I thoroughly enjoyed my first ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailing Association) Marketplace Convention this past week in Baltimore. I moved from table to table putting together swords, robots and slime as well as decorating cupcakes and doll furniture in “Kits, Kits and More Kits, ” attended break out sessions, went to the 20th Anniversary Bash at the Power Plant Live! and discovered loads of terrific new products on the exhibition floor to build language. Overall, I was impressed with the wonderful retailers who are running our valuable neighborhood toy stores, sales reps enthusiastic about their products and innovative manufacturers who keep supplying us with great products for our kids! There was a spirit of camaraderie as everyone was networking to help each other be successful.

Here are some of my favorite new products:

Kai, Puppet-On-A-Stick by Educational Insights is a one-eyed, mouth popping puppet that you can operate with one hand, opening and closing his mouth as he talks. I tried it out with kids at the show and they loved it. Kai is a perfect tool for engaging kids to talk who might be a bit shy or need some prompting in conversation.  This is a perfect speech therapy tool. This company makes some of my favorite games for therapy that I use every week–“Sneaky Snacky Squirrel,” and “Barbecue Blitz.” Check them out.

Feed the Woozle by Peaceable Kingdom is a perfect first game for 3 year-olds and up although I just played it with a 2 1/2 year old and he loved it! There is something inviting about loading up your big plastic spoon with goofy named food discs and walking over to deposit them in the Woozle’s open mouth. Three layers of play provide challenges for increasing age groups so the whole family can play together.

Lay-n-Go Activity Mat comes in three sizes, depending on the size of your fun! Kids spend a lot of time creating their magic in play and then have to clean up. No need to dismantle legos or put everything away–just pull the drawstring and your collection is stowed in a bag that can become a backpack and travel to your next play destination!  Developed by parents, Amy and Adam Fazackerley, mom and dad will love this option for bringing a few  toys to a restaurant too (Adam and I are holding that size). What a great tool for an itinerant speech therapist.

Mysterious Creatures and Fishing Camp  by Education Outdoors are the two newest games in a great line-up of outdoor learning games. Inventor and entrepreneur, Tim Paczesny, was also a wise contributor to an earlier manufacturing panel discussion where he shared his insight on starting his company and successfully selling his first game, “Camp.” Growing up in Wisconsin, I felt the north woods pull to these games filled with fun fishing facts and geography lessons, as kids get in touch with nature, leaving technology behind.

Softimals by Infinitoy are perfect for little language learners as they combine animal head, bodies and wagons to tell a story. The pieces are soft enough for little ones to manipulate so the story can be flexible and change.  This new product joins Infinitoy’s popular Zoobs that I learned can be combined in 20 different ways. (I could only come up with 4 ways but that is why you attend a convention, right?)

The Storymatic was invented by creative writing teacher, Brian Mooney, based on writing prompts he used with his students. He just released a younger version, The Storymatic Kids,  which is designed for kids 5 years and up. Draw two yellow cards to combine for your character–I chose “a juggler” and “a clumsy person” and then pick a blue card to get your story started, “Where did it go?” I think my juggler could be part of a great story chasing down his props. Brain shared that people are using The Storymatic for all kinds of creative efforts such as cartooning, music and film.

Spontuneous by Spontuneous Games challenges players to stump their opponents as they try to come up with a song based on a trigger word. I played it at ASTRA and had to be the first to sing a bar using “lost” and of course “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” came to mind. Language and music are linked in learning and often I have used a popular lyric like the “Eensy Weensy Spider” to lengthen a child’s sentences as they repeat a familiar phrase. It is interesting that there is a lot of press right now about Gabby Gifford’s recovery based on language music therapy!

Monkeez Makes a Difference by Monkeez and Friends is teaching kids to think of others before themselves. Their cute plush animals provide more than pretend play as kids can play games online and collect “Do Good” trading cards which foster philanthropy.  Do something nice for your neighbor or learn about bullying and interview your classroom teacher about school policy on bullying. Director Chrysti Carol Propes gave me my own set of cards so I can accept the challenge and do some good.