“My Little Pony Family Convertible” by Playskool

Baby PInkie Pie is up from her nap and ready for some adventure. Snap her into her car seat and start the pink-hearted purple wheels rolling. Mom can’t leave without her coffee mug and brush, while a grocery bag and snack box provide story starters for the day. Girls went shopping, had a snack, planned a picnic and touched up their hair, when playing with this gang. If you want to add some punch to your pretend play, turn over the hollow grocery bag and snack box accessories and pack some Play-doh treats. We made sandwiches, apples and juice. The easy snap-on accessories provide flexibility in story telling as Mom and Pinkie Pie experience their day. What mom wouldn’t like four appendages to carry her equipment for a day out with her baby?

“My Little Pony Convertible” is part of the brand’s introduction of family play, featuring the adorable ponies accompanied by their loving mothers and siblings. Moms often ask me what toys offer families of animals for pretend play, since their child isn’t as interested in the miniature people. Now we have families of fun in ponyville.

Take note that your preschooler might need a stronger helper to snap baby in her carseat and into the car.

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-language pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “My LIttle Pony Convertible” was provided for review by Playskool.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Preschool, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Read Across America Day, Make a Book

Tomorrow, March 2, is Read Across America Day, celebrated on Dr. Seuss’ birthday!

What better way to celebrate than to help a child make a book of their very own. Whether you are a parent or a speech therapist, this exercise increases kids’ delight in books and reading. Start with some read-alouds by Dr. Seuss. Depending on the age, a fun one to introduce is Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith. Based on 14 rough drawings and verses left behind when Geisel died, this book was completed in his fashion and is full of Seuss like fun. Once again, the story behind the story is fascinating as editors gathered the drawings and scratched out lines from Geisel’s secretary, revealing the process of his storytelling. I reviewed the story here.

When it’s time to make a book, it can be as simple as stapling a few sheets of paper together to making a book’s covers from a cereal box. Here are detailed directions from alphamom on how to make one with a cover from the Cheerios box.

Use the inside to encourage kids you might be working with on language goals. Write a little story or have them dictate it to you on the computer so you can print it out and glue it in their book. Create a short poem and emphasize rhyming words or add on to a story you have read. Don’t forget to have your little author step in as the illustrator too! Provide lots of markers and colored pencils for the drawings to back up the text.

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

Getting Kids with Autism to Talk About Their School Day

preschool glitter drawingOne of the goals I have for a child I am working with who has autism, is that he tell two things about his school day, when he comes home. We have tried several approaches to help him remember as well as verbalize what he did. Research shows that if you send something concrete home that relates to their day, you are more likely to have him tell about what he did that day–maybe a leaf if they made leaf prints, or a rock if they talked about rocks. I gave that suggestion to the preschool teachers. They also sent notes home about their activities to prompt our discussions. Still, it was very difficult to get him to share his day.

Last week, I was beginning my therapy session when Mom told of a breakthrough. Her son loves sea animals and recently got a stuffed seal from a visit to the aquarium. When he came home from school and re-attached with his seal, Mom asked the seal what he did at school that day. Her son proceeded to tell about several activities from class that morning! In the same way, his pretend play has taken off as he uses a shark or dolphin to act out pretend sequences since that is his preferred toy these days. At times, we have to restrict the use of the shark or dolphin if he is getting too “stuck” on that toy, but there are ways to use his intense interest on a subject to his advantage.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Autism, Language, play, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Sing Along with Bob From Sesame Street

Bob McGrath from Sesame StreetWhen I was at the Toy Fair last week, I was walking the aisles and noticed a crowd gathering around a man. Of course I had to see who this celebrity was, and there was Bob McGrath, the familiar performer on Sesame Street since the 60’s, signing copies of his “Sing Along With Bob” CD’s for fans.

He graciously posed for a picture with me as I reminisced about collapsing on the couch with my three preschoolers at 4 PM to watch Sesame Street. His recognizable, friendly smile and approachable personality came right through as we chatted about kids and all the media opportunities they have at their disposal these days.

Bob autographed a copy of “Sing Along with Bob #2″ and I went on my way. Today, it was quiet, so I decided to put in Bob’s CD and I went right down memory lane with him! I’m not sure who I will send the first copy to–Great Grandmother who used to sing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” to my brother and me and end up in fits of laughter or to my preschool gang. “Boom Boom Ain’t It Great to Be Crazy” took me back to overnight camp memories as we used to wail out that song, resonating in the dining hall, stamping our feet to the “booms.” “The Muffin Man” gave me my first nickname, “Muff” because I loved to dance to the beat.

With thirty four short songs, sung in Bob’s clear, inviting voice, this CD should be in every preschool and therapist’s cache of activities. From “Let Everyone Clap Like Me” to “The Hokey Pokey,” there are many interactive songs that teach listening, following directions and imitating. Little ones will get moving and giggle while “shaking out their sillies” and “jumping out their jiggles.” Parents and grandparents will enjoy the intergenerational experience of sharing songs loved over the years.

Thanks, Bob, for the memories!

“Sing Along with Bob #2″ was provided by Bob’s Kids Music. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, music, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toddler | Leave a comment

How Children Learn Language

Toddler in the snowParents often ask what the next steps are for their children learning language and how long it will take to catch up to “normal.” Children start with naming objects using single words and progress to adding a second word for a meaningful two-word combination  like, “big truck,” “car go” or “more juice.” Each word that is added to their verbalizations adds meaning.

I have been working with a 2 1/2 year-old for almost a year and his mom relayed what he had said on the way to school that day. This mom has been vigilant in keeping word lists to show me her son’s progression each week so she knew how his language gains were demonstrated by his descriptions of a stop sign:

Here is the progression of his comments as his language has expanded and grown:

  • “Stop” when he saw the stop sign
  • “Stop sign,” as he started to put two words together
  • “There is stop.” “I see stop.” as he added a third word to his phrases.
  • “The car stops at the stop,” was his latest comment which clearly adds meaning to his description, telling the function of the stop sign.
With each added word, children add exponentially more meaning. One little word has a lot of power!
How do you help your child advance through each step, adding words to their utterances?
Here are some ways to encourage language expansion:
  • When your child says a word, naming something in his environment like, “Truck,” affirm him with, “Yes! A truck, a red truck, the truck goes.” Talk in short little sentences, grammatically correct, as you add on to his one word.
  • Add on adjectives and action verbs that relate to what he is doing or playing with. Kids take in more language when we are talking about what they are focused on and playing with. Adjective and action verbs carry more meaning to a little one than an article like “the.” “Hit ball” conveys more meaning than “the ball.” Don’t worry, he will fill in the articles and lettle words later.
  • Don’t always talk in 3 or 4 word sentences. Thoughout your day, also talk as if you are giving a running commentary on what you and your child are doing and thinking.
Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 2 Comments

Articulation Carryover Activities for “S and “SH”

I find books to be a great language enriching carryover activity for articulation.

Recently I was working on /s/ and /sh/ with several students and used the book, Bright Stanley by Matt Buckingham to provide practice and carryover for the sounds. Stanley and his school of friends with their shimmery scales provide lots of practice for the /s/ and /sh/ sounds. I read the book in sentences and phrases, pausing to let the child repeat after me. If they are at the carryover stage, simply read the book and have them re-tell it using the pictures. Provide an /s/ word or two to get them going if they get stuck. Stanley is on the hunt for his friends who have the same bright, shimmery scales so there is plenty of opportunity to practice thinking skills like prediction, association and cause-effect too.

Afterwards, we made our own Stanley, with lots of markers and glitter glue. This Stanley apparently is such a good swimmer he doesn’t need fins!

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 2 Comments

Simple Snow Stories for Speech Language Therapy

It’s almost March and we are having two snowstorms out east this week. So even though I see readers requesting Spring lessons for therapy, I am still literally stuck in the snow! Here are a couple of fun books I used today with kids with language delay and on the autism spectrum:

Snip, Snip…Snow! by Nancy Poydar. Little Sophie is anticipating some snow since she has to wear her heavy jacket with the hood and can see her breath. She stomps inside yelling, “No Snow!” as if her mother is responsible for the absence of fluffy white stuff. Finally she gets a favorable forecast but gets up the next morning to no snow again. Arriving at school, she pleads with her teacher to let the class make their own snow. They get to work folding and snipping and making their own flakes. Amidst the excitement of paper snowflakes flying, they look outside to see…you guessed it–real snow! Add some fun at the end of the story and make your own snowflakes, talking through the steps, or shread paper and make a snowman mosaic like Sophie did in the story for a take home, so kids can re-tell the story to Mom and Dad.

Lucille’s Snowsuit by Kathryn Lasky. Little Lucille is left behind to negotiate her snowsuit while her older siblings get a head start in the snow. So many obstacles to overcome–her boots get stuck, her zipper catches, and then she starts to sweat! (reminds me of me trying to go skiing). Finally she gets out in the snow and realizes that her “babyish” snowsuit is the perfect piece of clothing for fun on a snowy day. This is a fun story to re-tell, talk about categories such as clothes, snow activities etc.

First Snow by Emily Arnold McCully. This wordless picture book is a perfect opportunity to take a picture walk with a child. The mouse family piles their sleds into the back of the pickup truck and takes off for the first snow adventure of the season. Packed with vignettes of getting stuck, trudging through the snow, ice skating, making a snowman, sledding and being courageous, this little tale is great for a language lesson.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Books, Preschool, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Top Picks for Language Toys at Toy Fair 2010

Now that I have come back down to earth after racing from one booth to another, and seeing all the fantastic new toys and games that amazingly creative people have produced, I want to share my top picks for the most exciting new products, that offer a language building, creative play value. Note, stay tuned for my full reviews when I have had a chance to get my littlest toy testers to weigh in on these toys and games too! This is the first in a series of blogs about what’s hot this season:


As I mentioned, I was privileged to be included in a preview of their new products the day before the Toy Fair, at their Bloggers’ Breakfast. Here are some toys to be on the lookout for:

FurReal Friends Furry Frenzies. Six furry animals that look like Littlest Pet Shop meets ZhuZhu pets scurried around so quickly that I had a hard time getting a picture of them! Add some accessories for flexible play, their “Scoot and Scurry City,” and watch the bunny, raccoon, puppy or hedgehog chase up the mountain, stop back in town at the Pet Boutique or visit the Ball Park. Playonwords value: Separate play vignettes offer opportunity for conversation by theme, and the many options to come and go through swinging doors and gates provides flexibility of play.

Play-doh Cake Makin’ Station. You know how I love Play-doh for open-ended creative play, building language and conversation. This toy has staying power celebrating its 50th anniversary of the Fun Factory. Take that fun into the bakery as you add toppings at three different “icing” stations. Kids can stamp out fun frosting patterns and add decorations and colorful toppings at subsequent stations. Playonwords value: The creative process invites lots of chat but take your finished creations and have a tea party. Extend the play using your newly made props!

Wheel Pals Mini-Critters. Kids love vehicles and animals so I think Playskool has a winning combination here. I especially liked the mini, squeezable pals, designed for toddlers’ little hands. Add the jungle, arctic or farm-theme playset tracks for fun and exploration. Playonwords value:  Big-eyed faces invite conversation and play, so kids can animate their animals.

Littlest Pet Shop Pet Sitters. Blithe and her friends are the first dolls to be introduced to “Littlest Pet Shop,” just in time to do some pet sitting. Much of what I do is teach parents how to select great toys to enhance language development and demonstrate how to maximize pretend play.  When I told a mother of a big fan of “Littlest Pet Shop” that the pet sitters had arrived, she said, “It’s about time they had some people!” Playonwords value: Add people to the mix and you have a new level of conversation and pretend play. Pets and people can teach and learn from each other.

I Can Do That Games:

I am constantly amazed at the creativity and ingenuity that is poured into each of this company’s games. They really get the concept of adding language value to their products.

What’s in the Cat’s Hat. Pick a series of cards with questions to ask to narrow down the solution. “Will it float in the bathtub?” Use some deductive reasoning to guess what object your opponent has hidden in the Cat’s Hat. It took me multiple clues to guess the tangerine (I even got to smell it!). Playonwords value: Look at all the language stretching you encourage as you ask questions, rule out solutions by categories (floats, smells) and make your best guess.

Konexi. Having successfully created games for the preschool set, this company introduced it’s new line for 8 years and up, called Zimbala. (Look it up, it’s a surfing word!) Konexi is a lively wooden set of letters that connect if balanced correctly. Score points by making connections for words. Playonwords value: Obviously this game promotes literacy, letter-sound recognition, and blending. It can be adapted to younger children. Stay tuned for my full review. Check out “Splotcha!” and “Thanks a Lot” too.

International Playthings:

Calico Critters Treehouse. Take your critters to a whole new height with this tree of fun than includes two Mango Monkeys, a hot tub, pagoda, water slide and lake for tons of pretend play fun. Enjoy the four spacious rooms, a hot tub, patio, and trap door to the water slide. Playonwords value: Imagination, imagination, talk, talk, talk. Need I say more?

Yookidoo. Giddy Up Gal and Pirate & Pal Play Sets. Yookidoo has become a favorite of kids and parents, with it’s inviting faces, bright colors and innovative activities. These gals and pirates are refreshingly new to the kids scene of clip along figures for baby to learn from. Playonwords value: Talk about all the sounds, textures, colors and faces to engage your newborn from the crinkly bandanas to the parrot and pony noises.

I Play. Shop ‘n Cart. This cart carries the whole food shopping experience in one basket on wheels. The set includes the play food, money, packages and cans with a removable grocery basket that fits into it’s own space on the bottom. Playonwords value: Great pretend play to encourage commentary and role playing during play.

I Play. My First Baby Doll. Pretend play comes wrapped up in a diaper bag for on the go fun. The soft, plushy baby doll comes with her teddy bear, bottle, bib, diaper, wipe case and changing pad/blankie. Playonwords value: Great pretend play potential for the younger set as they are just beginning to pretend. The items are soft and can be stored in the diaper bag.


This company carefully researches and introduces quality toys with a purpose.

If the Shape Fits eebee. eebee’s got some colorful shapes to share–slip them on his limbs or your own for some fun description and language learning. Playonwords value: vocabulary learning through flexible fun shapes that can be attached to most anything, extending the language concepts to be described. Also, check out eebee’s new baby cookbook coming out soon.


Organico Blocks. These light building blocks are made from bamboo and will be out this summer. I can’t wait to try them. Playonwords value: Kids can create anything with a good set of blocks. Add some little people or animal figures and you have a story starting.

Okay that’s it for part 1 of my Top Picks. Next installment is coming including Haba, Playmobil and Blue Orange.

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

Celebrate Chinese New Year With Children

Chinese New Year tableI work with a wonderful, creative family who celebrates the Chinese New Year. Mom, who is Chinese, traditionally sets the table using pages of a Chinese newspaper for the tablecloth. She covers the random pages with clear plastic and everyone is entertained by the letters and pictures.

This year, Mom Lisa claims she set the table just for me since I was so fascinated by it last year. She explained her traditional party for families set with the special newspaper cloth and topped with a hanging “family tree” lantern, designed by creative cousin, Eliza. The mobile is supported by chop sticks from which the cards hang, showing off the family members.

When it’s time to eat, Lisa heats up the Mongolian Hot Pot or Chinese Steamboat (much like fondue) and Chinese New Year lanternoffers a variety of meat, fish and vegetables to cook piece by piece in the special rich stock. Lisa cooked a hen for the day to prepare for her stock. Everyone can dip their choice into the broth with a special netted spoon.

Although I am not a believer in horoscopes, that is part of the fun. Lisa slips a few red Chinese Horoscopes for Lovers under the plastic tablecloth for conversation starters. I found out I am a rabbit and my little friend is a monkey. Oops, we aren’t supposed to get along–but wait a minute. We have lots of fun together.

Have a little celebration fun at home and learn something about another culture, or decorate your therapy Chinese New Year Mongolian Hot Potroom for the holiday and make a class tree to reinforce your goals.

Thanks, Lisa, for the fun!

Posted in Elementary School Age, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Dads Are The Best!

Dads and kids going down slideI love working with parents but usually it is Mom who participates in our therapy sessions or moms who attend talks that I give on talking, reading and playing with your baby to encourage language development. When the dads show up, I always get some fresh, fun take on the subject.

Today, as I was reading a book to a little boy, I was explaining to his dad that you can read the text of the picture book or simply talk about what is on the page illustrated by the pictures. Dialogic reading, I told him, is when you talk about all that the pictures are explaining, so you might spend extra time on each page using more descriptive language and vocabulary than is actually in the text. Research has shown that when parents “read” this way to young children, the kids make greater gains in language development.

Dad looked at me and said, “I get it. It’s like in college when I would read the text before going to class, but when the professor gave his lecture and talked about the information in the text book, it made sense.” What a wonderful analogy.

Thanks, Dad, for your amazing insight!

Posted in Preschool, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment