“Hug-a-Puzzle” by Alex Jr. Toys

Alex toys is pretty new at baby toddler toys, introducing Alex Jr. in 2008, but they have positioned themselves as a leader in launching innovative infant toys, in a market that seems flooded with just one more stacking toy.

Hug-a-Puzzle” is just that–a soft puzzle in the form of a dog, kitty, bus or pig. The plush velour doggy is just firm and slim enough for a one-year-old’s hands to grab and give to someone or squeeze with a hug. Little ones were drawn to the simple face and pointed out the nose while younger kids enjoyed a munch on the ears and tail. Even I was amazed that a one-year-old could pull the pieces apart and then hand them back to me to start the game over again. “Hug-a-Puzzle” became a buddy and a game all in one.

Talk about body parts and point them out, describe the textures and colors, count the three puzzle pieces, as well as name opposites–off/on and in/out, as you use rich language to describe pulling, pushing and sliding. In talking about what your child is doing, you are teaching him language that prepares him to talk.

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. “Hug-a-Puzzle” was provided for review by Alex toys.

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Bon Voyage” by Alex Jr. Toys

I never thought packing the car was particularly fun until I watched a one-year-old happily stuff the picnic basket, hat, ball, umbrella and suitcases into the trunk of this squishy, plump car. Eight soft, crinkly pictures to pack delighted toddlers as they smashed the items into the little hand-sized compartment in the back of the car, shut the door and secured the silver tab to keep their prized possessions safe. As only toddlers know, it is just as much fun to take everything out as it is to put it in. Take a peek at yourself in the back mirror, open the hatch and start all over. Easily grabbable, this cushy car feels like a pillow and gets used as a rattle too.

Language building begins as you follow your child’s lead as they hand you the items or start to load them in the car. Name them, talk about their shapes, colors and what we do with them–“The goggles, we need them to see underwater.” “The picnic basket, that’s where we load our food for lunch.” Use rich vocabulary to build your child’s word base and strengthen language skills. During the first year and a half is when parents can build their child’s receptive language (understanding) in preparation for their saying words and little sentences at two years of age.

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. “Bon Voyage” was provided for review by Alex toys.

Posted in Babies, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toddlers, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

“Pixie Clutching Toy” by Haba

Babies loved this dynamic little toy on a ring, made with Haba’s signature bright colors and natural wood.  A six-month-old stared with fascination as he twisted the house, tree, mushroom and little person, as they bounced back into position. After exploring, a little tasting took place too with this teether. Shaking the ring to activate the rattle, a one-year-old turned it into a game to get a response from Mom. She explored the ring with her tiny fingers, and bent the objects to see the changing fronts and backs–pink doors become shiny circles and a smooth surface becomes a bumpy bell. Parents commented that this clutching toy was the perfect size, just light enough for kids to manipulate and learn from it. Small enough to pop in Mom’s pocket for outings, this toy is a great entertainer for babies and toddlers.

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. “Pixie Clutching Toy” was provided for review by HABA toys.

Posted in Birth-3 year-olds, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

DIR, Floortime Seminar With Esther Hess, PhD

Since we speech pathologists are required to participate in 30 hours of continuing education every three years, I am always looking for excellent courses to attend. I have shared about Pam Marshalla’s seminar on Persistent Articulation Errors and I want to recommend a seminar I attended yesterday in Long Island, NY.

Summit Professional Education sponsored “DIR/Floortime, Developmental Relational Treatment of Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder,” presented by Esther B. Hess, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and Senior Clinician for Stanley Greenspan M.D. The course covered how to conduct a clinical assessment and move to a diagnosis, approaches to and principles of intervention, and intervention with severe disorders of relating, communicating and thinking.

As the founder and executive director of The Center for the Developing Mind in Los Angeles, Dr. Hess had a wealth of examples from her work at her clinic on how to work with different kids. She had an effective delivery as she opened with stimulating questions like, “What are the advantages and disadvantages of a diagnosis of autism?” As audience members participated, she asked what their professional affiliation was (OT, PT, SLP, special educators or parents) and then repeated their answer by saying, “Your OT colleague said…” thus  building collaboration among the varied professionals in the room.

Without giving you the content of her material, here are some take-aways I thought were important to share:

  • New studies on brain plasticity suggest that we are capable of generating new brain growth throughout our life. More than once, as we were watching a video tape of a successful session with a child, Dr. Hess said, we just generated new neurological growth. That’s an inspiration to us, therapists.
  • Dr. Hess offered great word pictures to illustrate her points. She talked about living in Southern California where the weather is great but earthquakes are a possibility. In the case of an earthquake, residents are instructed not to make local calls with their cell phones because the signal will be intermittent at best. Instead, have a mutually agreed upon contact across the country to call to say you are safe. She likened the intermittent signal to how kids on the autism spectrum receive information and how frightening that must feel. I have already used that illustration with a neighbor, trying to get her to understand a child in our neighborhood. She got it.
  • We must make great dates with the kids we work with. How much do we love a great date as adults? Great dates validate their experience, they are fun and meaningful.
  • Playdates with typical kids are essential. When typical kids are involved in learning with kids with autism, the typical kids’ emotional IQ goes up. That is certainly something to look forward to with the present generation that is being raised with children with special needs mainstreamed into their classes and activities.
  • Encourage parents to take time with their neuro-typical kids. Go on a great date alone.
  • Our job as therapists is to educate and inform parents, not make decisions for them.
  • Follow the lead of the child but don’t let the child escape from the interaction
I would highly recommend this seminar if you have one in your area. I actually drove two hours to hear this and it was well worth it.
Let me know of other Continuing Education Seminars that you have found to be great in the comments below.
Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Autism, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

“Go! Go! Sports Girls” Dolls by Dream Big

When visiting the International Toy Fair, I was attracted to simple but effective dolls for promoting healthy pretend play. I saw my share of dolls who cry, whine, eat, and make a variety of noises, but my favorites left the fun up to their little owner.

The story behind a great toy is what often fascinates me. Go! Go! Sports Girls dolls was launched when founder and mom, Jodi Norgaard realized she couldn’t find an age-appropriate doll for her 10-year-old daughter that reflected a positive image for young girls, was proportioned properly and sent a message about a healthy lifestyle and giving back to others. So Go! Go! Sports Girls was begun.

Designed to encourage girls to be all they can be–physically, mentally and emotionally–through sports, each doll has “Dream Big” embroidered on her tummy to remind girls to set goals and strive to attain them. An added secret message corresponds to each girl’s sport, as Cassie, the speedy soccer player, has “Score Goals” as her big dream. Her backpack strapped on her back contains a little soccer ball and exercise towel to achieve it.

This multi-cultural gang of healthy girls includes participants in golf, soccer, running, tennis, gymnastics, dance, softball, swimming and basketball. Girls love the zany hair, soft grabbable take along body, huggable friend and backpack of fun. The Go! Go! Girls’ message prompted a discussion with some little girl friends, aged 7-11. What does it mean to dream big? What are your dreams? How are you going to attain them? Little Brooke said, “To make a big goal, like if you shoot a goal with five seconds left and you make it!” “I want to be the best defender.” After reading Cassie’s bio she said, “Speedy, just like me!”

Go! Go! Sports Girls Dolls donates a portion of its profits to Girls, Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to “inspiring all girls to be smart, strong and bold,” teaching our young girls the added message of giving to others to strengthen young women.

What a wonderful companion to a little girl, growing up learning the merit of exercise, generosity and healthy eating and living.

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. Go! Go! Sports Girls doll” was provided for review by Dream Big Toy Company. 11-year-old Brooke McKenna, star forward on the Fairfield Black Diamonds, contributed to this review.

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

Great Dolls for Pretend Play, Less is More

When visiting the International Toy Fair, I was attracted to simple but effective dolls for promoting healthy pretend play. I saw my share of dolls who cry, whine, eat, and make a variety of noises, but my favorites left the fun up to their little owner.

The story behind a great toy is what often fascinates me. Go! Go! Sports Girls dolls was launched when founder and mom, Jodi Norgaard realized she couldn’t find an age-appropriate doll for her 10-year-old daughter that reflected a positive image for young girls, was proportioned properly and sent a message about a healthy lifestyle and giving back to others. So Go! Go! Sports Girls was begun.

Designed to encourage girls to be all they can be–physically, mentally and emotionally–through sports, each doll has “Dream Big” embroidered on her tummy to remind girls to set goals and strive to attain them. An added secret message corresponds to each girl’s sport, as Cassie, the speedy soccer player, has “Score Goals” as her big dream. Her backpack strapped on her back contains a little soccer ball and exercise towel to achieve it.

This multi-cultural gang of healthy girls includes participants in golf, soccer, running, tennis, gymnastics, dance, softball, swimming and basketball. Girls love the zany hair, soft grabbable take along body, huggable friend and backpack of fun. The Go! Go! Girls’ message prompted a discussion with some little girl friends, aged 7-11. What does it mean to dream big? What are your dreams? How are you going to attain them? Little Brooke said, “To make a big goal, like if you shoot a goal with five seconds left and you make it!” “I want to be the best defender.” After reading Cassie’s bio she said, “Speedy, just like me!”

Go! Go! Sports Girls Dolls donates a portion of its profits to Girls, Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to “inspiring all girls to be smart, strong and bold,” teaching our young girls the added message of giving to others to strengthen young women.

What a wonderful companion to a little girl, growing up learning the merit of exercise, generosity and healthy eating and living.

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-languge pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. Go! Go! Sports Girls doll” was provided for review by Dream Big Toy Company. 11-year-old Brooke McKenna, star forward on the Fairfield Black Diamonds, contributed to this review.

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

“The Field Guide to Insects” by Silver Dolphin

Get ready for an expedition through the cloud forests of Central America, discovering thriving insects from eight inch butterflies, battling beetles, munching praying mantids  or jewel scarabs, the gems of the cloud forest. Written in the form of a journal, Randal Barnes’ recorded observations teach about eight exotic insects, and offer cardboard models to assemble from 58 pieces. Open the book to the pages about an insect and you are greeted with a visual feast of maps where the insects are found, beautiful color illustrations, diagrams for model assembly, and closeups of wing scales, camoflage, or eggs cases. Delivered with small bits of content reinforced by visual pieces, this guide works well with children who have a shorted attention span, are visual learners, or need text broken up into smaller chunks to keep them motivated to read and learn. An “active” book,  The Field Guide to Insects,  keeps kids engaged and teaches at the same time.

Kids love the models which might require some parent involvement, depending on the age of the child. After a little boy finished his model he ran to tell his mom, “You won’t believe all these pieces in one small book!” Then he asked me if he could take his model to school tomorrow.” That’s quite an endorsement.

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. “The Field Guide to Insects” was provided for review by Silver Dolphin.

Posted in 6-8 year-olds, Book Review, Books, Elementary School Age, Reading, Strategies to Enhance Language | Leave a comment

Lessons Through Making Dinosaurs

I have several early elementary aged boys on my caseload and am always looking for interesting materials to keep them actively involved in the therapy session. Silver Dolphin’s The Field Guide to Dinosaurs fascinated them! One little boy left the room and yelled to his mother, “Mom, you can’t believe how many pieces are in one small book!” He was referring to the 8 dinosaur models made up of 70 pieces that slide together with A-B-C instructions, just waiting to be assembled by kids. Then he looked at me and said, “I can’t wait to show this to my dad.”

Known for their “active” books, the publisher designs books with smaller bits of information and some hands on activity to keep children engaged who might be less inclined to attend to a book. They lend themselves to reinforcing acitivities during a speech therapy session. If a child is practiciing an /r/ sound, read the information about the dinosaur and practice his words while putting together a model. If he is working on languge goals, summarize, predict, write a story about finding the fossils, or develop a paragraph with three supporting details. There are lots of visuals to reinforce learning and get the discussion going.

Written in the form of a journal, as paleontologist Jackson Foster searches from Arizona to Alberta, Canada to uncover fossils from little known dinosaurs, this guide could also serve as inspiration for students who journal their real-life experiences or take on a character and develop events to complete a make believe story.

An added treat is the diorama located at the back of the book which pops out easily to make a backdrop for the dinosaur models.

“The Field Guide to Dinosaurs”  was provided by Silver Dolphin. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author.

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

Reading to Children on the Autism Spectrum

Yesterday, I met a mom and a little boy whom I will be working with. He is relatively newly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Mom had a lot of questions. We started talking about reading and she said he loved books but wanted the same one read to him each night. It happened to be a rhyming, repetetive book.

One of the advantages of being a speech therapist in private practice is that I meet with children in their homes so I get to know the family and can “teach” the parents too. I look forward to helping this mom learn what books are beneficial in building her child’s language and “how” to read to him to the best advantage.

First of all, choose books that have a simple story that your child can relate to within his experience (going sledding in the first snowfall, having a Halloween party and making popcorn, going camping, eating, sleeping, playing etc.). Make sure the drawings are simple enough not to distract from the story. I have provided a list of good books I have used here. Set aside some of the fun and wacky Dr. Seuss type of books where kids tend to memorize them and repeat phrases from the book. Instead, offer some books with interesting stories, something to laugh at and keep their interest. Try using dialogic reading which is talking ABOUT the page’s illustrations, not reading the text exactly each time. Since the goal for many kids on the autism spectrum is to generate flexible language, we want to model that for them. Tell the story in a little different way each time, using various describing words and finding a new detail to talk about.

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

Bible Lesson, Five Loaves and Two Fish

Five loaves and two fish craftI was volunteering in a children’s Bible class this week and loved sitting back watching someone else manage the lesson. I was assigned to help in a 4 year-old class whose lesson was the story of Jesus’s miracle of feeding the five thousand. The kids gathered around a table and started to make their own picnic basket like the little boy who offered his lunch. They were given five cut outs of loaves of bread, two fish and a red checked table cloth, as the teachers told the kids that in Bible times they didn’t have a zip lock bag so they wrapped their food up in the cloth.

It was fun to see how each child had such an individual approach to the craft. They were given a cut off brown paper bag with a pipe cleaner for the handle, lots of glittery fish stickers for decoration, a heart with their verse on it, and the food contents. As they progressed, some completely covered the bag with stickers, others just along the edge, and some started to plan their picnic, One little boy started gluing all his food onto the tablecloth and then added lots of glittery fish stickers. After completing his basket, he got up from the table and announced “I’m going on a picnic!”

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Preschool | Leave a comment