It’s that time of year to make our lists and check them twice–and select the best toys and games for our kids and grandkids for holiday gift giving. Again, there are many helpful lists out there from Parents Magazine to Parents Choice Foundation. Check them out for their carefully toy tested lists, and kudos to Parents Choice who included a section for recommended toys for children with special needs.
Here is my list of favorite toys and games that build language skills through fostering pretend play, encouraging chat, and giving parents plenty to talk about to a baby or toddler:
Babies and Toddlers:
Cuddly Kid Mirror by Alex Toys:
Kids love to cuddle and check out faces so why not get snuggle and face time in one toy? With outstretched crinkle hands, this half ball of fun is asking for play. Strap the “Cuddly Kid Mirror”in the crib for baby entertainment, or prop him up for tummy time and crawl around exploration. Showing off his bright colors, fuzzy textures, knotted strings and bean bag legs, this buddy encourages visual, auditory and tactile investigation and is just plain fun to squeeze.
Recommendated age: Newborn and above:
Taggies Go Go! Car
Cuddle up with this friendly-faced coupe, covered with soft plush and shiny geometric designed tags. A takeoff from the popular Taggies balls, this car packs more features for your baby to explore and parents to talk about, enhancing learning. Press the button on top to hear “beep, beep”and see his cheeks light up, grab the crinkly wheels, see your reflection in the mirrored bumper, play peek-a-boo with a puppy peering out the window or pull the string to start the motion. A combination of textures, vibrant colors, and sounds, this compact car is engineered to give kids plenty to investigate and parents many features to describe, feeding your child important language to encourage learning. His endearing face invites baby’s conversation, providing practice for future chats.
Recommended age: 3 months and up:
Favorites from other years:
Flow ‘n’ Fill Spout by Yookidoo:
Toddlers are drawn to running water. Since the best part of bath time is playing with the stream as the tub fills up, imagine the investigating going on with the “Flow ‘n’ Fill Spout” as it keeps the water flowing after the tap is turned off. Submerge the little pump under the water and suction the spout anywhere in the tub for continuous streams of water play. Little ones quickly learn to start and stop the flow by pushing the face, and experiment with the three friendly-faced cups, spinning a propeller, creating a shower and revealing a surprise pop up friend. Teaching the language of empty/full, heavy/light, start/stop, on/off, up/down, and floating/sinking, this joyful distraction makes scrubbing a dirty toddler a little easier.
Recommended age: 9 months and up
Taggies Rocker by International Playthings
Kids lined up for a turn on Taggies’ newest giraffe rocker, swinging a leg over his sturdy, plush back andhanging on to the handles for a lively ride. Just the right size for a one to three year-old, this playful friend is adorned with bright colors, varied textures, crinkle ears and patterned taggies to amuse the youngest ones while the older toddlers can saddle up and hang on to the mane of ribbons. A plush, huggable friend with a cock-eyed grin, this giraffe leaves the fun and creativity to your child–no batteries needed. He’s low enough to the ground but life-size for kids to invite him into their land of imagination. Don’t be surprised if he is asked to join the picnic or play house. Watching a one-year-old greet him with a morning hug, I know this giraffe can serve to expend rockin’ energy or just be a hang around pal in the playroom.
Recommended age: 12-36 months
Preschool and Above:
Take a break from the usual monsters and dragons menu for boys’ pretend play and introduce the ancient life of the Egyptians. Available in the complete pyramid set or smaller sets of chariots, the sphinx, or tomb raiders to name a few, this newest play scenario invites a history lesson as well as creative play. Secret chambers and trap doors set up the fun for chases, captures and discoveries. Kids love to investigate, hide and surprise with all the moving parts to keep the action going.
Recommended age: 5 and up
Playdate Central Puppet Show by International Playthings
Pull out this puppet show in a box when the kids come over to play and watch it spark their imaginations. Mom or Dad can easily assemble the cloth, hanging theater to suspend in the doorway as kids make puppets, part the curtains and start the story telling. Before the show starts, kids create theirown puppet characters with six fuzzy bodies and thirty stick-on ears, faces, tails, noses or outfits. Go traditional in making a prince, princess, lion, puppy, or dragon or combine the features to make an original character. As the story develops, kids can re-figure the puppets, ripping off the reusable features and attaching them to create new characters. Moms were amazed at how well the features stuck on the puppets during active play. My three-year-old puppeteers enjoyed presenting a show and then chased each other with puppets in hand. Language learning begins with selecting a character while devising and assembling the puppets, continues during the creation of the story and dialogue, and extends through open-ended play with flexible props to expand plot possibilities. Take a seat and let your children learn language through play.
Recommended ages 3-6
Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found it! by I Can Do That Games
Having raised my kids on Richard Scarry books, searching for Lowly the Worm, I am excited to see a new generation of children examining his delightful drawings, learning about communities of fun. “Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found it! Game” is a winner in innovative, entertaining, language learning games. Unfold the six foot game board and race through the bustling town, busy airport, industrious construction site, and working farm, to board the ferry for Picnic Island to grab your lunch before Pig Will and Pig Won’t eat it. Spin a Goldberg Mystery Card and start the timer as all players work together to spot the most objects on the game board of the kind pictured on the card—construction cones, garbage cans, shovels, kites, or bicycles. Kids love to place their magnifying glass tokens on the objects when found, rewarded with a bonus move. Can you see why I hear squeals of delight when a bug card is spun?
This team game models collaboration, encouragement, patience and the satisfaction of “winning” together. Scarry’s detailed drawings teach the language of concepts, categories, association, and storytelling as little ones learn what objects, people and actions go together to build narratives. Where would we find shovels? Look in the construction site. Where would we search for letters? Check the town post office or neighborhood mailbox. What about garbage cans? Everywhere! Enjoy this game for a balance of talents and fun for kids and adults alike.
Recommended age: 3 years and up
Favorites from other years:
Gobblet Gobblers by Blue Orange Games
Assemble your tic-tac-toe grid and off you go with a chance to place three of your gobblers in a row to win. With each turn, players can add a new gobbler to the board or move one that is already in place. Two options–to find an empty space or “gobble up” an existing smaller piece–make this game a multi-leveled game of strategy and memory. Go ahead and move your piece already on the board but don’t forget who was under him, because the littler guy will be left behind in that space and might set up a play for your opponent. Requiring visual-spacial memory and the ability to weigh different strategic options and outcomes,“Gobblet Gobblers” stretches young minds and gets them giggling as they surprise even themselves as opportunities open up to win!
Age: 5 and up
Favorite from other years:
Step2 All Around Art Tower
There’s fun all around when kids step up to this tower of artistic possibilites. The circular table allows for budding artists to work side by side and select their medium from the two bins surrounding the central pole. Don’t be fooled that this can’t be a language building toy–many kids create stories and narrate their drawings while painting and drawing. Having a friend next to them encourages the dialogue of sharing supplies and talking about what they are making. I love the feature of displaying their finished pictures or works in progress on the clips above the table. Don’t miss a chance to ask your kids about what they’ve made and to tell you the story.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Favorites from other years:
ChickyBoom by Blue Orange Games
Chicks have come to roost on their favorite perch, performing a balancing act on thick bales of hay and slim wagon wheels. Plump Mom and baby chickys peer out their adorable eyes, beckoning players to take turns, skillfully plucking pieces off the teetering perch without toppling the brood. Players remove birds and their accessories, hoping to keep the remaining pieces in place. Each piece has its own point value from one to three, so after the perch is dumped, collect your pieces, add up your score and declare the winner.
A game of fine motor skill and balance, “ChickyBoom” requires slow, precise movements so as not to disturb the roosting chicks. Strategy comes into play as risk takers remove a piece of higher value that might start the gang wobbling but adds value to their winnings. Get some math practice as you add up the numbers on your pieces to reach the highest score and win the game.
Recommended age: 4 and up