2014 International Toy Fair Trends

Laser pegs PegasaurWe had a fantastic first day at the 2014 International Toy Fair in New York City. We started outside the show with Laser Peg’s “Pegasaur” and met the designer whose team took 4 weeks to assemble this dinosaur. It’s prettier than the picture–dare I say a dino is pretty? The countdown began with a parade led by the Power Rangers and capped off with Alicia Keys cutting the opening ribbon to the show. Here’s what the buzz is as I see it:

  • STEAM is the hot word this year. The Toy Industry has added the “A” for arts to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as we ramp up learning in these areas to improve overall proficiency and test scores. I saw many Faber Castell creativity cancompanies adding science kits, and science companies adding art kits to their product lines. Ravensburger added to its new series of science kits that were introduced last year including “Fueling Future Cars” which teaches about alternative fuel and includes a solar panel. Faber Castell’s Creativity for Kids expanded its line of Creativity Cans, containing objects for open ended play, discovery and projects. Now let’s just add the “L” to STEAM to highlight the importance of language skills which are integral to learning all those disciplines.
  • Licensed products continue to be Wonder Forge Disney Prin Petspopular from Disney princesses and pets to Doc McStuffins and Cars. One of my favorites is Wonder Forge’s Royal Pet Salon Game with is a matching, pretend play game where players look for items associated with the different rooms in a Disney pet’s home. Look for the mirror, ring, or perfume. Little girls will love the cute pet figures and these girls did.
  • Play schemes are popular. Smart Toys and Games introduced three new SmartMax sets that incorporate a play scheme with more features and detail to round out the sets. They added shutters to the house in “Home Sweet Home” and chutes to the factory in “Factory with Car.” More detail and features spark a child’s imagination and take their story in new directions for language learning.
  • HABA matching housesMulti-function toys contain depth of learning and more play potential. HABA makes excellent learning toys that require some exploration and inquiry by the child. Their new “Matching Game, Who Lives Where?” contains several stand up chunky wooden animals with different sized cardboard houses to match. Children can nest or stack the homes by number and house the animals according to clues drawn on the outside of their homes. Hape introduced a darling kitchen on wheels that is portable and collapses to a smaller size for tiny play spaces. What I like is they included chalkboard surfaces to write menus or even allow the kitchen to become a restaurant announcing specials of the day and prices.
  • Make and play is still popular, especially with the new promotion of the arts faber castell connector pensin toys. From Käthe Kruse dolls with their own set of clothes to make (the stitching is done for you, just cut them out of the cloth) to Faber Castell’s “Connector Pens” that cleverly use markers with an added connecting piece, turning an art tool into a construction piece. One of the highlights today was chatting with the artist who created a dinosaur out of the pens and some paper (see on the left of his desk)!

Stay tuned…that was just my first day!




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Articulation Carryover Techniques, Self-Monitoring

Dino puzzle and figuresI promised to blog my way through Pam Marshalla’s book, “Carryover Techniques in Articulation and Phonological Therapy,” and I’m ready to tackle self-monitoring.

I realize as I work through this excellent resource, that after over 35 years of working with kids, I still feel confident on the specialized steps in teaching sounds but am appreciating being reminded of the critical steps to achieve the final stage of articulation therapy which is carryover. Somehow I feel sort of “finished” when a child can easily produce his target sounds in all positions of a word in sentences and even structured conversation. Some kids easily step over into using their new sounds daily while others need a step by step process to listen, monitor and correct their errors.

Pam makes the point that auditory monitoring should be taught early in therapy and continued throughout. I must say one of the first things I do with a new little client is see if he can distinguish correct and incorrect productions of his error sound. They really like pointing to one or the other of my hands as I speak into them.

How do we practically teach this? Today I applied Pam’s approach of teaching self-monitoring of speech through conscious awareness, which is key to carryover. Pam talks about asking your student why they have come to speech? They should be able to verbalize the purpose of their therapy–to fix their /r/ or correct their /s/ for example. I thought I was clear in my intentions and shocked today when I posed that question to a 5 year-old whom I had seen for a few months. He didn’t immediately come up with the sounds he was working on (actually he said a sound we had mastered first a few months ago). Embarrassed! So I stepped right in to help him write the letters for his sounds in glitter glue and discuss what he was learning to do to specifically make his sounds correctly. Phew. He was able to verbalize that! Then I read on about the importance of “checking devices” to record the number of errors they make in a certain amount of time to help build self-awareness. I being a more positive person believe in recording their correct productions, so I combined a few of Pam’s suggestions in one activity, and of course my little friend, adapted my exercise to make it even better!

We were assembling a dinosaur puzzle and adding my 3-dimensional figures, describing the “stegosaurus,” “T-Rex” and others as I slipped in some of his error sounds. I had asked him to be listening for them and correct me. Soon he was looking up, shaking his head,  was repeating the correct model and then slapped his hand on the floor! (In previous weeks we had employed that technique of tapping each other’s arm when we heard a good target sound produced by that person, which Pam calls “Speech Tag”). I love how my friend put it all together to build his self-awareness and monitoring. I invited mom to watch our session as he was so deftly playing and listening to my speech and his.

Mom got her homework for the week, too!


Posted in Articulation, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 1 Comment

Valentine’s Day Books For Speech Therapy Lessons

9781442427693The book table at Barnes and Noble is filled with Valentine’s Day books. I tend to pass up the series books in favor of those with unique stories but here is one of each:

The Biggest Kiss by Joanna Walsh and Judi Abbot is one of my favorites because of the perky text and charming illustrations. It sets the playful tone from the beginning, “Kisses on noses, kisses on toes-es. Sudden kisses when you least supposes.” (drove my spellcheck crazy but kids love it!) The story goes on to tell who likes kisses with a frog at a kissing booth charging $1 for a smooch, worms kissing underground or fish kissing with a “splish, splosh, splish.” The simple story has quick turns from making comparisons with opposites, having some fun with word play, changing the source of the kisses from animals to raindrops, and kissing to mark the start and end of the day. Use this book to teach opposites, describe the kisses, or talk about how other animals might give a kiss (high, low, big or little).

Pete the Cat Valentine’s Day is Cool by Kimberly and James Dean. Although I like the stories in several of the Pete the Cat books, this one is very simple–about making valentines cards for his class, forgetting some important people, and what to do about that. What adds to the book is it includes a large poster with Pete the Cat wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day (might look nice on your therapy room door) as well as 12 valentine’s Day cards and a page of stickers. Clever speech therapists will find a way to use these extra activities to enhance the story and bring about conversation on what they celebrate and like in each friend.


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

Sneak Peek At the NYC Toy Fair 2014

Excitement is building as everyone is getting ready for the Toy Fair starting next weekend. Although we don’t have our own meteorologist like the Super Bowl committee, we are all watching the weather as last year got a bit of a late start for some due to a snowstorm!

Here are some of the highlights I have been hearing about:

Lego is apparently topping its impressive Lightning McQueen from last year with a  15-foot tall, 10-foot long dinosaur that will be greeting guests at the entrance of the 2014 Toy Fair convention this weekend. “A team of four people spent over a month building the mammoth creature that is illuminated in shades of purple, yellow, green and red by the thousands of LED lights that are encased inside each tiny Laser Pegs piece used to build it. ”

Here is a video showing the time-lapse construction process - http://youtu.be/tYIuCu8_VKs

If that’s not enough, we just got word that Snoopy is taking a trip to NYC for New York Toy Fair this week! According to their press release, “International toy manufacturer, Snoopy Costume1Schleich, will be bringing a life-sized Snoopy to the city along with the announcement of their new Peanuts line. To celebrate, Snoopy will be “snooping” around New York Feb. 15 to some of his favorite spots. Fans can join the fun by snapping photos and sharing on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #SnoopingNewYork.” He’s been a favorite of mine since childhood so I may have to get him to pose in a picture:)





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Valentine’s Day Books Celebrating Love and Friendship To Build Language

imgres-1I love using great picture books in speech therapy or simply reading a fun book to kids. Here are some of my new favorite books celebrating love and friendship for Valentine’s Day and beyond:

I Love You More by Laura Duksta and Karen Keesler.This clever book celebrates the love between a mother and her child as they each claim half of the flip-sided book to compare their love to touching comparisons in rhyme, “I love you higher than the highest bird ever flew, I love you taller than the tallest tree ever grew.” The little boy counters with experiences of his own, “I love you bigger than the biggest bubble ever blown. I love you freer than the freest kite ever flown.” Use the story as a springboard to a lesson on comparisons, poetry or adjectives.

The Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring and Alys Paterson. Let’s go through a child’s day seeing the world as shapes from beginning to end. From the shape of our mouths to what we might eat, “the shapes that pass us by…on a noisy busy street.” But, our journey through the day brings us right back to “the shape I love you with…my heart.” The bright, simple graphics engage kids and provide opportunities to learn vocabulary within categories of food, body parts, transportation etc.

Love You When by Linda Kranz. “Do you think of me during the day?” you ask. The answer is “Yes,” as the author recounts all the simple but beautiful reminders of her loved one in the first rays of sun to cheerful little birds or shooting stars. The unique photographs include painted illustrations on rocks that describe each event. Rich vocabulary abounds in this little book, “I love you when a brilliant rainbow peeks out through the clouds after a drenching rainstorm has cooled off a sizzling summer day.” What a great opportunity to teach description and vocabulary to enliven a word picture–”gentle breeze,” “distinctive songs,” or “crisp fall air.” So many of the kids we work with can benefit from elaboration and precision in their language.



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

Teen with Autism Invites Ellen DeGeneres to Prom

I came across this story yesterday and was so touched.

17 year-old high school senior, Esteban Barriga from Maynard, Massachusetts originally didn’t want to go to prom because he thought he had no friends. That all changed as word got around that he wanted to ask Ellen DeGeneres. He enlisted kids from his school, family, police officers, firemen, local business people and those in his circle of helpers from his preschool teacher to the woman who drives him to school. His invitation became this video with the repeated message, “Ellen, say yes to Esteban!”

The video invitation to Ellen DeGeneres was so cute and clever, but as a speech therapist it was also an amazing lesson plan for developing social skills as Esteban prepared a list of reasons she should say yes and asked whole classes to help him invite Ellen to the prom! It was a persuasive piece too.

One of the most touching parts was viewing Esteban getting a haircut with his barber, as he shaves the name “Ellen” on the back of his head. It is explained that when Esteban was younger, he couldn’t tolerate a haircut. That is progress, as many children with autism spectrum disorder have some sensory processing issues and it is very uncomfortable to get a haircut.

His mom told the Boston Globe, “It’s been an unbelievable experience because here’s this kid who thought he had no friends at high school, who thought he was on his own — now he’s suddenly the most popular kid in school.”

What a refreshing story to hear about a child with special needs getting such warm support from not only his high school but whole community and hearing what we all like to hear, “You’re not alone.”

Come on, Ellen, say yes to Esteban!




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GoldieBlox Commercial Airs on the Super Bowl Last Night

Goldyblox toy fairHow exciting to watch a startup company get their national ad shown on the Super Bowl last night! Kudos to Intuit for choosing GoldieBlox over the more than 15,000 small business entries in their contest for a free Super Bowl ad.

I first met founder and CEO, Debbie Sterling at her small booth tucked away at the International Toy Fair in New York last year. The buzz was already picking up surrounding her “Toys for future innovators,” based on books and projects to promote girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Sterling, armed with a degree in Mechanical Engineering/ Product Design from Stanford University, became obsessed with “disrupting the pink aisle” and went on to develop a toy “that would introduce girls to the joy of engineering at a young age,” according to their website.

GoldieBlox’s story+construction sets tap into girls’ strong verbal skills, leading them into projects that strengthen spatial skills and “tools they need to build and create amazing things.” Sterling is determined to introduce engineering to young girls and get them excited about subjects that have been traditionally dominated by boys.

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine, Parade Float, and Dunk Tank come with a story book and related construction project. Their debut product, “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine” is for girls 4-9 and includes a belt drive, 5 animal figures, a pegboard, 5 wheels, 10 axles, 5  blocks, 5 washers, 1 crank and 1 ribbon.

Here’s the ad that ran last night during the Super Bowl–a refreshing change from all the car ads! “So come on, get your toys–girls make some noise….”



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Funny Speech Therapy Moments Teaching Word-Finding Cues

Somebody likes the polar vortex

Somebody likes the polar vortex

We have to keep a smile on our faces when we work with kids. Most of the time it is easy, in spite of some challenging kids and disabilities that we work with. That being said, it is enormously powerful to share some of the zany things that happen in our sessions. I’ve blogged many times about my starting point in a carefully planned therapy session and where a child took the session with their creative play and imaginative mind.

Well, I have to share this story from a colleague this week who was working with a group of kids with word-finding difficulties:

“I think I told you I was teaching a cue for “polar vortex” to some of my speech kids:  I was teaching it to my 3rd grade boys  yesterday.  I had one of the boys standing on top of my table, acting as the polar bear to reach down ‘into Texas’ to touch his buddy (I also had a visual of a polar bear reaching down into a map of Texas).  “Polar for Tex”.  So who knocks on my door?   The superintendent!  Ha!   So I just had them teach the supt how to use a word finding cue to remember “polar vortex.”  I don’t think either the boys or my boss will forget it!”

Who else has a funny story? We need a laugh when it’s this cold outside:)

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

Getting Ready for Toy Fair 2014 in New York City

Toy Fair 2013 PlaymobilAccording to the official Toy Fair site the countdown says 19 days until the Toy Fair! Everyone is excited to see all the new products revealed at the largest toy trade event ever held in North America. Toy Fair is the size of 7 football fields (no wonder my feet hurt at the end of the day) with exhibitors showing over 150,000 innovative toys, games and youth entertainment products. I can’t wait.

I’ve  had a sneak preview from some of my favorite companies on Facebook and through press releases. I’m excited to meet Folkmanis puppets’ “Perched Eagle Puppet.” He looks Folkmanis eagle puppetso real I may need one of those special falconer’s gloves. We’ve got some exciting appointments set up to see old friends and meet new companies. Science kits, cooperative games, wooden toys, and laser pegs are on the schedule so stay tuned for my round-up of current toys trends and “Look Who’s Listening to Children with Special Needs.” In the several years that I have been attending the fair, I see an increased awareness by companies to reach out and market and label their products with the learning embedded by skill. Let’s hope that trend continues to grow!

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“Squirrels on Skis” Delights Kids in Speech Therapy

imgres-1I want to share a delightful new book, “Squirrels on Skis” by J. Hamilton Ray and Pascal Lemaitre. In this season of continuous snow storms on the east coast, it is a timely topic–of  snow that is! Kids just love the story of squirrels on skis invading a little town as they gleefully create havoc knocking down snowmen and taking over the town en masse. I’ve used this delightful story for articulation carryover (terrific for kids working on /s/) as well as with kids with word-finding difficulties as they re-tell this tale using the fun cartoon illustrations to elaborate and build vocabulary. There is plenty to talk about in a lesson on inference as a certain little rabbit has an illegal business going while happy skiers must go without lunch. Here is my full review:

Kids jump right into Squirrels on Skis, delighting in the zany story of a town overrun by squirrels swishing and swooping  among their houses, churches and shops. It’s no wonder this book is a Cat in the Hat Beginner Book with short rhythmic rhymes packed with energetic fun in the tradition of Dr. Seuss. Whether being read to or reading independently, kids couldn’t wait to turn the page to see what happened next. Overcome by this nuisance, the townspeople meet to get a plan to curb the enthusiastic skiers. “Mr. Powers stood up- to make his proposal: ‘There are many good ways to do squirrel disposal.’” Reporter Sally Sue Breeze needs to investigate fast to come up with a plan to save the squirrels from Mr. Powers’ proposed vacuum device.  With a deeper plot than many easy readers, this book provides plenty to talk about to expand and build language–predicting throughout, explaining why? and discussing feelings. Descriptive, onomatopoetic words fascinate readers, “With a swish and a swoop ad a crackle and crunch, they had so much fun skiing, they forgot to eat lunch,” building vocabulary and  comprehension skills, while Lemaitre’s delightful cartoon illustrations enhance the story providing detail for re-tell activities and inferential thinking.

Available at Amazon: Click here


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