Happy Halloween!

Halloween ninja turtlesI hope everyone had a happy, safe and dry? Halloween. We had lots of ninjas, teenage mutant ninja turtles and princesses come to our door in spite of the drizzle outside!

It was a special day for me as it was my birthday too. I enjoyed hearing from so many new and old friends who remembered all our costume parties growing up:)


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Preschool Articulation Therapy Lesson with 3D Dinoland Puzzle

Alex 3D Dinoland:jpgFor some reason, I find myself getting several new students this fall, all of whom are 4 year-old boys with articulation delays. Several of them come described as “mumbling” by their mothers and have overall imprecision as well as substitutions on specific sounds they should have mastered by this age. It’s time to pull out the dinosaurs!

Yesterday I told a mom that her son and I “got in our groove” as I pulled out Alex Toys’ new 3D Dinoland puzzle, a new PAL Award winner, and had continuous talking for 45 minutes! We were working on “moving our mouth,” following my model of emphasizing all the sounds in a sentence, as well as auditory discrimination between productions where we moved or didn’t move our mouth. A simple thumbs up or down showed me that Ben could distinguish the difference in my speech as well as his. Our puzzle was the perfect therapy material for providing interesting phrases or sentences for Ben to repeat.

  • First we put together the flat portion of the puzzle and talked about what pieces were looking for, “I need white dots,” or “I’m looking for a yellow tail.” It felt like a little treasure hunt.
  • We made our way around the circular puzzle describing each section, “The babies have hatched,” “Something is peaking out of the cave,” or “The volcano is erupting.”
  • Then we assembled the volcano, and each of the dinosaurs, including a Pterodactyl, T Rex and Stegosaurus repeating, ‘”I need two legs,” or “He needs hands.”
  • Magically the figures entered into pretend play, as Ben flew the pterodactyl over the volcano, avoiding lava and put the dinosaurs through their paces of eating, playing, swimming and finally sleeping, where he used the Playmobil instructions as blankets!

Alex Dinoland pretendThis puzzle could easily be used for a language lesson too, providing and acting out language models throughout play. Enjoy!

Here is my full review:

Kids love to take over the floor to construct their 3D Dinoland jumbo puzzle. Piece together an ocean, forest, desert and mountain scenes as a backdrop for a variety of dinosaurs as the flat base for play as you build your six 3D dinosaurs and erupting volcano. Your stegosaurus, T-Rex, and pterodactyl dinosaurs can roam the land of imagination and pretend play as preschoolers provide sound effects and conversation for their models. High quality, thick cardboard pieces fit together to become durable pretend play characters to build a story and reinforce language skills.




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

6 Tips For Navigating Early Intervention Screening To Receive Speech Therapy Services

Shoe last sculpture

Shoe Last Sculpture

Last week a mom called to ask me about working with her 21 month-old little girl who had been tested by birth-Three Services twice since July and did not qualify for services. The mom reported that both she and her pediatrician were concerned with her daughter’s apparent delay in expressive language since she was only saying a few words and not able to imitate. Little Charlotte scored right at her age level for receptive language (understanding) but 2 standard deviations below the mean for her age in expressive language (talking). Unfortunately, this is a common scenario that parents come to me with, frustrated that because their child can understand, it is assumed that don’t need help expressing themselves verbally, using words.

I thought it would be helpful if I gave parents some of my tips for navigating the process to bring about the greatest success in terms of receiving speech and language services for their child. Let me preface this list by saying that although I have great respect for the professionals serving the Birth to Three Program, I do feel a parent’s advocacy can be important at several steps:

  • Be informed. Find out as much as you can about the early intervention program in your state–what scores qualify a child for services, the cost, who provides the therapy etc. In Connecticut’s Birth to Three Program, a child is eligible for services when testing reveals a standard deviation of -2.0 in one area of development or -1.5 in two areas of development.  Standard deviations between -1.0 and +1.0 indicate age appropriate development in an area (Self Help/Adaptive, Social/Emotional, Physical-Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Communication–Receptive Language and Expressive Language and Cognitive).
  • Be prepared. I always ask parents for a list of what words a child is saying before I come to test them. Write them out phonetically by sounds such as uppa/up, da/cup, or ju/juice. First of all, it’s been my experience that kids have more words than their parents think they do and when asked to listen and observe, parents find the list sometimes goes from less than 10 to 20 or more. Quite a difference. By giving this list to the testing professional, you are helping a stranger catch up on your child’s capabilities quickly and make a more accurate assessment.
  • Request the most specialized therapist to test your child in the area of concern. If you are worried about your child’s language development, ask for a speech language pathologist to be part of the team to do the testing. Seems obvious, right? I consulted with a parent today whose only concern and reason for evaluation was her child’s language delay and the Early Intervention services sent out an occupational and physical therapist to test. Mom asked questions about tongue function, based on other input and the testers said, “I’ve never heard of that.” I have great respect for all these professions but I wouldn’t want to be the the expert testing children in their fields of expertise.
  • Speak up. If you disagree with the assessment of your child (you know them the best) speak up. You want an accurate picture of your child’s abilities. If his scores are borderline, offer other information that might speak to the need for services such as behavior issues as a result of not being understood. If you disagree with the eligibility decision, ask to talk with a supervisor. This also holds true concerning how often therapy is recommended. Weekly is always better than twice a month for consistency.
  • When therapy starts, again, request that the therapist be in the specific field of your child’s deficit. Again, this sounds obvious, but I have counseled parents to get a speech therapist for speech therapy!
  • Get involved. Watch, listen, and learn how to carryover and implement the strategies that the therapist is using with your child. Continuing to engage with your child in these specific ways will bring faster progress and satisfaction in being part of the process.
Posted in Birth-3 year-olds | Leave a comment

Challenging Behaviors in Speech Therapy Within A Child’s Home

Essex Front Door

Door I liked in Essex, CT

I have been thinking a lot about how to address several situations I found myself in lately as I entered a home for the first time to meet a family and start working with their child. Maybe because it is the fall and I am taking several new children on my caseload, or that I just have had some especially challenging situations lately with little boys (hey, I’m not discriminating–I don’t have any girls on my caseload right now!) and their behavior.

Many of you know that I worked in the public and non-public schools for 16 years before going into private practice where I travel to homes and deliver services at the kitchen table, on the floor, in the playroom or basement. When I had my own therapy room, I set the rules, kids knew what to expect and what the consequences were for not following those rules. The first rule was to have fun of course. It is a different setting when I walk into someone’s home and I can quickly see who rules, the parents, the kids, or some combination thereof. Stephanie Dowling, MA, CCC, SLP
recently blogged on this topic for Advance Magazine and said it well,

“In the home care setting, the scenario is much different. In this situation, you are entering into someone else’s home and long before you showed up, rules (or no rules) were set. The biggest challenge for me occurs in this setting when I see a child’s true potential not being met because of how behaviors are or are not being handled. We have been sent to this person’s home to address their child’s speech and language delay/disorder, not their behavior. However, as any seasoned therapist knows, how a child behaves can and will directly affect their ability to communicate and vice versa.”  

Of course, after 35 years working with kids I am a master of distraction and can usually get them to forget their obstinance and engage in a fun game before they know it. But sometimes parents, unknowingly can get in the way and actually reinforce noncompliant behavior.

Yesterday turned out to be pretty funny but when I arrived, I wasn’t quite sure how I would resolve the situation. The little boy I had come to meet was already saying, “I don’t want a teacher,” “I’m not doing any work,” (without laying eyes on me) and moved on to “I don’t play games that aren’t mine” after he looked in my bag. It was actually so silly that it was funny. I let him rant a bit and got some history from mom, as he started to get a little more interested in my “Who Shook Hook?” game. By the end of a productive session he was asking me if I could come every day. Phew!

I’m actually going to repeat a few of Stephanie’s tips and add to them:

  • Be consistent. No matter what the situation in the home, I try to make my little space my therapy realm and stay consistent with expectations. Often with little ones (sometimes up to 3rd grade) I offer the model, “Sure Sherry,” when they are being obstinant. Somehow it stops the negative comments and moves to the positive, AND it gives a little alliteration which is fun.
  • Have fun. Kids need to see that therapy is fun when they cooperate. I bring great games, crafts, and books and they can’t wait to get their hands on them. Stephanie talked about “Being Fair” which is part of this that we don’t want to be so tough that kids can’t relax and do their best.
  • Learn what the child likes. Recently, several of the boys who challenged me at the beginning turn out to love art, drawing and even writing. I am using all these activities to motivate them and the negative behavior is diminishing. Alex Toys and  Wooky Entertainment offer great craft kids broken down into small steps to use for speech therapy session reinforcement.
  • Take it slow. Sometimes I am trying to get the most accomplished and jump right into therapy and really I should devote the session to getting to know my new friend, with a little more chat and not so many expectations.
  • Consider asking the parent to listen from the other room and see if the child focuses more on you and the therapy activity. Often this helps the child keep their focus, without two adults present. Then I invite the parent to join us for the last few minutes to “Show off” what we did.

The bottom line is I am a speech language therapist, not a behavioral specialist, (although I have had training and learned from some great co-workers), and need to have a cooperative child to get the most progress to build their speech and language. The longer I work with a family, the easier it is to partner in that process.

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

Language-Gap Study Bolsters Push For Pre-K, Article in NYT Today

Ben in capeThe front page story in the New York Times today has a fascinating article on a new study reinforcing the results of research two decades ago, finding that children of higher income families hear a greater quantity of words than those in low income families, and the gap widens beginning at 18 months. Here is a recap of the article, thanks to my husband who took great notes! It reinforces the idea that as speech pathologists we need to continue the drumbeat to educate ALL parents on how to talk and play with their preschoolers to encourage language development and reading.

Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K by M. Rich, NY Times, 10/22/2013

  •  90’s study showed that low income kids have heard millions fewer words by age 3
  • New study shows a language gap as early as 18 months
  • “Professional” parents speak 30 million more words to their kids by age 3
  • Reading challenges persist where oral language and vocabulary are anemic
  • As income disparity widens, literacy/language gaps widen and are hard to undo
  • Literacy experts have documented the importance of:
  • Early vocabulary strength links to later success in reading comprehension
  • Natural conversations with children (versus memorizing flashcards)
  • Asking questions while reading books
  • Helping children identify words during playtime
  • The best fix to these problems may be surprising
    • Study showed < 15% of classes had effective teacher-student interactions
    • Generally unrealistic to put kids in a “program” to fix vocabulary/literacy, without teacher training
    • School based in-class interactions and programs not the cure-all
  • Is it ALL about income gaps?
    • NO! … A study showed that among 29, 19 month-olds, all from low income households, some heard as few as 670 “child directed words” in one day, yet others as many as 12,000 (and the those in the“more” group were able to understand words more quickly and had larger vocabularies by age 2)
    • TO ADDRESS THE LANGUAGE GAP … engage verbally at home.

“Even in families that are low income and perhaps don’t have a lot of education, there are some parents that are very engaged verbally with their kids, and those kids are doing better in language development.” Adriana Weisleder, Stanford


SUMMARY: Kids are language driven computers from very early on, and the quantity and quality of input counts. Kids who are intentionally engaged through social interaction, reading and play respond consistently with better understanding, larger vocabularies and stronger reading comprehension, all tied to the quality of their lives and the development of their capacities. Cognition starts early, input is directly proportional to output, the results of a lack of input, or poor input is well documented, as are the rewards of intentionality.

REFERENCES: Anne Fernald, psychologist and graduate assistant, Adriana Weisleder, Stanford University; Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund; National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University; David Dickinson, Vanderbilt University; Catherine Snow, Harvard University; Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research; Anne E. Cunningham, a psychologist and literacy specialist from the University of California

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Language, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 1 Comment

Playonwords.com Announces Fall 2013 PAL Award Winners

Playonwords.com Presents Their Fall 2013 PAL Awards – Best Toys, Games and Books That Spark Language Development Through Play

Play On Words LLC, led by highly respected speech language pathologist Sherry Artemenko, announces 2013′s Fall PAL Award Winners, the toy industry’s only recognition directed by a credentialed speech-language expert recognizing the language learning edge in exceptional toys, games and books. Sherry’s 35 years of child development experience with over 15,000 hours working with kids empower her PAL selections, popular blog, private practice and media appearances.

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Sherry Artemenko, PAL Founder, and NBC-CT anchor Kerri-Lee Mayland sharing “High Tea,” with PAL Award Winning Wonder Forge creation, “Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Time Game.” (September 9, 2013)

I just love to see what [toys] you bring, because it’s so different every time and you do not disappoint. – NBC-CT’s Kerri Lee Mayland

Southport, CT (PRWEB) October 22, 2013

Play On Words LLC, led by highly respected speech language pathologist Sherry Artemenko, announces 2013′s Fall PAL (Play Advances Language) Winners. This recognition is the toy industry’s only program directed by a credentialed speech-language expert recognizing the language learning edge in exceptional toys, games and books. Distinguished by unique design, quality and character, these PAL winners can generate rich play that advances language. Sherry’s 35 years of child development experience with over 15,000 hours working with kids empower her PAL selections, popular blog, private practice and media appearances.

“I’m excited to see companies integrating language learning in their products to stretch students to collaboratively solve problems and work toward solutions whether creating a project with circuit modules or cooperating on a preschool game to find hidden pirate treasure. Science tools designed for girls 8 years and up include an ‘activity journal’ to record observations and comparisons or create a song or poem describing the moon, building cognitive and language skills while requiring writing. Since PAL winners exhibit intrinsic learning qualities, kids enjoy great play, unaware they’re engaged in practicing communication skills.”



EARLY DEVELOPMENT: Sherry’s daily experience in pediatric speech therapy gives her an eye for the best products to build attention, vocabulary, and concepts through play, preparing children for their first sounds, words and sentences. From listening and learning patterns through a musical gator, pulling a shape-sorting snail or exploring a magic forest of friends in a soft fold-out book, kids learn essential language skills.

  • Busy Bead Maze – Mermaid Adventure by Alex Toys
  • Grow-With-Me Activity Gym and Ball Pit by Infantino
  • Linda Lamb Pull Toy by Steiff
  • Magic Forest Friends by HABA
  • Mighty Mini Band by Hape
  • Musical Gator by Alex Toys
  • Rolling Busy Bus by Alex Toys
  • Sensory Pals by Infantino
  • Touch and Feel Critter Ball Set by Infantino
  • Trampili Elephant Music by Steiff
  • Walk-Along-Snail by Hape
  • Wonder Whale Kicks and Giggles Activity Gym by Infantino

LANGUAGE STRUCTURE: These outstanding products can build language structure, often teaching vocabulary, concepts or grammar while delivering fun. Problem solving, predicting, collaborating, and negotiating while creating working electrical circuits or journaling the dynamics of the moon over time, all strengthen communication.

  • Animal Patterns Puzzle by BigJigs
  • Base Kit by littleBits
  • Disney Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game by Wonder Forge
  • Disney Jake and the Neverland Pirates Shipwreck Beach Treasure Hunt Game by Wonder Forge
  • Disney Sofia the First Royal Prep Academy Game by Wonder Forge
  • Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Time Game by Wonder Forge
  • Doodle Jump by Ravensburger
  • Freeze Up! By Educational Insights
  • Justice League Axis of Villains Strategy Game by Wonder Forge
  • Nancy B’s Science Club Moonscope and Star Gazer’s Activity Journal by Educational Insights
  • Nancy B’s Science Club Microscope and Activity Journal by Educational Insights
  • Nancy B’s Science Club AquaScope and Underwater Wonders Activity Journal by Educational Insights
  • Ooga Booga by Blue Orange Games
  • Rory’s Story Cubes Voyages by Gamewright
  • Stuffed Full of Fun Small Sticker Tubs by PomTree
  • That’s It! by Gamewright
  • Spot It! Basic English by Blue Orange Games
  • What’s the Racket? by HABA

(PRE)READING: Learning the parts of a well-written story in a clever adaptation of a famous fairy tale or meeting the capital letters through poems designed to help remember letter forms, children pick up essential skills to promote reading and writing.

  • Alphabet Anatomy – Meet The Capital Letters by Linda Ann Jones
  • Jumbo Bananagrams by Bananagrams
  • Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet
  • Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School by Candlewick Press

STORY-TELLING/ PRETEND PLAY: Whether preparing dinner in a dollhouse with micro-light fixtures, coupling magnetized cars to animate a train, applying bandaids to make a patient “all better,” or picnicking in a gingerbread cottage, children enter the world of pretend, creating their own stories with a variety of flexible props to guide their imagination. Oral story-telling precedes writing as kids learn the steps to create a good narrative.

  • 3D Dinoland by Alex Toys
  • Disney Doc McStuffins All Better! Game by Wonder Forge
  • Doc McStuffins Get Better Checkup Center by Just Play
  • Fire Station by Hape
  • Gingerbread Cottage Playhouse by Win Green
  • Little Baby Trampili Elephant by Steiff
  • Little Floppy Sissi Piglet by Steiff
  • Mocky Hippopotomus by Steiff
  • Nanoblock Under the Sea by Ohio Art
  • Robo Creatures Assortment by K’Nex
  • Rural Road and Rail Set by Bigjigs Toys
  • Smaland Doll’s House by Lundby
  • SmartMax Tommy Train by Smart Toys and Games, Inc.
  • Take Along Modern Doll House by Playmobil
  • Tickey Toc Talking Tallulah/Tickety Toc Talking Tommy by Just Play
  • Tinkertoy Pink Building Set by K’Nex

SOCIAL LANGUAGE: Pairing closely with pretend play, social language blossoms when children play with toys that encourage extended social interactions. Working cooperatively to fell the teenage mutant ninja turtles balancing in a game, wearing a t-shirt that carries a save the planet pet in the pocket, or assembling a beautiful puzzle with grandma promotes group interaction.

  • Bugs In The Kitchen by Ravensburger
  • Dressing Girl Puzzle by BigJigs Toys
  • Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Flying Attack Skill and Action Battle Game by Wonder Forge
  • NYC Christmas Puzzle by Ravensburger
  • Planet Buddeez Tees and Hoodies by Planet Buddeez LLC
  • Santa’s Workshop Puzzle by Ravensburger
  • Skunk Bingo by Gamewright
  • Walkie Talkies by Backyard Safari

To see all Playonwords PAL Award winners, go to:

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

Easy Gingerbread House For Speech Therapy

5020-Candy-Contruction_sm-337x225I pride myself in surprising kids with new, exciting toys since I have wonderful products sent to me weekly for review for our PAL Award. But I must say, I learn a lot from the playrooms I visit each week, discovering some terrific toys for speech therapy.

Today I was greeted by a little friend’s older sisters who were home for Columbus Day so we all got to have our speech therapy session together which was fun. They introduced me to Candy Construction Building Set by Learning Resources which looks like a sweet spin on tinkertoys. The 92-piece plastic set allows kids to construct a gingerbread house that won’t be tempting to eat, but provide some fun in the making. Round peppermint connectors, large and small swirl sticks, giant gumdrops, chocolate roof panels and block connectors are ready to meet the best of imaginations.

I found this box of “candy” a perfect reinforcing activity for an articulation lesson, as kids practices a few sentences or described what they were going to do with the pieces before adding to the structure. Kids loved playing with it too.

Ages 4 to 8

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Halloween Spider Fun in Speech Therapy

Ah SpiderOkay, spiders aren’t my favorite bug, but as long as they are cute in a book, I am okay with them. Let’s not get into snakes though!

Today I brought out one of my favorite Halloween books for Speech Therapy, Aaaarrgghh: Spider! and had such fun with a little guy who is just starting therapy and not sure if it is fun yet:) I know it is but he isn’t quite convinced. He is working on /s/ and /s/ blends which makes this a perfect book for those goals. This poor spider wants so badly to become the family pet but his rather clever arguments seem to just scare his adopted family. My little friend loves art so after the story, we took a pencil and traced over the raised spider web–which he thought was magic–and then he drew his own spider, which actually looked like a sea anemone but he was very proud.

In looking over past blogs, I found this one worth repeating about the other lessons I did with this book for kids with processing difficulties and autism:

I shared some of my favorite Halloween books last week and have used them when working with kids with typically developing language as well as those with auditory processing difficulties, and those on the autism spectrum. I had quite a fun time with Aaaarrgghh: Spider!with a little fellow on the autism spectrum that I wanted to share.

Our goals include being attentive to a book and answering wh-questions as well as building pretend play skills. It all came together with this goofy book about a spider campaigning to be the family pet! We started out with my wonderful collection of bugs, including spiders, a jar with a magnifying lid, Play-doh of course, and some little Fisher Price furniture and playground items.

We talked about the spiders, chose different ones to look at under the magnifying glass and then read the book. I pointed out the faces of the family and reactions to the spider’s attempts at winning them over. We copied surprised, scared and happy faces. Then we got out the Play-doh and made a web, stuck the flies and bugs in it for eating, and hung the spider down from the web to dangle over our dinner, as in the book. We copied the reactions of the family at the sight of a spider waving over our food.

Then, much to my delight, my little friend took off in his play. I was holding a fly and he had the spider when he hid the spider under a mound of Play-doh and started counting. I followed his lead of starting a game of hide and seek with our bugs! We took turns searching for each other’s bugs and he created two new spots for hiding–great flexible play. Then I got out my Play-doh oven as an option for a hiding place. After our bugs hid in it, he piled several bugs in and started to lift it up with sound effects. I asked what he was doing and he said, “It’s landing.” When I asked what is was (the oven), he said, “A plane.” Wow! That was an exciting step up in pretend play to assign a different use to an object than what is it intended for. He proceeded to fly his “plane” around the room on its way “to London” before it had to land so the bugs could go home.

Little steps like that make my day.


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

Halloween Preschool Speech Therapy Carryover

IMG_4297I have the privilege of working in homes so parents of preschoolers can watch their child’s speech therapy sessions and carry over techniques to further progress. Sometimes they will sit down with us or often, they are “busy” close by but I know they are listening. It takes some time for them to understand what to say to encourage language growth as well as how and when to say it. I am used to modeling words or phrases, pausing and requiring a response that I can shape before reinforcing the child. But parents have to change their behavior, typically, as they realize they have been “talking for their child” or giving them what they want, without requiring some verbal request.

Last week, as I was wrapping up my session, I realized Mom was talking to her preschooler, modeling the words she wanted to use, pausing and encouraging her and she was less frustrated, using verbalizations for her needs more often. It was gratifying to see this change, knowing that now Mom was the therapist in my absence!

As I walked to the front door to leave, Mom said to her daughter, “Say hi to Frank!” and her daughter said, “Hi.” It was a great example of how preschool speech therapy should never end, but be carried out throughout the day.

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

6 Tips For Picking Smart Baby Toys

wrenn and smithWhen baby arrives, it’s time to play. Since newborn babies prefer a variety of shapes, curves, angles and contrasts in light and dark, your face is his first favorite toy! He reacts as you talk to him and smile, watching your mouth, eyes and face move, casting shadows and changing expressions.

But by the time your baby reaches three months, he can see more clearly, focus on an object and is interested in a toy. You’re still a favorite but now it’s time to pick great toys that will enhance language. Certain features in a toy will invite more language, giving you more to talk about as you play with your baby.

1. Find a Friendly Face: Choose toys that have a friendly face. A rooster, a caterpillar or even an apple can all have a face, ready to engage in your baby in conversation with you. Babies are naturally attracted to faces and actually talk more to a face, especially one with lots of expression. Take on the voice for your bug or pony and talk to your baby, describing actions like eating, sitting, playing, or galloping while moving your toy. Blocks and stacking rings are great toys for building that can be animated when they have a face on them. Look for toys with a face.

2. Feels Good: Describe contrasting textures to provide your baby with lots of exciting vocabulary like crinkly, smooth, bumpy, soft, hard or fuzzy. Talk about the puppy’s shiny, smooth paws and fuzzy, squishy tummy, as your baby is exploring the toy. Look for toys that have lots of contrasts in texture—some soft, hard, slippery, fuzzy, bumpy or smooth surfaces. The more contrasts your toy has, the more you have to describe and talk about with your baby. Feeding babies descriptions with rich vocabulary builds their understanding or words (receptive language) and prepares them  to say their their first words (expressive language) around one year of age and build up to 50+ words by the age of 2, combining 2 words together to make their first mini sentences.

3. Sounds Alive: Many baby toys make a sound—a rattle, a jingle, or a squeak. Some even make the sound for the specific animal like a bark for a dog or moo for a cow. Squeeze your little dog to bark or shake your elephant to rattle, pause and watch your baby’s response. Talking about the sounds you’ve heard and repeating them yourself adds interest to your baby’s play and promotes listening skills.

4. Colorful Contrasts: Since newborns focus on the boldest patterns and see only some color, toys with bold patterns of black and white are of greatest interest to them. But, by the time a baby is three months old, he can make nearly all the color distinctions so bring on the color! While a toy with many contrasting colors is exciting to look at, it also provides lots of opportunity to describe the different colors, by the caregiver. Don’t forget a board book with bright colors on a white background serves as an interesting “toy” to look at also. Hold the book up so your baby can see it as well as your face as you read the simple text, or prop it up for a more interesting tummy time.

5. Bring on the Action: Look for flexibility in a toy—one where you and your baby can engage in lots of action to describe. Moving parts like doors to open, peek-a-boo windows, containers to put things in, and openings to push through all provide opportunities to talk about objects in, out, through, and opening and shutting.

6. Peek in a Mirror:  At about 6 months babies react to their own image in a mirror and start to babble and giggle at themselves. Make sure the mirror is large enough so your baby can see herself in the toy. Follow your baby’s lead and let her start the conversation, with you joining in to add to the dialogue.

As a speech and language expert and grandmother of 7, here are some of my favorite PAL Award picks for great play and learning with your baby:

Walk-Along-Snail by Hape

196813209651bThis goofy snail with the wiggly, buggy eyes is a happy companion as he tags along, rotating his shell of colored blocks. Flexibility in a toy leads to open-ended play, as children grow and can remove the snail’s shell for some shape sorting practice.

Wonder Whale Kicks and Giggles Activity Gym by Infantino


Parents appreciate Infantino’s baby products designed for multiple learning stages, keeping equipment to the minimum as little adjustments can take a baby from over-head discovery to lying on her back watching and reaching for the sea animals or turned around to kick the whale’s tail,  jiggling the toys and chatting back to them.

Trampili Elephant Music Box by Steiff


Elephants are a hot item in the nursery these days and this little one invites a hug or coo with his stitched on smile and eyes. Pull his cord to soothe your baby to sleep and know that he is listening to differences in sounds and building listening skills preparing for speech.

Magic Forest Friends by HABA


Magic Forest Friends decorate six interactive sides of a reversible house complete with a bunny to reside inside or out. Describing little activities associated with each animal as well as sensory options both tactile and auditory,  make this playbook an enriching language learning experience.

Musical Gator by ALEX Toys


 Kids can experiment with the beat and different sounds of the instruments, building listening and discrimination skills. Since kids learn to imitate gestures before sounds and words, this Musical Gator is perfect for playing a little game of follow the leader while building skills essential for language learning! Tap two times on the drum and hand the mallet to your toddler, waiting for his response. Then follow his lead to imitate what he bangs next, engaging in your own learning game.




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