Today is exciting because I announced the first PAL Awards for 2011. My top 22 toys and games that encourage creative play that builds language are recognized on my website here. I had such fun playing with the toys and games with my little testers, observing what enlivened their play and how they used the products. The winners were so popular with kids but also were unique in that they brought out the conversation and chat with kids as they named items, made up stories, changed the action or did some role-playing. I will be featuring the winners on my blog with my reviews with helpful tips on how they encourage language development. Here are a few to get us started:

Congratulations to the 2011 PAL Award Winners!

Here’s the story behind these products. Zylie was so beloved by my toy testers that I wanted to be a little girl again and have my own Zylie to play with! I took the Sand and Water Fun Farm to a 2 1/2 year-old’s house and he had a full blown tantrum when I left with it–his parents went right out and bought him one because he liked it so much. And finally, the Rubbabu products were a hit with the 2 year-olds. Some just liked to run them on their face while others grabbed them and took off to play. So here are my reviews:

“Zylie the Bear” by Arete LLC

What fun it was to introduce Zylie the Bear to little girls and watch their faces light up–instant friendship. This trendy bear, dressed to explore the globe in style, comes with a purse packed with a passport, diary and map ready for adventure. Kids entered right into her imaginative world of travel, learning and living. “What does Zylie write in her diary?” “Want me to go and get a little chair for Zylie?” Fascinated with the diary, a little girl announced, “Zylie’s going to travel. Write Zylie’s first trip to Hawaii!” Easily slipping on different combinations of beautifully constructed clothes and accessories, girls created a story of Zylie’s adventures on their own. Quick to start reading Zylie’s first book, a girl paused and asked me what “journalist” meant. I showed her the glossary at the back of the book where she could look up words she didn’t know. Then I challenged her to keep reading and add to the list if she found a word not included in the glossary.  Each book follows Zylie and her friends to a new place, New York City, China and on to Australia, where they pick up a new character from each country. Shen, The Panda, is now part of the gang as they continue their globe trotting.Finally, my little friend looked at me and said, “What should I write in her diary?” Before I could answer she offered her own entry, “Pippa opened Zylie up and she loved her!” Who knew a bear could ignite such creativity, learning and love.

Recommended Age: 4-9 years of age

Suggested Retail Price: $75

Available at Amazon: Click here

“Sand and Water Fun Farm” by Step2

Gather your gang around the sand and water fun farm for a ride around the track, over bridges, through the barn tunnel and under the loader to fill your wagon. With separate compartments for sand and water, play gets interactive as the farmer, cow and horse can get dirty and then dive in the pool to clean off. Kids loved being the directors of play as they opened and closed gates, built the bridge, pulled the tractor train, squirted the fish and dug in the sand. The favorite feature was to pull the tractor wagon under the loader to drip sand or water through a twirling wheel, into the wagon. Take off to water your crops or fill a hole.  Step2 once again provides parents with an easy to construct, sturdy toy and kids with hours of fun.

Recommended age: 2 years and up

Suggested retail price: $59.99

Available at Amazon: Click here

“My Animal Farm Playset” by Rubbabu

Rubbabu’s firm but squeezable animal shapes made from their signature natural, textured foam are just plain fun to hold. Little ones can grip and hold the shapes easily and manipulate them for fun. Our little friends started out on the play mat that displays four different simple scenarios–a giraffe hidden in the grass, a monkey in a tree, a hippo contemplating the water and a stand of trees. Older kids incorporated the non-skid play mat into their play , acting out swimming, climbing and eating, while younger ones picked up the brightly colored wild animals, named them or simply took off with them for play. The beauty of Rubbabu toys is their simplicity. The lion, bear, monkey, elephant, giraffe, rhino, and snake have enough definition to be named but leave the play up to your child’s imagination.

Recommended Age: 0-5 years

Suggested Retail Price: $24.95

Available at Click here

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. The above products were provided for review by their companies.