Build and Imagine’s New “Creativity Castle” Entertains on Facetime

Build and Imagine Creativity CastleYou all know that I am a big fan of Build and Imagine’s magnetic storywall sets to build language and strengthen skills for reading a writing.

Their newest set, “Creativity Castle” combines the best of their features to give us 3 additional magnetic characters (in addition to the 2 stand up characters, Dane and Willow) to encourage more dialogue and depth to the group’s actions. Also, all the storywalls are now magnetic so the accessory pieces can stick to any one of the themed construction pieces.

I “facetimed” with my 3 1/2 year-old twin grandchildren who always ask to “see my toys!” So, for the first time,  I got out the magnetic storywalls and followed their directions as they told me where to put the “stickers” and the princesses, how to dress Willow, and what the dragon was doing. What a fun new way to use the Build and Imagine sets! After we had constructed our castle and added accessories, I sent a picture of our creation for the kids to see.

Here is my full review:

Every time I set out the creatively illustrated story walls from a new Build and Imagine set, I learn something, watching kids in action! I’m always amazed at how fast little hands are constructing their story and building while modifying the plot as they change the configuration of their building while taking the story to a new place. The new “Creativity  Castle” pairs kids’ ever-changing creativity with a popular children’s theme, a castle, with stand-up figures, Dane and Willow ready to don costumes for knight, jester, archer, falconer and princess play. This new set includes an additional 3 magnetic characters which expanded the play and dialogue as they joined in the party around the banquet table, fed the horses hay (using a triangular roof piece!), made their clothes on a spinning wheel, and passed through the guarded hallway to a magical stream leading to a cave. The working drawbridge was a favorite as kids directed the play, “Put all the princesses in the castle!” The many rooms contribute to the rich language possibilities as kids took the story to the kitchen, bathroom, stable, spinning room, carnival, or dungeon tapping into groups of accessories–food, magic, clothes, weapons, animals, musical instruments, treasure and games–to enjoy a “root beer float” as one little girl said, and play some backgammon or entertain on her guitar. Parents were impressed, “I like the quality of these magnetic pieces,” and a teacher-mom wanted a set for her classroom. “It can be daunting for kids to write a story. Many kids need hands-on movement to get the story going and kids could even work with a partner.” This set inspires dynamic, action-packed story telling, inspiring kids to be creative, strong readers and writers!




Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment on FOX6 “Real Milwaukee” today!

I’m excited to share some great toys and games today on FOX6 TV “Real Milwaukee.” Tune in Monday from 9-10:00 to see these PAL Award winners, fun products to keep reading and writing skills sharp over the summer:

Toys and Tips on How to Keep Reading and Writing Skills Sharp Over the Summer

Rory’s Story Cubes–Scooby Doo by The Creativity Hub, 6 yrs and up, $9.99

  • RSC106_PackagingSingle_3DR_rgbEach set has 9 cubes with 6 sides of images, some obvious, concrete and some abstract.
  • Some kids go 3 dimensional, placing the lightning or bird flying over on another cube
  • “Max” set great for kids with special needs.
  • Licensed products, like “Scooby–Doo” solve your own mysteries–is a favorite in 1st grade classroom
  • Excellent vehicle for storytelling and then writing out your story with the visual prompts

Bring Your Own Book by Gamewright, 12 years and up, $14.99

  • GAMEWRIGHT-109Great family game
  • Everyone brings a book to game table
  • Read a prompt card, look through their books for winning response
  • “Name of a Fast Food Restaurant” “First thing you say when you get up in the morning.”
  • Reinforces reading comprehension, processing, association

Alex Toys Little Hands Big Artist Marker and Crayon Kits, 3 years and up, $14.50

  • ALEX-Toys_Little-Hands-Big-Artist-Market-KitDrawing strengthens muscles for writing, makes kids more confident and fluent when they start their inventive spelling
  • Kits have pictures to color in, trace lines, blank sheets
  • Portable in own carrying case

Alphabet Woods by SimplyFun, 5 years and up, $28

  • AlphabetWoods_1500Take a walk in Alphabet Woods, building trees with letters in alphabet order
  • Can play a branch letter which links the trees but maintains alphabetical order
  • Collect little animals after each letter you play

Smartscope by Ravensburger, 8 years and up, $44.95

  • SmartscopeCollect specimens, put under the lens, add your device on top, take pictures
  • Can’t help comparing before and after, “pollen was woven with hairs on it.”
  • Get out a notebook and record your observations and descriptions

Better Builders Emotions by Guidecraft, 2 years and up, $39.99

  • db2bdqbv6efrcy65ahld-620x620-130 pieces of interchangeable bodies, faces, hair, feet fit magnetically
  • 6 faces express different emotions well-known to kids: happy, sad, angry, surprised, confused and scared
  • Sparks conversation about feelings, situations and behavior
  • Might use them to talk through a day at camp or playdate, then write a few lines about how it felt

Q’s Race to the Top EQ_Game_WithoutBook by EQtainment, 3-12 years of age,  $24.99

  • These 2 products help build EQ Emotional Intelligence, which we can build with kids, and is linked to future success 
  • We can increase a child’s EQ by helping them name, identify, and regulate their emotions.

Janod Splash Adjustable Easel, 3 years and up, $89.99

  • Janod_Splash-Easel-13 year-old was finding the letters in her name w/ Splash Magnetic Letters
  • 5 year-old writing her name, drawing a house with a stove and broccoli.
  • Blackboard on back, roll of paper on top so several kids play at once
Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Reading, writing | Leave a comment

The Language of Learning Circuits

Circuit maze with EthanWith all the emphasis on STEM learning and toys that can build skills in those areas of science, let’s not forget the language essential to and underlying this learning.

I always learn more about a toy from kids as they play with it. Over the weekend I saw a 10 year-old friend of mine at a picnic and told him I had a new circuit game for him to play with me. He was so excited that he let me know when he was leaving the party and was sitting outside my house waiting for me when I returned later. “Circuit Maze” didn’t disappoint as my friend got right to work figuring out the flow of electricity to light up his beacons. His independent play was accompanied by constant verbalizing his logic, thinking and discoveries, peppered with, “This is fun!” Lots of trial and error produced correct results as he lit up the beacons to show proper alignment of the positive and negative charged ends. This game was a confidence builder as kids completed the challenge cards (60 from beginner to expert), “I figured it out! Yes!” At first we couldn’t get the beacons to light up so my friend checked batteries and then his (+) and (-) sides of the pieces. He realized that the current has to flow out of the Start Token (+) into the (+) side of the Beacon. He declared, “So we figured out something for ourselves, instead of reading the directions!” It was such fun to hear my friend explain the working of circuits and beacons’ strengths to his 8 year-old brother who joined the play. He observed that the beacons didn’t always shine with the same intensity depending on the path. “The lights are the same strength if they split to go to the endpoint.” My little friend even started to engage in a little word play with me saying, “I’m almost positive the endpoint will be right here!”

STEM targeted games and toys are a great platform for building language as kids tell the why and how things work and what didn’t work too. Even the exercise of explaining the workings of circuits to his younger brother builds language skills of description and explanation. Kids are increasingly asked to explain their logic, choices, what worked and didn’t work and why, either orally or written in journals. I loved hearing my friend explain his thinking as he played, drawing conclusions and discovering concepts himself.

I got a further report from mom with the above picture of the boys in their PJ’s. Apparently my friend woke up and played “Circuit Maze” for an hour and a half and only stopped because he had to leave for the 4th of July parade! That’s an endorsement for how much fun learning can be!


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Kindergarteners’ Behavior and Social Readiness Linked to Future Academic Success

Ben playing on boatI love to read interesting research and The ASHA Leader magazine does an excellent job of reporting current, relevant research in our  field of speech and language pathology. In their June edition, “Kindergarteners’ Behavior, Social ‘Readiness’ Could Affect Long-Term Success,” reports on new research from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, stating a kindergartener’s readiness could could be linked to future academic success through fourth grade.

Parents who are struggling to decide whether to give their child that “extra year” of preschool if they don’t feel their child is “ready,” take note! According to the article, “in tracking more than 9,000 Baltimore City Public School students, nursing professor Deborah Gross and her team found that kindergartners not considered socially or behaviorally “ready” for school were up to 80 percent more likely to be held back a grade, as well as up to 80 percent more likely to have an IEP or 504 Plan.”

This shows how critical social-behavior readiness is for the child beginning kindergarten. I have been polling kindergarten teachers for years, asking them what skills they feel are most important for a child who is entering their class. I have never heard a teacher list knowing their letters but always say that the most important factor for being ready to learn in behavior and social skills–being able to sit and listen, wait their turn etc. Perhaps this will be an encouragement to parents as they make their decisions on when to enroll their children whom they might be considering holding back.



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PAL Winners Stand Out in Toy Stores

Funflex Summit

Funflex Summit, NJ

I have been traveling quite a bit recently to see family and exploring our new surroundings in Wisconsin, so I always stop in to any specialty retailer toy store that I find. Of course I am looking for PAL Award winners and inevitably engage the store owner about those that they carry and tell them about some that they need to carry!

The Toy Professor, Summit, NJ

I was enjoying a little exploring in Summit, New Jersey, a beautiful, quaint downtown filled with unique stores like “The Toy Professor.”  I was excited to see a new company I discovered at the Toy Fair in February, FunFlex. We had a great chat about how unique and fun they are. I did tell the owner and his assistant that they needed to carry the crab toy since their customers live near the ocean!

When in Kohler, Wisconsin, I found a fantastic toy store called “Movers and Shakers Kids’ Toy Store.” They had window displays by theme– it was bugs when I was there including books and toys–and then they had several rooms circling the center area that displayed products by company. I walked into a room pretty exclusively Corolle, then Janod and Hape and Folkmanis had huge displays in the center circle.

Stay tuned for my next Toy Store drop-in:)

Corolle, Kohler, WI


Folkmanis, Kohler, WI

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Get Your Makeup Ready!

IMG_1035Pretend play involves some great props that suggest a story line but leave the authorship up to the child! Janod’s Little Miss Vanity Set was a favorite with my little friend who got right to work setting out all the items in the zip case–lipstick, eyeshadow, mirror, comb, nail polish. powdered blush and perfume. Brightly illustrated wood props were simple but realistic enough for our little beauty expert to know right what to do with them. Grandma and I sat on the couch while she made good use of her time, making us up at the same time as she selected her tool and went from one to the other of us. After several rounds, she was apparently finished as she packed up her bag and slung it over her shoulder to go home. I’ve seen kids use their make-up kit to give their dog a pedicure, spray their dolls with pretend perfume, and even give some polish to a toy horse. Beauty kits go across many lines and are used to spiff up mom, little sister or brother or a favorite toy!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers | Leave a comment on FOX6 WITI TV “Real Milwaukee” today!

I’m excited to announce some of my Spring PAL Award winners on FOX6 WITI TV “Real Milwaukee” today on their 9:00 show. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, please tune in.

Today I am featuring some of the PAL Award’s Spring winners that spark great fun and can keep language skills sharp over the summer–encouraging Story-telling through pretend play.

Gombe Rainforest Camp by The Queen’s Treasures (priced by accessory)

  • IMG_0519They do a wonderful job of creating accessories for 18” dolls to re-enact periods in history—this set is inspired by Jane Goodall’s work
  • Amazed at my 8 year-old friend’s knowledge and excitement over Jane Goodall’s story. She knew it from her teacher reading books to the class and Mom sharing the story
  • Kids’ dolls observed the chimpanzees, using the camera and telescope, and then returned to her tent to type out and record her observations—
  • Pretend play can build confidence, social skills, language complexity through generating story, and inspire future leaders—all about girl empowerment theme, currently so popular in toys.

Janod the Fantastic Castle (4 years and up, $54.99)

  • Janod_Fantastic-Castle-1Comes in a case, opens up, kids let down the drawbridge, but watch out for dragons
  • Rooms in castle lead story down paths—bedroom, kitchen, jail, wizard’s lab
  • Accessories—archers, knights, kings, hop on horses along stone and grass path to make or flip it over for a moat with swimming creatures, boat or fish.
  • Props in many categories inspire turns in the story

 Baby Amaze 3-in-1 Care and Learn Stroller by VTech (2-5 years, $44.99)

  • vtech-3-in-1-care-and-learn-stroller-4-800x640VTech produces great toys that often have multiple functions to change up play: high chair->stroller->bassinet
  • eating/strolling/sleeping familiar in everyday life of kids
  • Short instructions “Let’s go for a walk,” sings songs, high chair mode-“Turn the book to learn about food”  Helps build focus, attention, auditory memory for school skills.

Space Rocket With Launch Site by Playmobil (6 years and up, $49.99)

  • PLAYMOBIL-City-Action-Space-Rocket-pTRU1-23288625dt3-2-1 ignition sound effects and lights
  • After several rotations in space, separated capsule, took off nose cone to give flight to satellite, unfolding solar panels/ return to Launchpad for maintenance
  • Playmobil’s signature detail to props: computer screens, phone, sensors, tools, monitors/ mobile arms
  • Stimulates story-telling within many categories: preparation, flight, landing, planning and maintenance.

Folkmanis Puppets: Monarch Life Cycle and Black Dragon (3 years and up, $39.99 and $69.99)

  • monarch_3073_3poses_rgb3 zippers reveal each stage of metamorphosis from caterpillar-> chrysalis->butterfly. Kids loved this, teacher excited to share this before unit in class
  • I worked a lot with kids in the schools, looking for intriguing materials to engage kids to inspire good writing and descriptions about the stages-multi-sensory experience
  • Slip hands into the wings and fly away
  • Black Dragon comes with story to inspire little story-tellers
  • Kids manipulate, add sound effects

Teepee Tent by Hape (3 years and up, $99.99)

  • e4307a-teepee-tent-red-with-child.jpgKids love cozy hideaways to call their own-teepee Tent is just that!
  • Kids make it their home, bring in props—food, books, dolls, cooking items depending on the direction of story, even play school
  • Mom told me, she considered a play tent in the play room a gift to her because it entertained the kids and she got a break!
  • Place some books inside for cozy spot to read


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

NogginStik is Baby’s Favorite Toy

I can’t tell you how many times I heard from new moms after I’ve given the NogginStik as a gift or they’ve seen our video review (as seen last week on the Today Show), that it is their baby’s favorite toy!  The other day I heard the funniest story yet. New mom, Alison,  mom of a 4 month-old baby girl told me that on her trip across the country to visit family, she brought just 3 toys and NogginStik was one of them. She told me they used to keep it on the changing table to entertain their daughter while changing her diaper. They moved it to the play room but noticed on the baby monitor that she was still vocalizing and smiling in the direction of her changing table when she should have been settling down for her nap. Turns out the baby monitor on her changing table has a little blue light, just like the NogginStik and she was still talking to what she thought was her friend!

What is your baby’s favorite toy or your go-to toy for the diaper bag? Share it with us.

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment Presents Their Spring 2016 PAL Awards

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 10.57.17 AM

Congratulations to all our 2016 Spring PAL Award winners as well as our past honorees. Thanks for all you do to make language learning fun! 

Last week one of our our toy videos, NogginStik, was included on the Today Show featuring Mompreneur, Marcia Haut. 

Here is today’s press release announcing our Spring 2016 PAL Winners. Support these amazing companies who are being intentional about embedding learning opportunities in their fun products to benefit kids.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language, Reading, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment

Best New Toys to Engage Multi-sensory learning

Janod_Shape%20Sorter%20Garden%20TexturesThis year at the Toy Fair in New York City I saw a trend in added sensory experiences in toys, especially tactile features. I wanted to share some of my favorites for adding learning dimensions to your child’s play time:

Janod’s Tactile Puzzle–A Day at the Zoo, Tactile Puzzle–Life on the Ice, and Shape Sorter–Garden Textures all have added textures like a furry hedgehog to pet, slippery, shiny green alligator’s back, sandpapery (is that a word??) tree leaves, and what feels like a real seal’s skin. Kids learn through many dimensions/ modalities and if a parent or caregiver can add language to their play as they explore how something feels, sounds, looks or is the same or different, a child’s language development is enhanced. The beautiful scenes in the puzzles invite talking about the animals in their habitats while the 4 scenes on the shape sorter suggest matching the shaped blocks to drop inside the box.

Go-Go-Smart-Animals-Furry-Animals-Assortment-1024x1024VTech’s Go! Go! Smart Animals Furry Animals Assortment were a big draw with kids as they moved along the floor or participated in one of their Go! Go! Smart Friends sets. We’ve had such fun with the Busy Sounds Discovery Home and I can’t wait to add these pets to the house. Their new Happy Paws Playland is coming out this year and these furry pets will add a realistic dimension to pretend pet play, building language skills.

IMG_0437Corolle’s first talking doll, Baby Bisou, says a few words that spark imitation and responses with kids. I especially like the smack I get for a kiss! These cuddly dolls smell like vanilla, adding to the sensory experience. Now kids learn to listen and respond as part of their pretend play as they care for baby.

Tiggly Shapes Got Talent” is Tiggly’s newest learning app designed in partnership with Herbert Ginsburg, Columbia’s Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Psychology and Education. With the option to use the brightly colored physical shape toys, kids can stamp the correct shape on their device to complete a question or create their own story. Kids are imgres-1drawn right in to Star’s invitation to join his game show, where the best shape can win the STAR-tastic trophy. Sad circle, confident Square, and tough Triangle, are given a series of challenges–which one has the most straight lines? or who can make a seesaw with a plank of wood? Teaching early geometry concepts in the context of building math vocabulary make this a terrific language learning experience.

monarch_3073_3poses_rgbFolkmanis makes fantastic puppets that come alive on the hands of kids and adults. This year their Monarch Life Cycle puppet reveals each stage of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to Monarch butterfly with an unzip, tuck and zip times three! A first grade class loved the puppet and the added hands-on and visual reinforcement of the magic of the butterfly’s life cycle, teaching through touch, visual and verbal sensory systems. Live caterpillars arrive soon in this classroom and the kids have a head start on understanding the cycle.

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