One of my favorite PAL Award winners this summer has been the Tropical Island Resort by Step2. Winning companies know that I not only test their products, but if they win, I often continue to use them with kids, gathering new ideas and writing about ways to play with the toys or games with all kids, including kids with special needs.

I brought the Tropical Island Resort on vacation with me and set it out on our patio. Curious neighbor kids dropped by for a look and began to play. They loved launching the people off the board and squirting each other. Pretty soon I heard some whispers and they wanted to see if they could take it to their yard. After we drained out the water, three little guys carried it off down the path, needing only one rest stop. They were so excited to have it on their turf. Each day I got new reports of how it was being used. The boys had caught some frogs and they were housing them in the resort. Apparently one had made a home in the pump. Rubber sharks and alligators came to live and play in the resort too as new kids added their play perspective.

By the end of the week, several kids from 1 1/2 – 6 years of age had played alongside each other, creating an active pretend world. This resort had just the right play potential as it provided the water scape and props to get little minds moving so the child could direct the play, building language as kids formed new scenarios within the toy.

By the way, my little resort has now moved to a third home on their deck, where grandkids have delighted in getting soaking wet as they launch their little figures for a swim.

Next summer I think I will rent it out. After all, it costs you when you stay at a good resort!