Calico Critters Country Tree House Invites Hours of Fun

Gather your furry friends for an afternoon in the tree house. Don’t worry, there is plenty of room for everyone, big and small. With multiple play vignettes–a deck, hot tub, lake, pagoda, water slide or rooms with a view–several kids can play at once. Hop aboard the canoe to cruise the lake, drop the trap door to slip down the slide, munch on a picnic under the pagoda, or relax in the hot tub.

Add your own critter sets and furniture suites to the two monkeys and boat provided with the tree house. Plenty of stickers are included to personalize your new woodland home. Hang your pictures, stack your books, display your best dishes, and throw down the “Welcome” mat and it’s time to invite friends over for imaginary play. Once the props are assembled, kids just rotate around the circular, three dimensional play land, lost in their world of pretend.

Check out the newest family of Hedgehogs who look quite at home in the forest. Kids love their stand-out hairdos and combs to tame their locks.

Mothers told me that the tree house is best played with on a short, small table so several kids can play alongside each other, absorbed in one of the mini-scenarios. One side lended itself to outdoor play with the water slide, lake and alfresco eating areas, while the other side brought little hands indoors as they arranged and re-arranged furniture and accessories in the rooms.

Parents should be the producers of play, setting out the critters and their props, letting their child direct the action at the tree house.  Language and play skills are built and reinforced as kids are in charge of their play.

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Calico Critters Country Tree house” was provided for review by International Playthings.


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Read a Book to A Child and Illustrate It

After reading a book to your child, extend the experience with an activity–talk about how the story relates to your life and your child’s experiences, act it out with props or draw a picture.

Recently I read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems, using the cute plush pigeon who yells, “Let me Drive the Bus” when you squeeze him. Little Elle loves Mo Willems books and has used them to learn to read. She got so excited when I finished the book, that she got out her markers and drew this darling picture (minus the toes on one foot!) I can tell what details she took away from the story by her drawing.

Use your child’s illustration to launch a discussion and re-tell of the book. Talk about what happened at the beginning, middle and end. What changed? What was the problem and how was it solved?

As we encourage kids to think about a good story in a picture book, the sequence of events and how they relate to one another, we are helping kids to think like storytellers and writers.

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

Wear Your Bike Helmet!

I was listening to WCBS News Radio this week and Charles Grodin did a piece on when you are going to tell about something bad that happened, start with the punch line that everything turned out okay.

So on that note, I will start by saying my husband is okay, thank heavens, but this weekend he was in a bike accident with his biking buddy. They were close to home after a ride, going relatively slow when their wheels collided and both fell. My husband landed on his back, hit his head and was unconscious for a few minutes. I got there when the ambulance and emergency personnel had arrived and were asking him questions (like who is the president of the United States?) He spent a night in the hospital for observations and was released by the neurosurgeon with a diagnosis of a concussion. The emergency room physician said the helmet saved his life. Thank you to Gyro for making such a safe helmet. We know where his head hit because the interior material is compressed and there is no mark on his head.

I found it ironic that as I was sitting in the ambulance waiting for the EMT workers to assess my husband, two teenagers cycled by without helmets. I wanted to yell to them, but they were gone before I knew it.

So let me yell out to whomever is reading this. PLEASE wear a helmet when you ride and make sure your kids always wear a well-fitting helmet whenever they get on a bike. You don’t have to be going fast to get injured.

Posted in 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up | 2 Comments

Happy Mother’s Day!

infant baby This year I am celebrating Mother’s Day with a new grandson, Cooper James. His two year old sister, Caroline, affectionately calls him “Coupon.” I guess that reflects Mom’s good money management! I am so thankful for my three sons, two daughters-in-law (can’t there be a better term for the lovely women who marry our sons??), serious girlfriend,  and four grandchildren. I feel so blessed.

Last night we video chatted with 3 year-old Will, and 2 year-old Ben. It was the “arsenic hour” as my friends used to call the time before dinner. Mom had asked Dad to take them for a bike ride for a little respite so they arrived in their pajamas and bike helmets. After a short chat, Will looked at his mother and said, “I’d like to get in the car and drive to SheShe’s.” Melt my heart. Come on over Will–oops that would be a 12 hour drive. Thank heavens for video chatting.

I wish all you moms and grandmas a wonderful, joyful Mother’s Day. You deserve it.

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A Day in the Life of a Speech Therapist

Every day is exciting as an itinerant speech language therapist, but last Thursday was particularly hilarious. It started out with my visit to Duncan’s house where I was met outside by his mom, explaining in hushed tones that Duncan had made a fort, crawled in and was petting the cat when he fell sound asleep. She couldn’t wake him enough for our speech session. I wanted to see this for myself so I went inside and watched him roll over, sigh, and continue sleeping with the cat peering out from the fort!

Then I went on to work with 7 year-old Will on his “r” sound. I had brought along a “3-in-one” LEGO set where you had all the blocks needed to make a sea plane, helicopter or boat. Of course you have to say your words or sentences with me to participate in my projects, so as Will was building and I was modeling his sounds, he looked up at me and said, “I think it’s better when you don’t talk!”

Finally, on the way to my last child’s house, I shouldn’t admit it but I was trying open my yogurt–for some end of the day sustenance–and the yogurt exploded all over my lap. So I had to walk into the house and ask for a wet paper towel to clean my pants and a towel to sit on so I wouldn’t ruin their furniture.

I was glas to get home.

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How to Get Speech Special Education Services

little girl shoesI have had two meetings in the last two days, representing families of children who are being considered for special education services within the public schools or Birth-Three programs. It occurred to me that having sat on both sides of the table (I worked for 20 plus years in the public schools and am now in private practice), I could offer some help to parents navigating the system of special education.

  • Know the program you are pursuing and what qualifies a child to be included. If you are pursuing Birth-Three services, understand what kinds of services they provide (social work, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc.) and what the guidelines are for qualification (such as a child scoring two standard deviations below the mean in one area of development, or 1 1/2 SD’s below the mean in two areas).
  • Be prepared with copies of any prior testing on your child that will help in the next assessment. Bring copies of past evaluations to the meeting.
  • Write out  specific examples of your child’s functioning in different settings–home, school, playing with a friend or in a group. This is immensely helpful to the evaluators. Since they don’t know your child and you know her best, this gives them a head start. Be specific such as, “During a play date, Emma plays by herself, talking to herself and not seeming aware of the other child’s requests.” When the kids started playing tag, they were running around her while she seemed unaware of their game.” When parents give me specific descriptions of how their child reacted or what they specifically said, I can be a better diagnostician and ultimately be more helpful in planning a program to help their child. Give your written examples of behaviors, sentences, or sounds that your child typically uses to the evaluators. (Give a list of sounds your child uses, and examples of words she mispronounces if you are concerned about her articulation.)
  • If applicable, have written reports from other professionals or teachers who work with your child.
    As with several children I work with, they often perform very differently at school versus home, or one-on-one versus in a group. Have the teachers or therapist again give specific examples from their venue. One teacher this week told me, “He doesn’t enter into a group play activity unless he is prompted and only greets each child by name, rather than talk to them during play.”
  • Ask the professional what the sequence of events and likely timeline will be for evaluating and possibly placing your child in the program. This week one mom found that her school district does not begin the process of assessing children in the summer, even if they turn 3 over the summer. That mom started making alternate plans for her child to receive the services he needed while waiting for the school program to kick in in September.
Stay informed and be your child’s advocate.
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Birth-3 year-olds, Speech and Language Delay | Leave a comment

My Top Picks at “Time to Play” Showcase of Spring Toys

I had the privilege of attending TimetoPlayMag.com’s press conference and showcase, in New York City, to introduce this spring’s hottest toys. Jim Silver, editor in chief, and Chris Byrne, The Toy Guy, highlighted the spring season’s best products for summer fun. Mattel, Hasbro, LEGO, Crayola, Disney, Nickelodeon and others were represented exhibiting their new toys and games. Here are my top picks for building language and pretend play skills with kids:
  • LEGO is introducing play sets from Toy Story 3 as well as Cars. The Duplo train for the preschool set as well as Woody’s Western Train for 8 years and up are must haves for flexible fun play. With just enough pieces to move and change the action, these sets encourage kids to re-tell the story and invent their own.
  • Nickelodeon is introducing Dora’s Scrapbooking Adventure by Sakar that includes a 7 mega pixel camera, digital editing software so parents can help their little photographers add different backgrounds to pictures, and plenty of markers, stencils, glue and scissors to create a story from photos. Kids can document family  vacations or everyday experiences and add their touch to the story. (Age 5 and up, available in summer 2010). Dora’s Musical Fiesta by Megablocks transforms a boom box into a fiesta of fun, dance and moving to the beat. The set includes Dora, Boots and accessories to get the dance going while the Boombox offers four songs and four instrument beats. (Age 3 and up, available in the fall, 2010).
  • Playmobil’s Wildlife Care Station is a magical world of animal relief and care in the middle of the jungle. I have played with this set for hours with kids and reviewed it on playonwords.com. With lots of compartments, animals, caregivers and office accessories, a child never runs out of stories to tell while bandaging animals or setting their casts.The Rangers Vehicle with Rhino is an excellent addition to the set for rounding up injured animals. (Age 4 and up, available April, 2010)
  • Maui Toys’ Sky Ball is a hyper-charged, kid sized ball that brags about bouncing up to 75 feet in the air! I was attracted to it for it’s simplicity and potential for independent and creative play. Although they offer some accessories–paddles and catching devices–this ball can stand on its own as a kid entertainer, encouraging some inventive play. (Age 6 and up, available)
  • Petcakes are too cute to pass up. Can you imagine combining sprinkle, coconut or candy cupcakes and plush dogs with a built-in home? Tuck them into their cupcake holders and the dogs disappear for a nap. The more the merrier for cup cake fun.
  • Fisher Price added an Explorers 2 in 1 Lantern that tilts to become a flashlight to their kid tough collection. This light looks and feels like it could brave the toughest camping trip and sparks the imagination for a little play. Add the binoculars or camera to the field of fun. (Age 3 and up, available now)
  • Mattel introduced the Ultra Blast Gauntlet, that wraps around your wrist and allows the child to shoot plastic darts, just like Buzz Lightyear. (Age 5 and up, available in May 2010), An array of Toy Story 3 character figures invites creative play as kids extend the story from the movie, becoming the producer of the show.  Dr. Michael Shore, VP of Worldwide Consumer Insights at Mattel, Inc., offered to demonstrate the blaster and took out Barbie and Ken in the process! Separate sets of Toy Story 3 Action Links are sets of scenes from the movie that can be connected. Once put together, push the button and off goes a chain reaction of events where characters fly through the air, zip line to safety and defend against evil villains! Mix and match and create.
  • MegaBloks is re-introducing one of my favorites–The Pull Along Musical Pirate Ship, with removable parts so your pirates can go below for a nap or listen to the sounds of the sea. (Ages 1 and up, available fall, 2010)
  • Jakks Pacific came out with toddler sized costumes for your little Buzz Lightyear,Tinker Bell or Snow While. No more tripping over the skirts of big sister’s outfits. (Toddlers, available)
  • Insect Lore’s Butterfly Garden brings nature to life as kids watch a caterpillar transform into a butterfly. Teachers take note that this can be a science, writing or language arts lesson as kids journal about the changes and discuss the sequence of nature.
  • Disney’s new Pook-A-Looz are an edgy offbeat design of their characters in plush–looking like Disney meets Ugly dolls. My favorite was Eeyore.
  • Crayola gave out their new three dimensional sidewalk chalk. Just create your artwork on the sidewalk, put on the special glasses and you’re in a 3-D world. (available)
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How to Correct a Lisp In Speech Therapy

One of the more challenging sounds to correct in a child is a frontal lisp. It is hard to retrain the tongue to be placed accurately behind the teeth rather than protrude forward. Sometimes progress is faster than others.

I have blogged about success using techniques from Pam Marshalla’s excellent seminar on “Practical Therapy Tips for Persistent Articulation Errors: Frontal LIsp, Lateral Lisp and Distorted R.” Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised at how quickly a child picks up on the cues and arrives at a correct production.

That is what happened with 6 year-old Sam last week. (I don’t work on correcting a frontal lisp until a child is 6 or 7 years old.) Using some of the techniques I learned from Pam as well as others I started with a long “E” and progressed from “E”  to  “T”, encouraging him to extend the “T” and get extra air flow. He actually started to say an “S” as he prolonged the “T”. Then I modeled “EATS”, adding the “S” to make “TS,” stabilizing the place for accuracy.  He was able to repeat final TS words (eats, hits, waits, wants, etc.) so I left him after the first session with a list of final TS words to practice. The next session, built on “EATS” and we added “E” at the end for “EATSEE” still releasing lots of air after the “T”. Eventually he could separate it to “EAT SEE”  and he had an initial “S” sound! After that session I gave him a list of initial “S” words to practice and try in sentences if he could. The practice piece is essential because I am asking him to change a habit which is hard. He is re-training his tongue and jaw, to go to a new place for his “S” sound.

It is important to take into account jaw placement when evaluating and treating a frontal lisp. According to Pam Marshalla, a classical frontal lisp is a tongue and jaw placement problem because a child tends to lower his jaw when the tongue is protruded in a lisp. Work on jaw stability is an important part of therapy to correct a lisp.

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Articulation | Leave a comment

“Wildlife Care Station” by Playmobil

Introduce your child to Playmobil’s “Wildlife Care Station” and you’ll lose them to great creative play involving compassion and care for the injured animals. Two wildlife workers have the tools to round up the hurt animals in the fenced yard or padlock them into the crate for safety as they recover. With plenty of sticky bandages and re-usable casts, your little veterinarians can feed the baby leopards from a bottle or offer their parents some delicious grass or carrots. This little playhouse in the jungle offers lots of places to move the people and animals to change the action. Turn the station around and the wildlife workers tend to their paper work on the laptop computer on their desk or get a little sleep after pulling down the murphy bed from the wall. Lots of shelves can hold their supplies–rope, maps, or medicine. My little play partner spent hours spinning stories as different animals approached the station and the workers took over. The band-aids were especially interesting as the rhino ended up covered from head to toe. Apparently her recovered because today they are gone!

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Wildlife Care Station” was provided for review by Playmobil.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up | Leave a comment

“Wildlife Care Station” Teaches Compassion

playing with PlaymobilIntroduce your child to Playmobil’s “Wildlife Care Station” and you’ll lose them to great creative play involving compassion and care for the injured animals. Two wildlife workers have the tools to round up the hurt animals in the fenced yard or padlock them into the crate for safety as they recover. With plenty of sticky bandages and re-usable casts, your little veterinarians can feed the baby leopards from a bottle or offer their parents some delicious grass or carrots. This little playhouse in the jungle offers lots of places to move the people and animals to change the action. Turn the station around and the wildlife workers tend to their paper work on the laptop computer on their desk or get a little sleep after pulling down the murphy bed from the wall. Lots of shelves can hold their supplies–rope, maps, or medicine. My little play partner spent hours spinning stories as different animals approached the station and the workers took over. The band-aids were especially interesting as the rhino ended up covered from head to toe. Apparently her recovered because today they are gone!

The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “Wildlife Care Center” was provided for review by Playmobil.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Language, play, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Uncategorized | Leave a comment