Parents Ask for Best Holiday Toys for Painters and Campers

HABA tentI often get asked by parents or grandparents about specific kinds of toys they want recommended for their kids or grandkids. I thought as we approach Christmas and the holidays I would share my answers in case it’s helpful to others.

Today’s question was from a dad, “Hi, I want to get them some indoor camping tents or teepees.  Is there a brand you could recommend?  Also, I was painting with my 3 year-old son yesterday and it was really fun.  Any suggestions on painting kits for him?

Here’s my response:

Pacific Play Tents makes fun tents. I think the dome tents are light, less tippy and would hold more kids. Their teepees are varied–a canvas one you can paint, and some that include a waterproof floor.  Hape’s tent is very sturdy with thick fabric and solid wooden poles. I have had some feedback from parents that smaller teepees can be tippy when the kids get active inside!  HABA makes beautiful, good quality tents that are great for pretend play and very cute I might add–designed for princesses, knights, fairies or pirates.

As far as painting goes, depending on your child’s age,  I would just get some nice big brushes and different washable paints by Crayola for 4 and up. These would require pouring some paint in little dishes and learning to wash your brush before using a different color. Or even simpler, for a first painting experience at home, just get watercolors. Here is one in a case to keep things neat (ha!) by Crayola. 

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Language, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment

Calafant Make-and-Play Sets Encourage Language Development

Calafant 3 pigs-willieAs you know, I just got back from a Sheshe visit with some of my grandchildren. Naturally I brought along some PAL Award winners to entertain and teach. The kids spotted the Calafant “The Three Pigs” and “Princess Castle” so we started in coloring the houses of hay, sticks and brick. The markers provided were nice quality so kids could see bright, colorful results. They loved the doors that opened, and removable or open-up roofs. The purple wolf and multi-colored pigs went right into action as soon as we assembled the houses. The kids just had to get those slightly oversized pigs in the houses so took the roofs off for play! I can tell when a toy has real play value when kids extend the play beyond the set. Our pigs and wolf spent a lot of time playing at the castle and later we made a fort out of the couch and I was asked to be the wolf and blow the house down!

These sets are a portable size to take for gifts, great for birthday gifts and are sturdy enough for repeat pretend/language building play and a great price point!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment

Kids Call Wonderhood Toys Wonderful!

Wonderhood Corner ShopsI spotted Wonderhood Toys at the New York Toy Fair this year and thought their sets were winners so it is exciting to see that kids agree with me! Their 2 sets, “Corner Shops” and “Wonderhood Grand Hotel,” include illustrated plasticized panels, staircases, and an elevator (in the hotel set) with clear clips for customizing your building according to the story you are creating. They come with 3-D figures, Emmie in the Corner Shops and Chelsea and Erik in the hotel set, with a journal to learn about the characters and add your personal information and design ideas. Characters give their bio, favorites, and design challenges. How fun to provide language, story-based instruction so kids can learn from a word problem rather than a picture, which mirrors much learning in the classroom.

Wonderhood Grand Hotel-AlyssaOne of my toy testing families includes a mom who is a seasoned first grade teacher. I offered the sets for her to take into her classroom to see what the kids thought. She thought they would be well received but was amazed at the reaction:

“Sherry.  My kids absolutely loved the “Wonderhood Corner Shops.”  I had a group of 4 play with it.  They loved building their own creations, as well as trying to make the ones on the box and in the booklet.  Their comments were, “It is super fun!”, “I love this!”, “I want to have one at home.”, and “I could do this all day!”.  

As a school extension activity, they created a story about Emmie.  They wrote the story, and acted it out with Emmie moving to the stores as they read their story.”  I was surprised how much they liked it.  They wanted to stay in at recess to keep working on it!”

Next, she took in the Wonderhood Grand Hotel Creative Building Set  which is a bit bigger and includes a working elevator. Kids loved that too, as they could relate to the theme. They got into lots of creative play with the two figures, Chelsea and Erik, and started referring to the set as “The Water Park!” Tells you where they relate to the theme. Their teacher said, I was surprised how much they liked it.  They wanted to stay in at recess to keep working on it!”

Stay in for recess???? Wow, that is quite an endorsement.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, writing | Leave a comment Announces Top 10 PAL Award Picks 2016, Holiday Gift Guide

Take a look at this list of fabulous toys, books and games that generate so much fun and learning too!


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Best Projects for the Grandkids

ALEX ready set dinos puppetAs we announce our Top 10 PAL Picks, Holiday Gift Guide, I will be blogging about several of our winners to help you on your hunt for the best toys, games and books to give your kids and grandkids this upcoming season.

I just returned from such a fun week with some of my grandchildren–four under 4 years. The 3 1/2 year old twins are just at the age of being able to sustain attention for and enjoy a game, and make some art “projects.” When I was little my favorite Christmas gift was a box from my mom that said, “Sherry’s project.” It was filled with all the supplies to make something from knitting, to sewing, drawing or glueing! So when the kids kept asking to do a project, I was ready with a great kit filled ALEX ready set dinos feetwith short construction projects and learning. Alex Toys “Ready, Set, Go!” series is a perfect “Sheshe (grandma) gift” and it easily fits in your carryon. (Just bring fewer clothes). I chose “Ready, Set, Dinos!” with 8 different dinosaur crafts. Each project has ample stickers for decoration before construction which make it fun. I did leave with a few stickers adhered to their kitchen floor. We started out making the stegosaurus, finished off with clothes pins clipped on his back for his boney plates, and the mommy dinosaur, with a fluffy pom pom for her belly and her huge egg. Then we made the apatosaurus finger puppet, again with ample stickers but now they were attached to our little friend’s fingernails for the dinosaur’s toe nails! On to the dino puppet which sparked, “Sheshe, let’s have a puppet show,” as I was led into the playroom where curtains were available. The simplest craft involved decorating large foam dinosaur feet and slipping then on top of their shoes. We tried to scare Daddy but were really cute and funny! The finished pterodactyl could fly, and we practiced saying “paleontologist” as we rubbed with our crayon to discover dinosaur bones and plants., while the kids begged to assemble the T-Rex skeleton. A few facts accompany each craft so I read to them as they ALEX ready set dinos boneswere constructing.

The true test of an effective make-and-play project is that the kids kept returning to their finished dinosaurs for some play. The puppet was the favorite, easy to manipulate by a 3 year-old.

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

What to Look For in Best Language Toys

Playmobil Camp SiteI love to blog about best toys for pretend play because it is such an effective vehicle for learning language while having fun! Today I got out Playmobil’s Camp Site and watched as my little friends explored so many play themes within the camp site. When you are choosing a toy to encourage language learning look for:

  • Multiple play themes within the general topic of the toy. For instance, with the camping theme, kids generate stories having to do with eating, going to the store-paying money, sleeping, hiking, nature, getting ready for bed, sending mail, showering, going to the bathroom, playing, pet care, and garbage clean up.
  • Many props associated with each story category of play. Within the Camp Site eating theme kids can choose apple juice, rolls, watermelon, etc or open the refrigerated chest to offer friends a variety of ice cream bars. The ice Playmobil Camp Site Dabney 2cream chest can overlap with the shopping theme as kids use their coins to buy a treat. This by the way was a popular prop as I was offered different ice cream treats throughout our play! Getting ready for bed we had a toothbrush and toothpaste, shower that pumps real water!! and toilet. Camping-nature theme includes bug spray, many maps, lizard (who they put in the trash can), squirrels and a tent. The camp store has a cash register, coins, post cards, suntan lotion, food, magazines and  drinks to buy.
  • Everyday themes that kids can relate to.  Kids learn by imitating scenes from their daily experiences as they act out eating, sleeping, shopping or playing. Often they will repeat phrases they have heard adults use in association with an activity. Imitating events in their lives gives them a jumping off point for their own storytelling, embellishing and adding to the story they have lived.
  • Easy to manipulate, kid-sized props. This may seem obvious but when figures are easily posable and little buildings’ openings are easily accessible, play and language can flow.
  • Moveable, flexible props that encourage more interactive play. Opening and closing the shower and bathroom doors, pulling baskets of food off the shelf, ducking in and out of the tent flaps, and opening and closing the garbage can on wheels all provide opportunities for taking the story further and learning position words too–in/out, deep/shallow, open/close etc.
  • Plenty of people figures. A family of people provides lots of role-play opportunities as kids try out being the mom, dad or sibling going through their daily activities. Our little friends talked to each other, asked what the other wanted for dinner and announced their activities, “I’m going to go cook.” “The bathroom’s locked.” “I’ll open it!” “Where’s the trash can?” “We can go get ice cream.” “What kind of ice cream do you want?”

You’ll know you have a great toy that stimulates language when you child stays engaged in play for a long time and picks up the next play session where he left off!

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

The Language of STEM

IMG_1732I’ve written a number of times about the language skills needed and used in STEM education. As speech language therapists we often work in subjects that people don’t typically connect with language. I had a middle school student with a language learning disability and I worked primarily on math and science assignments with her, working through vocabulary, describing what worked and what didn’t in solving problems, and explaining the processes. Students are required to be able to explain how they got to an answer, showing understanding of the concepts involved.

Today I was again reminded of the link for my 5 year-old who is my builder. Sam disappears and reappears with the most amazing structures. Today he showed me his bike made from Zoob. He corrected IMG_1736me that it was a motorcycle! He suddenly stopped to make a revision, “I need a stand,” and made a kick stand to hold the bike up. Then he looked at me and said, “I’m going to make a man.” Working through problem solving, trial and error and adding a person to his bike all tap into language skills as kids drive the play in this open-ended activity.

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PAL Winners on FOX6 “Real Milwaukee” Today–Preschool Prep

PRESCHOOL PREP: Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

It’s not only time for school-age kids to head back to the classroom, but for younger siblings to engage with fantastic toys in fun learning play!

Today I am highlighting the PAL Award’s latest winners for play with your babies, toddlers and preschoolers with tips on how to play with your child to maximize language learning fun! Parents are their child’s first and best teacher. When a parent joins the play they can bring up the language learning potential while enjoying a fantastically fun time!

NogginSeek by SmartNoggin (3 months and up, $16.99)

  • NogginSeek PhotoGreat baby toys were created by an outstanding developmental therapist, who knows what she’s doing.
  • Look for a face on infant toys-babies talk more to faces.
  • Newest product is NogginSeek, lots to talk about and describe. Use NogginSeek to teach object permanence: even though baby can’t see something (the balls) it still exists.
  • Parent guide included with tips on learning activities and milestones birth to 1 year.

FunFlex Fog Mirror and Dancing Crab Set (0-18 months, $19.99)

  • product4-300x231Fantastic new company, showcasing modular system–flexible arm, clamp and baby toy
  • Bend the arm to the right angle for baby to see and play.
  • Babies love faces and mirrors stimulating lots of vocal play. Again, describe what baby is doing with the toy.
  • The best baby toys are ones that engage the child and give parents plenty to talk about, as they listen and learn language.

Alex Toys Woodland Wonders Activity Center (18 months and up, $145)

  • ALEX-Toys_Woodland-Wonders-Activity-Center-pckgThe best toddler toys are those that have lots of features to explore, and describe so children take in rich vocabulary and description for later expressive language as they are learning to talk.
  • 6 sides of learning plus the top–tell time, talk about pond scene, learn ABC’s, describe patterns and name animals.

Tiggly Shapes Got Talent by Tiggly (3-5 years, app $2.99, Shapes: $29.99)

  • unspecified1-300x169Unique option of playing app with physical shape toys–combines digital and physical
  • Star invites you to join his game show, cute story that teaches shapes, a little geometry, math vocabulary and early literacy skills
  • Sad Circle, confident Square and tough Triangle are given a series of challenges, who has the most straight lines?
  • Kids create their own stories, dressing up the characters

Brio Countryside Horse Set (3 years and up, $64.99)

  • 33790_CountrysideHorseSetBrio has  brought us beautifully made railway systems for almost 60 years.
  • Now they are adding play sets that encourage more comprehensive pretend play and story-telling
  • Kids loved “Sky,” the horse, giving him a shower, feeding, transporting and providing a play area. After her shower I heard, “We have to put Sky to sleep. We need her blankie on.”
  • Accessory pieces, gated road crossing, fencing, mountains, trees, and barn provide opportunities for flexible story themes.
  • Practicing storytelling from 3 and up builds literacy skills for later reading and writing, when kids are called upon to generate stories and recognize the essential parts for good written language skills.

Dr. Seuss Thing Two and Thing One Whirly Fun Game by Wonder Forge (4 years and up, $16.99)

  • 332402-300x270Silly Thing One and Thing Two come to play when mother is away.
  • Players distribute household items throughout the rooms and then wind up the launcher to let loose.
  • Pick a card to create a mess or pick up by color
  • Kids learn vocabulary, strategy, colors, following directions

Kaloo Pepit Penguin ($29.99), Rouge Rabbit ($24.99) and Janod Doctor’s Suitcase (3 years and up, $29.99)

  • Janod_Doctors-SuitcaseKids love Kaloo’s stuffed animals which are perfect for pretend play.
  • Little Penguin comes in this beautiful packaging that clever kids incorporated in their pretend play–became a bed.
  • Got out the doctor’s suitcase to examine and treat their little animals.
  • Kids who are a bit fearful of the doctor can work through feelings through play–shot was most popular–go figure!!
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddler, Toys, TV | Leave a comment

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