As an itinerant therapist I carry my materials to different homes. When I arrived with this chair over my shoulder, even Dad said, “Wow.” Mom, a first grade teacher was so excited to see how comfortable it was and her kids fought over sitting in it. She said, “It’s a big trend in education right now to provide alternative seating for all kids so they don’t have to just sit in a chair at a desk all day.” “We have balls and a couch in our room. My principal would love this.” Providing a comfortable seat for a teacher so she can be at the kids’ level as well as possibly a fresh alternative to traditional seating for kids that learn best in a less restrictive mode, this Teacher Chair is a must for the classroom. By the way, she wrote me the next day that she showed it to her principal who okayed her purchase of 2 chairs for her classroom! That’s quite an endorsement.
Little girls and Moms loved the concept of doll role-play emulating the inspiring female scientist Dr. Jane Goodall. My little friend heard that I had The Queen’s Treasures new set and couldn’t contain herself waiting for me to put the tent and research desk together. She started right in telling me all about Jane Goodall, having read several books about her and had a read-aloud in her second grade class to inspire girls to follow their passion and be scientists. She knew the story so well that she started by ruffling her doll’s hair since she was out in the wild! She and her brother and doll took off to look for and study her beloved chimpanzees (her Mom and baby plush were carefully placed under a chair for the canopy of the rainforest) with the camera, and telescope. Jane Goodall returned to the research camp and wrote in her journal and typed out her day’s observations. My friend added her time of sickness when she had to stay on her cot in the tent. Moms loved this set designed to empower girls to emulate strong role models like scientist Dr. Goodall who said, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Pretend play can build confidence, social skills, and language complexity through generating a story. How exciting that it might also inspire some future leaders!
Note: 10% of sales will be donated to the Jane Goodall Institute to support Dr. Goodall’s research, chimpanzee conservation and the graduation of a new generation of conservationists.
I’ve been a big fan of Fisher Price toys from way back. The first toys I bought for my first job in preschool speech therapy were the FP farm and house. I just recently parted with them as they had lived a good life. Here’s a video of their new products that will make baby AND parents happy as they soothe, rock, inspire exploration and learning and give a playful environment for eating:
Rumple Buddies, designed by a Mom, invites lots of looking with the high contrasting red/white/black features and feeling with sensory experiences to describe for language learning:
FunFlex allows parents and caregivers to clip the learning to the stroller, car seat or high chair for “flex”ible play!
Toy Fair 2016 was alive with so many exciting new toys and games that can spark language learning. Here are some of my favorites that educators will love that we had to capture on video:
Folkmanis Puppets: Elaine Kolias is such a hoot when she slips her hand into one of their beautiful, life-like puppets. The 2-zip case that folds out to show the 3 stages of caterpillar to butterfly will be a show-stopper in the classroom.
Pacific Play Tents: I fell in love with Pacific Play Tent’s “Teacher Chair” before I knew its name. How many of us are on our knees or sitting on the floor a little too long during the teaching day and would like some relief? Every preschool and kindergarten teacher should have this chair so they can be down at the level of their kids for teaching and still be comfortable. AND their cute Food Truck tent would be great for the pretend play area.
I know lots of you are fans of Build and Imagine sets so I wanted to introduce you to their newest set, “Pet Portrait Studio.”
Here’s a product that will keep the kids busy on a snow day….InRoad’s PlayTape. Honestly I have friends who can’t wait to take this to the grandkids who love little Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. They have narrow and wide tape as well as curves now so this track can lead all over the house! It really does go on easily and comes off better than typical masking tape.
Alex Toys makes learning fun with all the intriguing features on their activity boxes. This year they introduced 2 new cubes, one is “My First House Activity Center” with each side engaging the child in activities associated with a room in the house–bedroom. bathroom, playroom and an outdoor playground on top!
I’m moving fast to cover the thousands of companies displaying at the Javitts Center but I have my eye out for companies who are creative and intentional about learning in their products. Here’s what was exciting to me:
Calling out products for kids with Special Needs: Rubbabu devoted a large space in their booth for products helpful to kids with Special Needs. Companies are now starting the conversation with me, while 5 years ago I was working so hard to educate them to see how their toys could benefit kids with specific learning deficits. I’ve used Rubbabu’s products for years, especially with kids around 18 months who weren’t talking yet. The fuzzy squishy but firm pieces are easily gripped by toddlers and many can stand up to manipulate and talk about.
Toys that transform to expand learning: I wasn’t far into my visit at V-Tech’s booth to be anticipating how the toy I was viewing was going to transform into a new configuration(or two!) for the child’s next stage of learning. Their “Gallop and Rock Learning Pony” gives toddlers a great pretend ride until they are ready to really move. Just flip over the rails, add wheels and they are off to another room! Baby Amaze’s stroller can change into a bassinet for bathing and then a high chair, providing 3 different forms for 3 different pretend play scenarios. Parents love toys that grow with their kids, moving with them to the next play level. Fisher Price’s 4-in-1 Total Clean High Chair got my attention because not only does it come apart in sections to advance 4 stages of development with the child (2 heights high chair, booster seat, youth chair) but all the sections fit into the dish washer!! Yes, I don’t have to hose down my high chair after the grandkids leave:)
Every year I get so amped for The International Toy Fair in New York City–no caffeine needed–as we scour the isles of the Javits Center for fun new products embedded with language learning potential. The creativity, passion and spunk of toy designers/companies inspires and excites me. Each year I see more companies calling out the specific learning skills in their toys and introducing products that make learning fun for ALL kids. After walking the nearly half million square feet, it is time to put my feet up and share the trends I see for 2016:
Whoa Horses! Working in homes, I see horses are a hot item in the playroom so kids will have some fantastic sets to choose from this year. “Janod’s Country Club Riding School” is new to their Cardboard World with a tack room and stable opening up to to reveal 38 accessories while closing back into a suitcase–don’t we love a take-along story starter? Ride the rails to Brio’s “Countryside Horse Set” to groom your horse or teach him to jump, inviting creativity in pretend play.
Try a Little Tech: Traditional companies that we love who produce kid-powered toys have added a tiny bit of tech to engage kids but not overwhelm them, maintaining the core values of their brand. As I cradled Corolle Dolls’ Bebe Bisou and pressed her tummy, she replied with, “MaMa” and a “smooch” right on my cheek. Brio, known for kid-driven sound effects and power, has added a remote controlled train to their track sets and it’s easy enough even for me to operate. Pairing traditional play with technology, but strictly adhering to high quality learning, Tiggly is coming out with another outstanding app to use with their physical shapes, “Tiggly Shapes Got Talent,” as circles and squares compete in a clever star search, led by you-know-who, the STAR.
Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series
STEM Adds an L? Okay, this is for all my clever readers, can you come up with a way to add an “L” to the acronym STEM since language is a crucial component in the critical thinking, problem-solving and drawing conclusions necessary in the sciences? I was thrilled to see companies going deeper in their design of STEM toys, adding a Language dimension. Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series has added figures and original cartoons (created by a 16 year-old) to start the story and get imaginations churning in their magnetic building sets. Women CEO/designers saw the gap in their daughter’s toys and are giving us STEM building sets that emphasize constructing a corresponding story, stretching language skills. Build and Imagine has led the way, encouraging girls (boys love them too) to build structures providing the setting for pretend play with figures. Roominate adds electricity for options to open and close a garage door or drive the elevator in their new “Mansion.” New to the group, Wonderhood, has introduced a fabulous Hotel and Corner Shops. STEM careers are presented through story-based building in K’Nex’s new “Mighty Makers.”
The Queen’s Treasures
Girl Power: How fun to see the new curvy Barbie up close at Mattel’s event. Her pear shape resonated with me for obvious reasons. New options celebrated “being me” on either side of the Doll aisle. I met “Naturally Perfect” dolls who are celebrating the natural beauty of girls of color with kinky/curly hair. Since I threw out the flat iron last summer and freed myself from all straightening attempts, I can relate. They are beautiful, with the right message. The Queen’s Treasures will be coming out with a new Jane Goodall line of doll accessories continuing to celebrate real people who’ll inspire new generations of creators and discoverers. Go! Go! Sports Girls led the way for girls to”appreciate and be true to themselves.” Check out their new doll and book sets.
Playmobil’s Adventure Tree House
Woodland Story Themes: Alex Toys is known for its activity cubes jam-packed with exploratory learning. A favorite this year is their “Woodland Wonders Activity Cube” with such a variety of hands on discoveries around the outdoor theme–letters and even a pond on top–giving parents plenty to describe using new and challenging vocabulary. Kids will live and eat among the trees with Playmobil’s new “Adventure Tree House” while Lego Friends’ new “Adventure Camp Tree House” provides a challenging climbing wall, turning bridge obstacle, slide, and tire swing.
Fabver-Castell’s Spark Lab
Best in Show for Combining Multiple Modes of Learning Fun: I had to have a category for the toys I was most impressed with that combined multiple dimensions of learning. Faber-Castell’s Spark Lab was created in conjunction with the Smithsonian taking young entrepreneurs through the steps to invent and eventually sell a product–super shoe, toy, money or robot. Planning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiating, are all language skills that go into creating a product. WonderForge did it again, making us laugh and learn with their “Thing Two, Thing One, Whirly Fun” preschool game, challenging kids to work together (social skills, language) to clean up fast after The Cat in the Hat and his helpers make a mess of the house (inspires pretend play) before mom gets home (fine motor skills). I’ve seen and played with a lot of trains, but the new Hape Railway has a fresh, ingenious take on the preschool rail adventure, led by animal rail cars. Stocked with original sensory, manipulative activities along the way. Toddlers activate monkeys jumping up from the trees, shape sorters, run across a xylophone, and enter a jungle car wash.
Wow! The excitement is building with the countdown almost over for Toy Fair. It all starts tomorrow! That means that companies are finishing up their booths at the Javits Center which will transform into a wonderland of toys.
I’m getting so many emails each day highlighting new products to be featured at the show and wanted to share some that look fun:
Playmobil’s new Space Rocket with Launch Site is outfitted with working lights and sounds, a maintenance platform with space technicians, and a repair robot with tools and a computer to ensure as successful mission.
Also looking forward to Mattel’s Toy Fair Sneak Peak where there undoubtedly will be a lot of buzz around the new Barbies of curves and color. I for one am thrilled that Barbie has branched out to include more of us with a pear shape or shorter frame. I’m admittedly the former, not the later.
I’m already seeing companies marketing a new emphasis on play based language learning as they promote playing together and introduce new sets with a story theme. SmartLab Toys began an initiative this year to encourage parents to join in the fun and play together with their child. They quoted research that shows that “Families that play together are more cooperative, supportive and communicative.” I know from a language perspective that parents can elevate the play when they join in with their child. Now skills like collaboration, sharing, negotiating and verbalizing critical thinking are strengthened.
Okay, I just picked up my new business cards with our new address on it, ready to hand out as we meet Corolle, Janod, Alex, Wonderforge, Ravensburger, Playmobil, Lego, VTech, Crayola and more tomorrow! Stay tuned.