I am excited to have just joined ASTRA, The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, who “believes in the right of all children to achieve their full potential through fun and positive play.”

Since early language proficiency correlates with later performance in school–reading, writing, and critical thinking–and influences emotional, cognitive and social growth, parents consistently ask me to recommend the best toys, games and books that are the most critical to practice and develop these skills. So many of my PAL Award winners are marketed in specialty toys stores because of their uniqueness.

In this economy, I especially try to frequent local small businesses (because I am one!) including our toy stores. I appreciate the specialty toy stores in my area, from a hobby shop to a family owned business for for over 75 years! I can’t help sharing my enthusiasm for many of their products that I use daily with kids as well as introduce some little known gems that I have discovered through my PAL Award.

ASTRA is sponsoring Neighborhood Toy Store Day on November 12, 2011. According to their website:

“To launch the holiday shopping season with community-minded fun, ASTRA members throughout the nation will host special events at their stores.

The festivities will highlight local talent and bring neighbors together in the spirit of giving. Last year’s programs included crafts, entertainers, scavenger hunts, and charitable donations. Through Neighborhood Toy Store Day, customers see that specialty toy retailers are more than just stores, they are a central part of a vital community.

Local stores have knowledgeable staff, offer special services like gift-wrapping, help preserve a vital downtown, and reinvest their profits in your community. Please view our list of participating stores to find the one nearest you. Give them a call to find out what they have planned for the big day!”