Best New Toys to Engage Multi-sensory learning

Janod_Shape%20Sorter%20Garden%20TexturesThis year at the Toy Fair in New York City I saw a trend in added sensory experiences in toys, especially tactile features. I wanted to share some of my favorites for adding learning dimensions to your child’s play time:

Janod’s Tactile Puzzle–A Day at the Zoo, Tactile Puzzle–Life on the Ice, and Shape Sorter–Garden Textures all have added textures like a furry hedgehog to pet, slippery, shiny green alligator’s back, sandpapery (is that a word??) tree leaves, and what feels like a real seal’s skin. Kids learn through many dimensions/ modalities and if a parent or caregiver can add language to their play as they explore how something feels, sounds, looks or is the same or different, a child’s language development is enhanced. The beautiful scenes in the puzzles invite talking about the animals in their habitats while the 4 scenes on the shape sorter suggest matching the shaped blocks to drop inside the box.

Go-Go-Smart-Animals-Furry-Animals-Assortment-1024x1024VTech’s Go! Go! Smart Animals Furry Animals Assortment were a big draw with kids as they moved along the floor or participated in one of their Go! Go! Smart Friends sets. We’ve had such fun with the Busy Sounds Discovery Home and I can’t wait to add these pets to the house. Their new Happy Paws Playland is coming out this year and these furry pets will add a realistic dimension to pretend pet play, building language skills.

IMG_0437Corolle’s first talking doll, Baby Bisou, says a few words that spark imitation and responses with kids. I especially like the smack I get for a kiss! These cuddly dolls smell like vanilla, adding to the sensory experience. Now kids learn to listen and respond as part of their pretend play as they care for baby.

Tiggly Shapes Got Talent” is Tiggly’s newest learning app designed in partnership with Herbert Ginsburg, Columbia’s Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Psychology and Education. With the option to use the brightly colored physical shape toys, kids can stamp the correct shape on their device to complete a question or create their own story. Kids are imgres-1drawn right in to Star’s invitation to join his game show, where the best shape can win the STAR-tastic trophy. Sad circle, confident Square, and tough Triangle, are given a series of challenges–which one has the most straight lines? or who can make a seesaw with a plank of wood? Teaching early geometry concepts in the context of building math vocabulary make this a terrific language learning experience.

monarch_3073_3poses_rgbFolkmanis makes fantastic puppets that come alive on the hands of kids and adults. This year their Monarch Life Cycle puppet reveals each stage of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to Monarch butterfly with an unzip, tuck and zip times three! A first grade class loved the puppet and the added hands-on and visual reinforcement of the magic of the butterfly’s life cycle, teaching through touch, visual and verbal sensory systems. Live caterpillars arrive soon in this classroom and the kids have a head start on understanding the cycle.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Apps, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Speech-Language Impairments Rank #1 in Kids 3-5 (IDEA)

IMG_3819ASHA Leader Magazine is a favorite of mine. I was just reading the April issue and turning down the corners on several fantastic, relevant articles. Here’s one that got my attention, “Speech-Language Impairments Rank First, Second Highest By Age” So Speech-Language impairments are the most prevalent disability category for children 3-5 and rank second in the 6-21 year old category, second to specific learning disabilities, under IDEA.

I guess we sort of knew that, based on our bulging caseloads with preschoolers, right? It makes me even more passionate about calling out the best toys and games and features in play that can build language skills in young kids.

One of the things I love about private practice is that I am in the homes and parents are at least listening if not watching therapy. With my littlest clients I insisted that I had time with parents at the end of a session to demonstrate games, methods and activities to enhance progress on their speech and language goals. I wanted to teach them “how” to select a beneficial toy or game, what to look for and how to come along side their child to maximize progress. Some parents got it right away and started sharing ideas with me which was a joy. Others took longer to get it but they were always willing.

Positive play experiences for children from birth through 5 years can give them a boost in language skills relating to later reading and writing too.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Speech and Language Delay, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | 1 Comment

Kids Learn Independently With The New Smartscope



It was a joy to watch my three friends, aged 5, 8 and 9 years old, gather their specimens from outside and head to their new Ravensburger Smartscope to magnify, identify, explore and learn. We started with pollen (since we were all sneezing in the advent of spring), a rose pedal, grass seedlings and bark. We used our iPad to examine our treasures and take pictures but a smartphone or other device works also. The kids were fascinated with what they saw–veins in the leaves and petals, red tip at the end of the grass, linear salt crystals, and the spurs that come off the back legs of a tick. The descriptive conversation flowed fast and easily. You can’t help compare before and after appearances using the Smartscope. “Look it, look it!” “The evergreen looks like a braid. The pollen is woven with hairs on the edges.” They couldn’t get enough of this magnification adventure. The 9 year-old re-appeared with his jar of precious found IMG_0309objects which included several shark teeth and shells. The kids had great fun snapping pictures of the different objects which completely changed close up. They agreed that the sharks’ teeth were the most interesting although in the middle of checking out their objects one of the kids said, “What if I stuck my finger in there? I’m gonna look at my nail. Let’s try Sam’s!!” Ravensburger includes a booklet filled with “places to start” such as water droplets, insects and spiders with suggestions as to what to look for, as well as descriptions of detail and facts to discover about critters and plants found on their poster of the forest, water, meadows, beach and home. My 9 year-old finally looked up from the Smartscope and said, “I’m gonna have some fun times with this!”


Posted in 8 years and up, Elementary School Age, Language, Toy Reviews | Leave a comment

Teaching on the Floor in Comfort with Teacher Chair

IMG_0829Some of you have seen my video when I discovered the prize at the end of the first day of the Toy Fair. The “Teacher Chair” was awaiting me among all the cute imaginative play tents in Pacific Play Tents’ booth. I can’t tell you how comfortable this padded chair is whose back reclines easily to 6 positions. Like many therapists and teachers, I am on the floor a good percentage of my teaching time and it’s becoming less and less comfortable. I usually try to back up against a piece of furniture until it starts to move back with me! As an itinerant therapist I carry my materials to different homes. When I arrived with this chair over my shoulder, even Dad said, “Wow.” Mom, a first grade teacher was so excited to see how comfortable it was and her kids fought over sitting in it. She said, “It’s a big trend in education right now to provide alternative seating for all kids so they don’t have to just sit in a chair at a desk all day.” “We have balls and a couch in our room. My principal would love this.” Providing a comfortable seat for a teacher so she can be at the kids’ level as well as possibly a fresh alternative to traditional seating for kids that learn best in a less restrictive mode, this Teacher Chair is a must for the classroom. By the way, she wrote me the next day that she showed it to her principal who okayed her purchase of 2 chairs for her classroom! That’s quite an endorsement.

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New Jane Goodall Rainforest Research Camp Inspires Little Female Leaders

IMG_2720Little girls and Moms loved the concept of doll role-play emulating the inspiring female scientist Dr. Jane Goodall. My little friend heard that I had The Queen’s Treasures new set and couldn’t contain herself waiting for me to put the tent and research desk together. She started right in telling me all about Jane Goodall, having read several books about her and had a read-aloud in her second grade class to inspire girls to follow their passion and be scientists. She knew the story so well that she started by ruffling her doll’s hair since she was out in the wild! She and her brother and doll took off to look for and study her beloved chimpanzees (her Mom and baby plush were carefully placed under a chair for the canopy of the rainforest) with the camera, and telescope. Jane Goodall returned to the research camp and wrote in her journal and typed out her day’s observations. My friend added her time of sickness when she had to stay on her cot in the tent. Moms loved this set designed to empower girls to IMG_0519emulate strong role models like scientist Dr. Goodall who said, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Pretend play can build confidence, social skills, and language complexity through generating a story. How exciting that it might also inspire some future leaders! 

Note: 10% of sales will be donated to the Jane Goodall Institute to support Dr. Goodall’s research, chimpanzee conservation and the graduation of a new generation of conservationists.

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Hot New Products for Baby/Toddlers

I’ve been a big fan of Fisher Price toys from way back. The first toys I bought for my first job in preschool speech therapy were the FP farm and house. I just recently parted with them as they had lived a good life. Here’s a video of their new products that will make baby AND parents happy as they soothe, rock, inspire exploration and learning and give a playful environment for eating:

Rumple Buddies, designed by a Mom, invites lots of looking with the high contrasting red/white/black features and feeling with sensory experiences to describe for language learning:

IMG_0681FunFlex allows parents and caregivers to clip the learning to the stroller, car seat or high chair for “flex”ible play!



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Video Toy Reviews for Teachers and Speech Therapists of Puppets and Playtents

Toy Fair 2016 was alive with so many exciting new toys and games that can spark language learning. Here are some of my favorites that educators will love that we had to capture on video:

Folkmanis Puppets: Elaine Kolias is such a hoot when she slips her hand into one of their beautiful, life-like puppets. The 2-zip case that folds out to show the 3 stages of caterpillar to butterfly will be a show-stopper in the classroom.

Pacific Play Tents: I fell in love with Pacific Play Tent’s “Teacher Chair” before I knew its name. How many of us are on our knees or sitting on the floor a little too long during the teaching day and would like some relief? Every preschool and kindergarten teacher should have this chair so they can be down at the level of their kids for teaching and still be comfortable. AND their cute Food Truck tent would be great for the pretend play area.




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New Toy Videos from Toy Fair 2016

I know lots of you are fans of Build and Imagine sets so I wanted to introduce you to their newest set, “Pet Portrait Studio.”

Here’s a product that will keep the kids busy on a snow day….InRoad’s PlayTape. Honestly I have friends who can’t wait to take this to the grandkids who love little Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. They have narrow and wide tape as well as curves now so this track can lead all over the house! It really does go on easily and comes off better than typical masking tape.

Alex Toys makes learning fun with all the intriguing features on their activity boxes. This year they introduced 2 new cubes, one is “My First House Activity Center” with each side engaging the child in activities associated with a room in the house–bedroom. bathroom, playroom and an outdoor playground on top!

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Toy Fair 2016, Look What I Saw

IMG_0559I’m moving fast to cover the thousands of companies displaying at the Javitts Center but I have my eye out for companies who are creative and intentional about learning in their products. Here’s what was exciting to me:

Calling out products for kids with Special Needs: Rubbabu devoted a large space in their booth for products helpful to kids with Special Needs. Companies are now starting the conversation with me, while 5 years ago I was working so hard to educate them to see how their toys could benefit kids with specific learning deficits. I’ve used Rubbabu’s products for years, especially with kids around 18 months who weren’t talking yet. The fuzzy squishy but firm pieces are easily gripped by toddlers and many can stand up to manipulate and talk about.

Toys that transform to expand learning: I wasn’t far into my visit at V-Tech’s booth IMG_0532to be anticipating how the toy I was viewing was going to transform into a new configuration(or two!) for the child’s next stage of learning. Their “Gallop and Rock Learning Pony” gives toddlers a great pretend ride until they are ready to really move. Just  flip over the rails, add wheels and they are off to another room! Baby Amaze’s stroller can change into a bassinet for bathing and then a high chair, providing 3 different forms for 3 different pretend play scenarios. Parents love toys that grow with their kids, moving with them to the next play level. Fisher Price’s 4-in-1 Total Clean High Chair got my attention because not only does it come apart in sections to advance 4 stages of development with the child (2 heights high chair, booster seat, youth chair) but all the sections fit into the dish washer!! Yes, I don’t have to hose down my high chair after the grandkids leave:)



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New York Toy Fair 2016 Hot Trends for Learning Toys


I’m a fan

Every year I get so amped for The International Toy Fair in New York City–no caffeine needed–as we scour the isles of the Javits Center for fun new products embedded with language learning potential. The creativity, passion and spunk of toy designers/companies inspires and excites me. Each year I see more companies calling out the specific learning skills in their toys and introducing products that make learning fun for ALL kids. After walking the nearly half million square feet, it is time to put my feet up and share the trends I see for 2016:

Whoa Horses!  Working in homes, I see horses are a hot item in the playroom so kids will have some fantastic sets to choose from this year. “Janod’s Country Club Riding School” is new to their Cardboard World with a tack room and stable opening up to to reveal 38 accessories while closing back into a suitcase–don’t we love a take-along story starter? Ride the rails to Brio’s “Countryside Horse Set” to groom your horse or teach him to jump, inviting creativity in pretend play.

Try a Little Tech: Traditional companies that we love who produce kid-powered toys IMG_0437have added a tiny bit of tech to engage kids but not overwhelm them, maintaining the core values of their brand. As I cradled Corolle Dolls’ Bebe Bisou and pressed her tummy, she replied with, “MaMa” and a “smooch” right on my cheek. Brio, known for kid-driven sound effects and power, has added a remote controlled train to their track sets and it’s easy enough even for me to operate. Pairing traditional play with technology, but strictly adhering to high quality learning, Tiggly is coming out with another outstanding app to use with their physical shapes, “Tiggly Shapes Got Talent,” as circles and squares compete in a clever star search, led by you-know-who, the STAR.


Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series

STEM Adds an L? Okay, this is for all my clever readers, can you come up with a way to add an “L” to the acronym STEM since language is a crucial component in the critical thinking, problem-solving and drawing conclusions necessary in the sciences? I was thrilled to see companies going deeper in their design of STEM toys, adding a Language dimension. Guidecraft’s Power Clix Explorer Series has added figures and original cartoons (created by a 16 year-old) to start the story and get imaginations churning in their magnetic building sets. Women CEO/designers saw the gap in their daughter’s toys and are giving us STEM building sets that emphasize constructing a corresponding story, stretching language skills. Build and Imagine has led the way, encouraging girls (boys love them too) to build structures providing the setting for pretend play with figures. Roominate adds electricity for options to open and close a garage door or drive the elevator in their new “Mansion.” New to the group, Wonderhood, has introduced a fabulous Hotel and Corner Shops. STEM careers are presented through story-based building in K’Nex’s new “Mighty Makers.”


The Queen’s Treasures

Girl Power:  How fun to see the new curvy Barbie up close at Mattel’s event. Her pear shape resonated with me for obvious reasons. New options celebrated “being me” on either side of the Doll aisle. I met “Naturally Perfect” dolls who are celebrating the natural beauty of girls of color with kinky/curly hair. Since I threw out the flat iron last summer and freed myself from all straightening attempts, I can relate. They are beautiful, with the right message. The Queen’s Treasures will be coming out with a new Jane Goodall line of doll accessories continuing to celebrate real people who’ll inspire new generations of creators and discoverers.  Go! Go! Sports Girls led the way for girls to”appreciate and be true to themselves.” Check out their new doll and book sets.


Playmobil’s Adventure Tree House

Woodland Story Themes: Alex Toys is known for its activity cubes jam-packed with exploratory learning. A favorite this year is their “Woodland Wonders Activity Cube” with such a variety of hands on discoveries around the outdoor theme–letters and even a pond on top–giving parents plenty to describe using new and challenging vocabulary. Kids will live and eat among the trees with Playmobil’s new “Adventure Tree House” while Lego Friends’ new “Adventure Camp Tree House” provides a challenging climbing wall, turning bridge obstacle, slide, and tire swing.


Fabver-Castell’s Spark Lab

Best in Show for Combining Multiple Modes of Learning Fun: I had to have a category for the toys I was most impressed with that combined multiple dimensions of learning. Faber-Castell’s Spark Lab was created in conjunction with the Smithsonian taking young entrepreneurs through the steps to invent and eventually sell a product–super shoe, toy, money or robot. Planning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiating, are all language skills that go into creating a product. WonderForge did it again, making us laugh and learn with their “Thing Two, Thing One, Whirly Fun” preschool game, challenging kids to work together (social skills, language) to clean up fast after The Cat in the Hat and his helpers make a mess of the house (inspires pretend play) before mom gets home (fine motor skills). I’ve seen and played with a lot of trains, but the new Hape Railway has a fresh, ingenious take on the preschool rail adventure, led by animal rail cars. Stocked with original sensory, manipulative activities along the way. Toddlers activate monkeys jumping up from the trees, shape sorters, run across a xylophone, and enter a jungle car wash.

Posted in 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 8 years and up, Birth-3 year-olds, Games, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toy Reviews, Toys | Leave a comment