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

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