Toy Review: “Diggity Dog” by International Playthings, Inc.

31dabtfpk0l_aa160_.jpgKids three years and up want a little challenge in their games—not everything left to chance! Diggity Dog is their first pick for fun. Choose your puppy and press the doghouse to listen for the number of barks. Count them out as you land on a space, dig a hole and the little bone sticks to your dog’

s magnetic nose. See if the color on the underside of the bone matches your dog and collect all three before heading home to win. There’s just enough action to keep little hands busy and skill required to keep minds churning. Playing Diggity Dog involves auditory memory (remembering the number of barks), visual memory (remembering where your colored bones are), counting, and conversation negotiating turn-taking and discussing strategy. These are all skills that contribute to language development.


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Toy Review: “Folding Castle Playset” by Melissa and Doug

21hk0l8jqgl_aa160_.jpgGet past the guard, drop down the drawbridge and roll up the door of the Folding Castle Play Set and you are in for some fun. The king and queen preside over the castle while the knight can stand guard in the towers, slide open the gate to lock the enemy in jail, hide under the stairs, or chase along the top of the wall. The horse provides an escape or can stay in his stable. Kids love being in charge of the action, which stimulates story telling and builds the foundations for literacy and writing.

Always let your child be the director of the action, not you, the parent. Research shows that parent involvement in pretend play can raise the level of language, but be careful to be a willing participant and not lead the play—that’s your child’s job! Don’t rob her of the opportunity to investigate new ways to use the doors, hiding places and stairwells. This builds language skills as she generates her own stories. The castle is so flexible, that a new story can be told each day as your child invents characters and themes.

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Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Strategies to Enhance Language, Toy Reviews, Video Review | 1 Comment

Toy Review: “Treehouse Playset” by Melissa and Doug

31ywxcgzq5l_aa160_.jpgLanguage enhancing toys have moving parts and opportunities to change the action and therefore the story. Kids can’t wait to enter the Tree House Play Set by Melissa and Doug, traveling up the staircase before someone on the third floor pulls up the drawbridge, relaxing on the swing, pulling a bucket up three levels, letting down the ladder to escape, resting on the hammock or tricking someone crossing the bridge’s trap door! The six moving parts, including pulley-operated systems provide for lots of imaginative play and adventure. With plenty of room to navigate, the tree house accommodates children or siblings of differentages, creating multi-layered stories together and building language skills.

I’ve seen children get inventive, hoisting up characters in the bucket, sending the enemy to the “dungeon” below the trap door and use the swing as a bed. There is no end to imaginative play with this tree house. The set comes with a boy and girl who have been assigned various roles such as princess and prince, but children can’t help bringing additional playmates to the house such as pirates, dolls or critters to joint the action. It adds to the complexity of the story.

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Toy Review: “Chunky Puzzles” by Melissa and Doug

31wkf6tl7sl_aa160_.jpgWhat toys encourage language development? Look for toys that have flexibility—ones that can be used in many different ways. They inspire your child to be creative and use his imagination. Something as simple as a puzzle should have more options than just placing pieces in the intended slot.

Chunky Puzzle Farm Animals, Safari Animals and Dinosaurs by Melissa and Doug have thick enough pieces that the animals can “stand up”, move around, get a bite to eat or roam on the floor at a pretend zoo or farm. I hear far more language from a child as he pretends with the animals and lets them loose!

The puzzle pieces from Vehicles can go for a sail on the sea, line up on the train track, fly overhead or race down the road with narrated sound effects. Now your child is naming the pieces as well as expanding his vocabulary through pretend play, using verbs, pronouns and prepositions.

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Toy Review: “Rub a Dub, Pirates of the Tub” by Alex

016803.jpgRub a dub dub, who let the pirates in the tub? Your little mate will love the floating, squishable pirates who can squirt water from their mouths and spray enemies with their cannon. Choose from the 38 pieces to construct your island with pirates, a treasure chest, palm trees or birds. Set it afloat and you can start on your raft—sails, pirates and barrels of goodies can be included. Don’t forget your map and compass to keep you on track. Climb onto the floating island and hide out in the cave. Have I mentioned that the octopus and shark are on the loose? Don’t forget to decorate the tub with the foam puzzle pieces that stick and float, building the big pirate ship, compete with sails, steering wheel, lookout and flag.

With all the interchangeable pieces that fit into slots on the floating islands and raft, your child’s pretend play can expand and change with his imagination. Every bath time can be a different story line. All of the pirate accessories stimulate his imagination to create his story. Research has linked pretend play with language development and practice in story telling prepares your child to eventually write creative stories.

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Great Books for Your Baby

At around 3 months of age, babies can see most colors and are interested in looking at a book just like a toy. Bright colors against a contrasting background (especially white) attract their attention. Throw in a good dose of rhythm, rhyme and beat and you will fascinate them with your reading. Here are a few of my favorites to start out your library:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? By Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. I haven’t met a 3 month old who hasn’t listened intently to these stories, examining the bright colorful collages of each animal as I flipped the page.

Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti. This big peek-a-boo book reveals the sound and inviting face of each barnyard animal as you turn down the flap.

Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magsamen. The simple text and pictures grab your baby’s attention as bees buzz, birds sing and monkeys play. But, keep your eyes and ears open for a surprise visit by the butterfly finger puppet delivering a kiss and perhaps a tickle.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. This is a wonderful bedtime tale of a little one and his parent declaring the immensity of their love for one another. The endearing illustrations tell the story too.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Rosemary Wells. Sing the lines of this nursery rhyme as you page through the heart-warming illustrations of a little bunny preparing for bed—bathing, getting on pajamas, having some warm milk and even gazing at the stars before hopping in bed.

Baby Talk by DK. We know that babies like to look at baby faces so play peek-a-boo with this book, revealing darling wee ones narrating the action with “yum, yum,” “hee, hee,” and “boo hoo.”

Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton. Things are going well when the cow says “moo” and the sheep says “baa” but who said pigs can sing “la la la?” Sandra Boynton’s books have all the requisite beat, rhythm and rhyme to keep your baby’s interest.

Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Priddy Books. Here’s a soft book with lots of textures, wings to flip and legs to crawl. The text has some spunk too.

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Top Preschool Books to Stimulate Language

Here are some of my favorites, old and new for your preschooler to encourage language through a great story:

 The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens. Check out my review. Kids love this book for the zany antics of the prairie dogs with their fuzz and the wild vocabulary and comical alliteration.

 Clancy the Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume. This is a new book with a clever story about being different, discrimination, and grace.  There is lots to talk about as you encourage your child to predict what will happen, talk about feelings, solutions, and how to react to someone who is different.

 Amos and Boris by William Steig. This is a clever book about adventure, rescue, friendship, and sacrifice. It is packed with good vocabulary.  Try other books by this author.

 Picnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia Polacco. This isn’t just another Halloween book, but a clever story of competition, courage and finally friendship. The illustrations are magnificent with their detail and action. Lots of predictions can be made based on these beautiful drawings.

 Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andrede and Russel Ayto. This is every little boy’s dream, to uncover a pirate captain in a closet and set sail with him. Of course they encounter the ferocious pirate dinosaurs and a battle ensues. The illustrator has created beasts with “tonsils wobbling ferociously at the back of his throat” who have a whimsy about them who draw us in to a tale created in a little boy’s mind. Talk about what you would do if you met a pirate in the closet?

 I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe is a lovely tale about self-esteem, listening to criticism, acceptance While the little cricket was wishing he was a butterfly, after the frog at the edge of the pond told him he was ugly, the ladybug wisely replies, “…you must learn to be content with what you are and not mind what a silly old frog tells you.”  Friendship finally brings acceptance. There are many themes to talk about with your child after reading this story that relate to her life—teasing, feelings, self-worth, friendship and acceptance.

 The Featherless Chicken by Chih-Yuan Chen. In this playful tale, a featherless chicken is trying to part of the gang of artfully adorned chickens. Finally when he acquires a costume of leaves, silverware and a fish can, he looks good enough to join the others. This is another story about fitting in, being transparent and having a roaring good time!After reading this book, it would be fun to make a collage costume for your own featherless chicken.

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She was Extinct by Mo Willems. Loveable Edwina meets her match with the incorrigible Reginald who is trying to convince her she is extinct. This story is about winning over a bully with kindness. Talk about ways to show kindness to those who are nice and not nice to us. 

Chuck Lends a Paw and Funny Bunnies on the Run by Robert Quakenbush are full of  laugh-aloud consequences for the antics of bunnies and mice. You can use these books to ask questions like “Why did that happen?” since there is a reason for all the catastrophes in the stories! These are early readers but can also be used as read-alouds.

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Toy Review: “Tiny Love Activity Ball” by Tiny Love

activity_ball_a05.jpgGive this lovable guy a push and he gladly rocks and rolls just out of reach so your baby chases after him, exploring and discovering his wobbly gait. Each nudge brings on one of 5 entertaining sounds to make your baby smile. The friendly face with bug eyes and dimples, two antennae just the right size for nibbling, a colorful neck to stretch, a handfull of colorful textured rings, butterflies and ladybugs to describe and beads moving to the action all qualify this as a great toy to encourage language development.

This Tiny Love Activity Ball has all the elements for stimulating language–lots to talk about concerning, color, texture, sounds and activity. Parents can describe the bright colors, patterns of stripes and polka dots, plenty of textures such as soft, hard, bumpy, and smooth and sounds that accompany movement whether rocking or yanking on his head and feet. Remember to follow your child’s focus of attention and describe what she thinks is interesting, not you! If she is chewing on the antennae or playing peek-a-boo with the ladybug, that is what you want to be talking about. Research shows that children take in more language when we are talking about what they are interested in. Isn’t that true of us adults too?

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Toy Review: “Sarah Lynn and Her Camping Adventure” by Fisher-Price

nullLooking for adventure? Hop into your purple car, grab the cooler and head for the campsite! This Fisher-Price little people set has all the ingredients for great creative play. Sarah Lynn and Maggie can relax by the campfire in their lounge chairs, drop the fishing line into the lake, cook dinner over the open fire or pop open the camper and climb into their sleeping bags. After their stay at the campsite, they can load the cooler, chairs and fishing rod into the camper and drive home. Don’t we like toys that hold all the pieces?

Designed for children ages 2-5, this play set hits the sweet spot for pretend play. A 2 year-old will enjoy manipulating the people and pieces and imitating real life, while a 3 year-old will take the figures and animate them, using voices to talk back and forth. Join your child’s pretend play by “being” one of the figures and following the action. Research shows that a child’s level of play is raised when an adult joins in. But, remember to follow your child’s lead, giving them the opportunity to create and tap their imagination.

As the parent you want to be the “producer” not the “director” of your child’s play. Being the producer, you provide a variety of props such as people, food, vehicles, furniture etc to stimulate her imagination and start the story telling. Step back and watch the creativity begin. Don’t jump in and direct the action by suggesting the story direction but follow your child’s lead. Your child’s language will be enhanced through pretend play.Imaginative play stimulates language. Children who create stories with toys and props, like “Sarah Lynn and her Camping Adventure,” are practicing with language and become good storytellers and eventually enthusiastic writers.

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Top Ten “Boy Books” for Toddlers and Preschoolers

go_maisy_go.jpgI am often asked to suggest good language-enhancing books for boys (or girls) who have an insatiable appetite for books about trains, planes, trucks and cars! Here is my list. I hope you will add to it. The criteria is that the book has to include some kind of storyline, people, animals or action besides the vehicles. That’s what raises the level of language. Make sure that you read a variety of books to your preschooler. If they love trains, have a few books on that subject but offer books about their everyday experiences such as going to the playground, visiting grandma, starting school, or going to bed.

1. Emergency! by Usborne Chunky Jigsaw Books. Not only is this a book, but also it has four jigsaw puzzles on the pages of a fire truck, ambulance, rescue truck and helicopter. This is one of my favorites because each page has a story—putting out a fire at the bakery, loading the ambulance with an injured child at the playground, collecting a broken down jeep in the jungle, and rescuing an injured climber in the mountains. Lots of people, lots of action, lots of if-then cause and effect to bring out language and lots of vehicles!

2. Duck’s Key Where Can it Be? by Jez Alborough. A lovely family that I worked with gave this book to me. Their two boys couldn’t hear it enough. A twist on the usual flap book, this story follows the duck searching for his lost key. He’s one step behind the clever frog who is a tease in this hide-and-seek book. The flap isn’t where you would expect it, so there is much to think about and discover on a page.

3. Machines at Work by Byron Barton. This author has written a series of simple, brightly illustrated stories about planes, machines, boats and trains. Recently, his series came out in oversize editions too.The simple drawings are overplayed with a short text to match the attention span of a baby or toddler. I like these books because of the people involved in all the activity, giving you opportunities to extend the language of the text.

4. Go Maisy Go! by Lucy Cousins. On the cover it says, “Five feet of lift-the-flap fun!” and they are right. Kids love to open up the accordion style book. One side is wordless with each vehicle linked to the next through an experience ready for you to describe. The elephant driving the fire truck is squirting water into the bathtub on the back of a flatbed. On the other side the pages are numbered and the traffic jam is blamed on a zebra crossing the road. You could even set this bright book out on the floor surrounding your baby having tummy time to give her a delightful dose of color and action.

5. Fire Engine Man by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha. This little boy starts out playing with his fire truck until his imagination takes off and he is in his gear and off to fight a fire. This is every little boy’s dream.

6. Stop and Go Maisy! by Lucy Cousins. I have used this fantastic flap book with countless boys to expand their language and keep their interest through vehicles. Each page has a theme of waiting for the bus, driving a fire truck to the rescue, Maisy flying her plane, loading up the tractor, and of course taking a train ride. Maisy and her crew provide the action, while your child interacts with the flaps that reveal hoses, cats, cupcakes, sunshine, engines, peacocks and clocks. Talk about how each item relates to the theme of that page. What do we do with___? is a probing question to make your child think about the function of objects like the hose, ladder, engine, or first aid kit.

7. The Fire Engine Book illustrated by Tibor Gergely. If you want to be nostalgic and share a golden book from the 50’s this is it. I was first introduced to this book by one of my “play on words” moms who has two boys. She knows my criteria for a good language enhancing book and said her two-year-old loved this book. Why not? From the minute the fire alarm sounds, “Ding, ding, ding,” there is a flood of firemen on each page sliding down the pole, riding in the firetrucks, throwing on their coats, pumping the water, and saving a dog from the fire. There is plenty of action to describe here besides reading the text.

8. I Love Trains by Shari Halpern. A little boy professes his love for trains and we’re off on a ride to see what all the cars are carrying from logs, trucks, grain, and scrap to “secret stuff that’s under wrap.” What adds to the language value of this book is that on each page there is a scene in the background to describe—kids flying kites, farm animals grazing and mom and the family waving to dad on the train. This author, like Byron Barton, has a series including I Love Trucks in the same format.

9. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. Sometimes we overlook older books in search of what is hot but Richard Scarry books have enthralled children for decades. The detail, precarious situations, and search for Lowly the Worm hold the attention of a preschooler.

10. Tell me your favorites in the “comments” section of this article—thanks!

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