Preview of the NY Toy Fair

IMG_0176Wow! The excitement is building with the countdown almost over for Toy Fair. It all starts tomorrow! That means that companies are finishing up their booths at the Javits Center which will transform into a wonderland of toys.

I’m getting so many emails each day highlighting new products to be featured at the show and wanted to share some that look fun:

Playmobil’s new Space Rocket with Launch Site is image002outfitted with working lights and sounds, a maintenance platform with space technicians, and a repair robot with tools and a computer to ensure as successful mission.

Also looking forward to Mattel’s Toy Fair Sneak Peak where there undoubtedly will be a lot of buzz around the new Barbies of curves and color. I for one am thrilled that Barbie has branched out to include more of us with a pear shape or shorter frame. I’m admittedly the former, not the later.

I’m already seeing companies marketing a new emphasis on play based language learning as they promote playing together and introduce new sets with a story theme. SmartLab Toys began an initiative this year to encourage parents to join in the fun and play together with their child. They quoted research that shows that “Families that play together are more cooperative, supportive and communicative.” I know from a language perspective that parents can elevate the play when they join in with their child. Now skills like collaboration, sharing, negotiating and verbalizing critical thinking are strengthened.

Okay, I just picked up my new business cards with our new address on it, ready to hand out as we meet Corolle, Janod, Alex, Wonderforge, Ravensburger, Playmobil, Lego, VTech, Crayola and more tomorrow! Stay tuned.




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

Saying Goodbye to My SLP Buddies

Version 2I don’t get surprised easily but tonight I thought I was meeting 2 friends for dinner and it turned out to be a surprise goodbye for me with the amazing speech pathologists with whom I had worked for 16 years! I hadn’t seen several of them for a while but we caught up so fast. When you work intensely, side by side with kids with special needs you form a special bond. I realized we shared the deep things going on in our lives as we were teaming to best help kids. We shared ideas, materials and laughs. But also I shared the plans for the house that we are now moving to, encouraged my friend to stick it out with her online date who then became her wonderful husband, and batted around successes and failures in child-rearing.

I’ve always said the best speech therapists work in the schools (now I know I am going to get in a little trouble for that) but I believe we sharpen each other and gain from being on a team with other professionals outside of speech. One of my colleagues is getting her PhD,  and another has written 4 books of activities for Alzheimer patients that is successful on Amazon, “Joggin’ Your Noggin, Fun and Challenging Word Games for Seniors.”  The IMG_0423others are taking on ever expanding caseloads of kids, working to improve their speech and language while being creative and fun.

My clever friend, Mary, even found the perfect gift for my move, a card game called “Play on Words” to keep me busy after the move. Many thanks to all my friends for the terrific send-off tonight. I will miss you all!

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First Games for 3 year-olds, Setting up Play

IMG_0415 (1)My twin grandchildren are approaching 3 and interested in playing games. There are so many wonderful first games for 3 year-olds by companies like WonderForge, ThinkFun, Educational Insights, SimplyFun and Peaceable Kingdom, to name a few of my favorites. The kids came home excited from their classmate’s birthday party yesterday with a perfect favor, a Little Mermaid and Jake and the Neverland Pirates On the Go Memory Match game.

Game play teaches kids so many skills for school–taking turns, waiting for your turn, thinking critically, scanning for all the information, building vocabulary, making decisions, and verbalizing, and making choices.

As we punched out the 54 picture cards per set, it occurred to me that things would get a little too complicated if we used them all. So I chose 6 pairs, 12 cards in all to start, also selecting cartoons that varied visually. I didn’t pick 2 Captain Hook illustrations that varied only with his position and adding a treasure chest but rather decided on Captain Hook, a map, Skully the parrot, Tick Tock the Alligator, a sword, and Cubby. Don’t be too impressed, I had to look up the names of the characters again and used Mommy’s permanent marker to annotate the game bags for future play!

I was glad that I simplified the game board so to speak as it took a few turns for the kids to understand  turning over 2 cards, and then letting their sibling take a turn. Memory games teach vocabulary like, “match, same, different, pair, and together,” which are helpful in later math descriptions.

Of course, kids put their own spin on a game and it’s great to go with their lead. In spite of my modeling gathering up your matching pair and placing it in your “pile,” Willie kept adding his winnings to Dabney’s pile, creating a collaborative game rather than competition. Look what kids are always teaching ME again!

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

How Dollhouse Play Can Strengthen Essential Learning Skills

Dollhouse play to encourage learningI have dollhouses on the mind lately. As I prepare to move out of state and pour over the stuff in my house (I am not a collector but it is amazing what accumulates) and decide where things go–the dump, re-sale shop or our next house–I came across my mom’s dollhouse that was passed on to me. It is truely an antique as her dad had it made for her over 80 years ago. It was ahead of it’s time with electric lights throughout and a long driveway to come up to the garage, probably because my grandpa loved his automobiles, as he called them.The story goes that when he surprised my mom with it, he hid his cigar down the chimney to have her believe that a real fire was burning in the fireplace! I spent hours in my imagination land, arranging and rearranging the dining room table and play food, the dolls in and out of their beds and going up and down the stairs.

Lundby dollhouse promotes pretend play and learningAs we took off for North Carolina last week, we packed our Lundby dollhouse to share with our 7 year-old granddaughter. Now kids can be kind of fickle as to what toys they are attracted to. She is not a doll person but loves stuffed animals and has moved through the unicorn phase to kittens.

A dollhouse is a fantastic venue to role-play, act out experiences and try new story lines with a miniature family, furniture and accessories. Caroline immediately IMG_0256started arranging the accessories, placing a bag on each bedpost with a kitten in it, moving the lit Christmas tree front and center, and taking the gnome to the potty and out on the deck to eat. Her customization included transforming the living room into a “Pet Room” with kittens, mommy cats, bed and water bowl. I can’t say I ever did that with my dollhouse but that’s what makes dollhouse play so flexible and personal–you can try out your storyline customized to your interests. As a matter of fact, Lundby encourages some DIY activities that includes making a frame out of beads. Both Caroline Lundby dollhouse DIYand her brother were busy making a dog and dragon out of their beads when we arrived so it was an easy transition to making a picture frame (she wanted her artwork on the walls) which moved on to  blue and red french fries and a hot dog.

As I was invited to play with Caroline with the dollhouse I was reminded of how our pretend play with a dollhouse encourages and strengthens essential learning skills:

  • language skills: Caroline asked me which kitty I wanted “to be” as we chose our animals for role-play. Children assign roles, develop and negotiate plots, and carry on dialogue, while they re-enact familiar activities in their daily life or try out new scenarios. They use language and expressions they have heard from Mom, Dad or other adults as well as generate their own, learning the power of language!
  • social skills: As playmates choose different characters to represent they can try out different social/emotional roles. They behave differently if they are the mommy cat or her kitten, learning to portray a character and how he or she must feel. Kids learn to take turns, even in negotiating the plot’s twists and turns. Little brother entered the play and chose the roof for a slide. That took us off into a new area and eventually big sister had to ask him to stop:)
  • creativity: Each room is a blank canvas as kids turn a living room into a pet shop, patio into a garden and family room into a gnome’s play room. Any dollhouse has open-ended play opportunities but some designed to be DIY give kids even more freedom to add their creative touches such as Hape’s DIY Dream House  with its empty picture frames and magnetic wall accessories to move about, as well as Plan Toys’  Creative Play House with modular rooms, movable staircase and walls , 2 solar cell roofs that can flip and become a garden, and 2 glass fences. Kids provided some solar energy and even designed a tennis court on the roof!
  • fine motor skills: As Caroline adeptly re-arranged furniture, plugged in electric lights and handled the tiny accessories, I watched her deal with her pretend world on a miniature scale. Parents are often looking for activities to strengthen fine motor skills for handwriting. Did they think of playing with a dollhouse?
Posted in 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

The New Grandma is not the Old Grandma

IMG_0490The reaction I had from my Grammy friends after I posted the NogginStik video, got me to thinking about the power of Grandma (and Grandpa of course)! I loved both of my grandmothers dearly but I don’t have one memory of them playing with me or reading me a book. I got my favorite set of pink kitchen appliances for my dolls from Bama and she introduced me to paper dolls to cut out at the back of McCalls Magazine (ok I am dating myself) and led me into imagination land in her toy closet, but sit at the table and play dolls or a game? No. Don’t get me wrong, all the love was there with beautifully hand written notes to congratulate me at every new stage of my growing up, spoiling me with handmade doll clothes and giving the biggest hugs.

But my Grandma friends are actively engaged in their grandchildren’s developmental milestones, asking for toy tips, how to build their grandchild’s language, when to worry and what books are the best. They get down on the floor and play with the kids. Personally I can’t think of anything more fun than giggling while constructing a fort, making breakfast on the pretend stove,  hiding in the gingerbread house with my grandkids or boarding the bus for a ride through Stepping Stones Museum.

There’s a powerful audience out there who has already raised their kids and is ready for round two on the floor for play.


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Old Toys That Still Rock!

IMG_1498As I am cleaning out in preparation for moving out of state, I am finding several old friends who have been by my side for many years of speech therapy. Pardon the nostalgia but they are attached to so many fun memories and were there for me when I needed them–meaning when a child was hard to get to cooperate, talk or listen, these old friends stepped right in and helped generate playful talking.

One is the old Fisher Price pirate ship with a working cannon and shooting spear. (may not be made anymore because of that!) At one point it was so important to my work that I had a second one for spare parts. I just googled it and found only a few images. Apparently it was made in 1995 and is the very first Great Adventures™ pirate ship made by Fisher-Price. I got both of my ships and accessories from Tag Sales. By the way, I just saw it on eBay for $125 in a sealed box. They missed out on a lot of fun over the last 20 years by leaving it in a sealed box.

IMG_0190Another special friend has been the Play-Doh First Creations Super Suitcase. Hasbro couldn’t have known when they named this how “super” this toy is. Many a child stopped resisting and forgot he was complying (talking) as I offered him another shape to continue making a vehicle out of a blob of Play-Doh. The train was a favorite as well as the whistle top on the truck. For fun I googled it and it is available on Amazon as a “collectable.” See they know the value of these oldies but goodies.

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NogginStik PAL Award Video

I’ve been a fan of SmartNoggin Toys and recently had the opportunity to team with them, making a video of their “NogginStik” light-up rattle. Capturing the babies’ interest and joy in watching and playing with the NogginStik was such fun.

Loaded with developmental learning features, the NogginStik was developed by early learning specialist, Marcia Haut. Marcia and I immediately clicked as therapists who “speak the same language” and both have a passion to help parents get the most fun and learning out of play time with their babies.

Listen to the tips on how to maximize learning while playing with your new little one to promote language learning.

  • Babies: Describe what your baby is looking at like a running commentary–what is he feeling, seeing and hearing–to encourage language development and listening skills, using rich vocabulary, not baby talk. “Look at Noggin’s face change from red to green. He’s moving over to this side and back to the other side, up/down, across, on/off” etc. Babies pick up more language when you are talking about what they are focused on and interested in so follow their focus of attention.
  • 3 months: Continue to pass the NogginStik back and forth and up and down, encouraging visual tracking, a skill needed for later reading, describing the action, colors and sounds.
  • 6 months: As your baby starts to reach and grab, learning cause-effect, describe how the NogginStik changes in colors and sounds.
  • 10-11 months: As your baby is learning to imitate, play a little game of shaking, banging and moving, pause and let her imitate you, describing her actions.

I gave each mom a NogginStik to take home and have heard that it is their baby’s favorite and mom’s “must have” toy in the diaper bag!


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

Desperate to Find That Missing Play Piece

IMG_1534I was going to title this blog, “The importance of Play Accessories ” but that sounded too boring so instead….”Desperate to Find That Missing Play Piece!”

As  I get ready for the Toy Fair, where I have to make quick analyses of hundreds of toys and games, my radar is out, looking for toys that have the best accessories to stimulate conversation and dialogue in play. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I had just begun my speech therapy session with a 4 year-old girl and we were assembling Malia’s Beach House. Build and Imagine’s CEO, Laurie Peterson, knows the value of accessories in pretend play as she provides categories of magnetic props to carry the story in different directions–food, clothes, toys, musical instruments, pets, beach or garden features. As I was playing with my little friend, I realized the magnetized telephone was missing. This is clearly my most effective prop in the set to generate language and the kids’ favorite too.  I asked my friend if she’d like to help me search my car. When I opened the IMG_0185hatch, there it was (only about 1/2”tall) dropped in the locking mechanism of my trunk! After borrowing a tweezers from the nanny, I was ready to continue play.

Each category of accessories provides an opportunity for a new chapter in the story–making lunch, getting ready for school, singing songs and making music, or planting a garden.

As companies are pitching their new products to be introduced at Toy Fair, I am already seeing gaping holes in the accessory area. It’s obvious to provide clothes for a figure doll but how many other categories of props can you offer for expanded imaginary play? A beach bag, sword or guitar can take the story down three different paths and provide the opportunity for learning while using new vocabulary, settings and plots.

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

New Year, New Chapter, New State

IMG_0038Wow, lots of “news” to report here. As of the end of December, I said goodbye to all my amazing families and kids that I’ve worked with in my speech therapy practice to start a new chapter in Play on Words. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every child who taught ME so much and will always put a smile on my face, as I remember them. Please stay in touch! As I said goodbye, some moms cried and kids were so sweet in their expressions as a 7 year-old said, “I’m so sad you’re going.” I even got invited to sleep over next Halloween by my 4 year-old friend!

Since we will be moving to Wisconsin this spring (and winter in North Carolina), it is an opportunity to spend more time on our PAL Award,  searching, recognizing and sharing with you the best toys, books and games to encourage language development through play. The toy industry is exciting because it’s based on kids and play. What could be better? As companies send out catalogues with their new 2016 products, we’re getting ready for Grand Hotel 3 Floorsthe Toy Fair in February. I like Hape’s quote, “Children don’t play to learn, they learn because they play.” Already I see the potential for rich play with Hape’s “High Seas Rocker,” a teeter totter in a tugboat, that could provide hours of pretend play
on the ocean or Educational Insights’ “Once Upon a Craft” bringing stories to life as kids read a book and then decorate crafts to re-tell the story with puppets, characters and props. STEM focused products are hot, particularly aimed at girls. I obviously like the ones that have a language building component like Build and Imagine, and a new company I will look forward to meeting, Wonderhood Toys. Their Grand Hotel and Corner Shops sets are great settings for imaginative play.

Stay tuned, I’ll be giving lots of previews as we ramp up to the Toy Fair!




Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Language, Toys | Leave a comment Announces 2015 PAL Award Top 10 Picks

We congratulate all of our outstanding Top 10 Picks for our Holiday Gift Guide 2015! Take a look and add to your list:

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Posted in Books, Games, Toys | 1 Comment