All Posts by Randi Fried

About the Author

Randi is wife and mother to three kids aged 12, 10 and 4. She was born and raised in West Bloomfield where she is currently a stay-at-home mom to provide language rich activities for her youngest, who has Autism. Prior to making the switch to full time mommy, Randi was a pediatric speech pathologist for the past 15 years.

Oct 07

Building Routines to Support Language

By Randi Fried | Toyology Toys Contributors

I could talk about routines all day long. They are the glue that holds our lives together.

They are perfect for language learning because they are predictable and repetitive.  They help your child organize what happens in his life. Since routines take place the same way most days they are great for teaching new things.  Previously, I talked about a bath time routine (here), which is one of my favorites.  But, at this time of year, I focus on the before school and afterschool routines to make sure our lives run smoothly.  This has been especially important this year, as two of my kids have started at new schools (kindergarten and sixth grade).  For my sixth-grader, this has meant more independence and refining organizational skills. For my kindergartner, this meant a full day of school, riding the bus, and being ready for a lot more transitions. 

Randi Fried

So, how did we get ready for these big changes? Here are a few of the things we did (some we continue to do) to help establish new routines.
  1.  Take Pictures: The first thing we did to get my kindergartner ready for his new school was to plan a few visits. Over the summer, we visited the school’s playground to become more familiar with the school. We took pictures and made a little album to talk about where he’d be going to school in the fall. When we had a chance to meet the teacher and bus driver we added pictures so he could be as familiar with what would happen at school as possible. Not only is this a great way to start introducing a new routine, but it also helped us practice language skills. Pictures of events from your child’s life are great ways to help talk about past and future events. They help to increase vocabulary, increase sentence length, and help build narratives.
  2. Make a schedule: The second thing we did was to make a schedule for our morning routine. After a summer of leisurely wake-ups, it’s hard to transition into a more structured, time-pressured morning. For my older kids, this just meant a quick verbal review of what was expected in the morning. For some older kids a list works so they don’t need to hear mom/dad nagging them all morning. For my youngest, I made a picture schedule. This way I could introduce it before the first day of school. Also, pictures are a great way to reinforce language (for both expressing and comprehending). For this, I used picture icons, but a hand drawn schedule also works. Some kids like to cross off the steps they’ve accomplished (you can laminate your schedule and use a dry-erase marker). Another option is to Velcro pictures to your schedule and remove them once you’ve finished.

Randi Fried

 

3. Repeat: This may sound obvious but repeating the routine in the exact same way helps reinforce what you’re doing and will eventually make your mornings run much smoother. Also, repeating the same phrases and directions for your child at the beginning of routine helps young kids and kids with language delays process the language and directions. This is especially helpful during transitions (i.e. going from eating to brushing teeth).

      • Include songs: Songs help reinforce language and build language skills. Plus songs can help add fun to what may otherwise be a dreaded task. For example, you can sing “If your happy and you know it let’s get dressed”
      • If you’re happy and you know it put on your shirt (x2). If you’re happy and you know it and your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and know it put on your shirt.” (Repeat until your child’s dressed).
      • Another song we sing is “This is the way we brush our teeth”. You can change the words to almost any nursery rhyme to make your special songs.

4. Make small changes: Once you’ve established your routine and your mornings are running smoothly, you can make small changes to help challenge your child and increase language skills. For example, you might playfully forget to go eat breakfast and tell your child to skip to the next step in his routine. Let your child point out your mistake and tell you how to fix it. Or, you might take out a new pair of pajamas instead of clothes for the day. Again, try to let your child catch your “mistake”. If your child doesn’t catch it right away you can always give a little prompt (“uh oh, your putting on pajamas. Is it time to go to sleep?”). This helps increase language skills, as well as promoting problem solving. Also, you and your child might have a good laugh together.

Sep 23

Community Outings for Social Skills: Beyond the Library

By Randi Fried | Toyology Toys Contributors

When you have small kids or kids with delays/disabilities, it sometimes feels easier to stay at home with them.

It’s easier to run errands or have outings when you’re without your child. But, children learn so much from interacting with their communities. It’s important to build outings into your daily routines. If it feels overwhelming, start small and build to longer more varied outings. The library is, of course, a great place to start. Libraries have rooms dedicated to children and they offer age appropriate toys/books to try. They also have programs for a variety of ages. But, today, I’m going to talk about outings beyond the library. How can we make everyday errands fun? How can we teach social skills while we are out and about in our communities?

Here are some of my basic rules that help make outings easier and more fun for both your child and you:
  1.  Routine: Routines are great because they are predictable and repetitive.  They offer your child away to anticipate what happens regularly in his [or her] life.  Your daily routine may include an outing: first breakfast, then playtime, and then we go out. 
  2.  Transition: Include a way to transition to the outing.  For example, setting a timer so your child knows when playtime is over and when you’ll be going out.  Or, sing a song to transition: “now it’s time to put on shoes, put on shoes, put on shoes, now it’s time to put on shoes and then we’ll get in the car.”
  3. Expectations:  Set up your expectations clearly, so your child knows what to expect when they are out.  This helps avoid struggles over whether you plan to buy them something or what the behavior expectations might be.
    •   “Today we are going to the toy store to pick a birthday present for Zack.  We aren’t going to get a toy for our house today, but we can look at all the fun things there.”
    •   “We’re going to meet Auntie at the restaurant. Do you want to pick grilled cheese or chicken fingers to eat?  We have to sit quietly. Do you want to pick a quiet toy to bring with you?”
  4. Waiting: Have a way for your child to wait near you when you can’t hold hands.  We use the phrase “hold the bar.” The ‘bar’ could be a countertop, shopping cart handle, or anything that’s nearby.  This is routine you can build so your child knows how to safely wait for you while you are paying or handling items.

  5. Tasks: Give your child a job.  They can hold a list for you or help you look for something special at store (i.e. I need to find a green shirt).

Now that we have some basic rules to stay safe and sane, where should we go?
  1. Toyology [Toys]: We love to take a trip to Toyology [Toys].  We often make it a stop between appointments or we make it it’s own special outing.  What social skills do we practice?
    • Greetings: The toyologist are always super friendly and are great people to practice saying hello to.  
    • Turn-taking/sharing:  There are often other children at the play tables, so waiting to try a toy we want is often necessary.  This may also offer good practice asking for a turn (i.e. “Can I try? Or simply “my turn”).
    • Interaction: The toyologist often demonstrate new toys for my child and me.  This is a great way for your child to interact with a less familiar adult.  They may request “more”, to see a toy again or practice asking questions.
    • Delayed gratification: We don’t always buy something for ourselves when we stop in the store.  But, We always set-up the expectation first so that we know if we’ll be leaving with something new or not.  Sometimes, we put a toy on our wish list for our next visit or birthday.

Lisa (left), the West Bloomfield location store leader and Randi's son playing at the play table. 

2. The Coffee Store:  Let’s face it -mommy often needs a cup of coffee.  We love stopping into our favorite coffee store. Sometimes, just mommy gets a coffee and other times we all get treats.  Here’s what we practice:

    • Greetings: Honestly, we often go to the same coffee store, so some of the barista’s know my little one’s name.  This is great because he gets to practice listening for his name and responding. We even have one barista who my youngest has a special fist pump with.
    • Waiting: At the coffee store we often have to wait in line.  This means practice staying safely by an adult, being patient, and being reasonably quiet.
    • Sitting quietly:  The coffee store offers a great place to sit quietly and have a snack.  If going out for a whole meal feels like too much this is a great place to start.  We sometimes bring our own little snacks like goldfish or fruit and other times we get a treat, like a cake pop.  To extend our visit we might bring a small toy, like Wikki Sticks, Water Wow, or a sticker book.

3. The Big Stores:  In this category I include any store where you can push a cart: the grocery store, Target, Costco, Home Depot, etc.  These are stores you often need to go to, but they still offer many opportunities to practice social skills.

    • Waiting: Let’s be honest there is often lots of waiting when you go into one of these big stores.  You have things you need to accomplish and the stores may be busy. For that reason, I try to keep my child buckled in the cart for as long as possible.  Also, when your child is buckled in the cart they are at your eye level and in a prime position to have a conversation with you while you shop. But, children grow and eventually want to walk with you, so this offers a great time to practice keeping hands on the cart and staying with their adult.
    • Tasks: Big stores are great places to give your child a task.  Make them a list with pictures. They can have stickers or a crayon to mark off when you find an item. Another game we like to play while shopping is “I spy” this is a great way to practice descriptive language and take turns.
    • Greetings/Interactions: Even at big stores there are opportunities for interactions with employees.  Saying “hi/bye” at the register, thanking the cashier at checkout, or asking for a sample when available are all ways to interact with others in our community.

4. Restaurants: We like to go out to try new foods and meet up with friends, but not every meal out is fun.  We do it anyway, because each time we go out we get to interact with different people and learn something new.

    • Waiting: There is often a lot of waiting to be done at restaurants whether it’s for a table or for food.  Yes, sometimes, I resort to screens, but I prefer not to. I like going out to be a social time where we can practice conversation and interaction skills. So, I try to bring a couple of quiet activities we can enjoy together (i.e. coloring, Boogie Boards, putty, ect).
    • Sitting quietly:  This can be very hard for my youngest, so having some engaging quiet activities, like I listed above helps.  It also helps to talk about expectations prior to going to the restaurant: we sit, we’re quiet, and we eat.  
    • Interactions: Once a child is communicating, it’s great to have them practice ordering on their own when the waiter comes.  If your child’s language isn’t clear yet, you can always repeat what they say for confirmation. This way they get practice talking to new people.
Have fun on outings. By going out into the community for short outings your child is learning about the world around them and how to interact.  The more you practice getting out the easier it becomes.
Jul 29

Puppet Play To Extend Conversational and Play Skills

By Randi Fried | Toyology Toys Contributors

At home, these days, Brody, my youngest who has Autism, has been working on a lot of conversational skills!

It’s been so much fun to extend our conversations from basic wants and needs to likes/dislikes to recalling past experiences and predicting future events. It’s always exciting when you realize you can have a “real” conversation with your child whether those first conversations happen when you’d expect or a little later if your child has a developmental delay. One way that we work on practicing conversations in play is with puppets.

Why do I like puppets to practice conversations? There are many reasons. The first is that puppets don’t know everything about your child, like you do. Children are smart and understand that you know things like their names, ages, birthdates ect. But, a puppet doesn’t know those things about your child and children are great at pretending, so using puppets to practice greetings and personal information questions are great.

I also like puppets to work on question formulation and responding to questions.  While having a tea party with a puppet you might work on asking “can I” questions (i.e. “Can I have the sugar please?”). The puppet is a great model for this and then your child will also have a chance to practice while asking for items.  Or, you can work on “Do you like” questions (i.e. “Do you like cookies?”). These are always fun with puppets because you can throw in an unexpected surprise. For example, respond “no” to the cookie question. If your child still tries to feed the puppet a cookie—have the puppet spit it out.  This always gets a laugh and encourages children to try again. In this way, your child can get lots of practice asking questions while having fun. Once you master these questions with your puppet, try to work on formulating some “what” questions (i.e. “What’s your favorite snack?”). Again, with a puppet you can give new and surprising answers to keep it fun.

Puppets aren’t only good for conversational skills (expressive language); they can also help with listening skills (receptive language).  While playing with a puppet you can lay a few items in front of you. Work on asking your child to give you an item. If they give you the wrong item, have the puppet shake his head and refuse to accept it.  If they give the puppet the right item the puppet can high-five, or pretend to eat the item, or play with the item. Big reactions from the puppet are fun and encourage more participation. Expand this game by working on requesting an item by its function (i.e. “give me something you can throw”) or by an attribute (i.e. “give me something that’s little”).

Another language skill I like to work on with puppets is pronouns.  One of the easiest ways of doing this is by having two puppets, a boy and a girl, start out by having your child point to the puppet you describe (i.e. “she is spinning”).  Once your child is doing this reliably ask them to describe what your puppet is doing (i.e. make one puppet eat then ask “what is he doing?”). If your child confuses the pronouns just give them the correct model while emphasizing the pronoun (i.e. “ HE is eating”).  Remember to keep it fun and offer lots of models. Also, we can expand the identification game by giving items to the correct puppet using pronouns in the directions (i.e. “Give herthe cookie.” “Give himthe hat.”). Again, if your child gets confused playfully redirect with the puppet (i.e. Girl puppet: “That’s not my hat.  That’s HIS.” Say this while making a big gesture toward the boy puppet).

Most of these activities I’ve offered have the parent/caregiver using a puppet, which is a great, was to start puppet play.  You can start early before conversations and expand games like peek-a-boo or tickles which will help expand social interaction.  You can also go beyond the parent using the puppet and work with your child on expanding their imaginative play and story telling while you and your child both use puppets.  As always, remember to keep it playful and fun, learning takes time and a lot of repetition.

Some Puppets I Love: 

  • Melissa & Doug – Little Red Riding Hood Puppet Set:  Use these to re-tell a familiar story. How can you expand on the story or change the story to challenge your child?

Little Red Riding Hood Puppet Set

  • Safari Hand Puppets:  These are great for pretend eating or playing the ‘I’m going to get you game’ to work on social interaction.  As a bonus, these are small and easy to take with you for entertainment while you travel.

Safari Hand Puppet

(each sold separately)

  • Crocodile Stage Puppet: I like animal puppets with large mouths for eating games. This puppet can hold something in its mouth and then spit it out.

Crocodile Stage Puppet

  • Melissa & Doug- Police Officer Puppet:  This police officer puppet and other Melissa and Doug puppets like it allow you to use a stick to control the puppets hand.  I love playing the ‘high five’ game with these types of puppets (i.e. “give me five, up high, down low, too slow).

Police Officer Puppet

Jul 08

Language Learning Through Bubble Play

By Randi Fried | Toyology Toys Contributors

Summer is coming and I can’t wait to have a break from school and our regular routines.

Summer vacation is so important for getting kids outside, into nature and allowing them to explore. I’m looking forward to planning outings and play for home so the learning continues through the summer months.  I have three kids that range in age from 4-12 so finding an activity that makes everyone happy isn’t always easy, but I know every time I take bubbles out I will have a winner.

Also, as a speech-language pathologist, my number one go-to toy is bubbles.  I always carry a container of bubbles with me to meet a new patient and I always have bubbles in my toy supply to play with during a session.  You may wonder why this simple toy holds a number one spot with me. Well, I’m here to tell you. First and foremost bubbles make kids smile, let’s be honest bubbles are mesmerizing for kids and adults alike.  So sometimes, when meeting a new person bubbles provide the perfect icebreaker and an immediate game to play together.

Second, bubbles provide a wide range of language using opportunities during play, especially with young children and children with a language delay.  Bubbles can be a communicative temptation, something that allows a child to think, act, or react naturally to the situation. Communication temptations can motivate a child with a language delay to initiate communication, talk, or increase his utterance length.  For example, you can open a container of bubbles, blow some for the child, and then close the container tightly. The child wanting more bubbles will need to communicate with the adult to get them. This could be in the form of a gesture, sign, sound, word, or word combination (i.e. pointing to the bubbles, signing ‘more’, saying “buh”, “bubbles” or “more bubbles”).  What’s important is that the adult shows the child their communicative attempt was effective. If your child tries to communicate after you provide the temptation, respond by giving him what he asked for- in this case, more bubbles.

Here are a few other ways to use bubbles as a communicative temptation. An adult can hold the wand near the lips ready to blow and then look expectantly at the child.  When the child communicates, say, “oh I need to blow bubbles”. A good rule of thumb is to use one more word in your phrase than your child uses. For example, if your child is pre-verbal and gestures use a single word “blow”, if your child uses single words to communicate and says “blow”, you can say “blow bubbles”.  This way you are modeling what is one-step ahead for your child. Another way to use bubbles as a communicative temptation is to hide the wand. Then you can’t blow bubbles and you’ll need to look for the wand. You can go on a hunt—“where is the wand?” “Is the wand under the chair? Is the wand on the table?” The important thing is to keep it fun.  Make silly mistakes like trying to blow the bubbles with the lid on so your child has to communicate. Hopefully, you’ll both end up laughing and having fun.

Fubbles No Spill Bubbles

Third, bubbles provide lots of opportunities to practice early speech sounds. Here are a few words you can practice with bubbles: bubble, pop, open, and more. All of these words contain sounds you make with your lips. These sounds are great sounds to practice with a young child or child with a speech and language delay because it’s easy for them to see how the sounds are formed when the look at your mouth. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t say the whole word, word approximations (i.e. “buh” for bubbles or “puh” for pop) are great ways to build speech and language skills. So when your child uses an approximation you can repeat the whole word for him so that he hears the correct model and then when you give him more bubbles he’ll realize how powerful his words were and be more likely to try again.

Lastly, bubbles provide a good oral/motor exercise for your child’s mouth. Your child can learn to blow bubbles on his own. To do this, he’ll need to round his lips and control his breath. These are both skills we use while speaking. To start you can blow bubbles and catch them on the wand, let your child try to blow the bubble off the wand. If this is difficult, catch the bubbles on the wand and bring it to your child’s lips to pop the bubble. This will help your child feel the pop on their lip and their lips are likely to “pop” as well with the sensation. Eventually, your child will be blowing bubbles on his own.

Most of the previous activities are perfect for the toddler and preschool age child, but as I said earlier bubbles are fun for everyone. Bubbles encourage social interaction; older kids can take turns blowing bubbles for each other or for younger siblings. Kids can race to see who can pop the first bubble. You can have a contest and see who can blow the biggest bubble.

Another way I like to extend this activity is to make my own bubbles. You can take pictures of each step and then re-tell how to make bubbles again later. Also, my kids love to look around the house to find things to use as bubble blowers: plastic berry containers, cookie cutters, or colanders. You can also try to make your own wand by shaping a pipe cleaner, cutting off the bottom of a plastic water bottle, or tying a large piece of string together for a giant bubble wand. If you use bubble wands that aren’t shaped like circles, challenge your child to predict the shape of the bubble (spoiler alert: it will always be round!)

No matter what, I hope you get outside enjoy the sunshine, and smile while blowing bubbles with your kids.

Double Bubble Blower

Apr 15

Bath Time Play: How to Add Language to Bath Time

By Randi Fried | Power Of Play

Daily routines are some of the best times to focus on language learning.

Routines are great because they are predictable and repetitive. They offer your child away to anticipate what happens regularly in his life. Sometimes we may not think of what we are doing as a routine (i.e. getting up in the morning, getting dressed, mealtime), just as things we have to do to survive the day. These patterns help our kids recognize rhythm and help them to increase understanding of the world around them. When we take time to slow down some of our routines, they are a great way to help young children and children with some delays learn more language skills.

Octopals

Bath time is one of my favorite routines to add language learning. Most kids enjoy bath time (my youngest did go through a period where he hated baths, but a solid routine and trying different toys/activities helped us work through it). Also, when you’ve been stuck inside due to the cold weather or rainy spring days it’s a nice activity to break up your day. A good routine has a solid start and ending point. Using the same language each time helps your child to recognize the routine and get ready. At bath time, you could simply announce “it’s time to take a bath” or sing a song to transition to the bath: “now it’s time to take a bath, take a bath, take a bath, now it’s time to take a bath my fair baby (or insert your child’s name)”—sung to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”. Once you’ve established the beginning, you can have your child work with you to get ready for the bath using short simple phrases to narrate what you are doing as you go.

Stack 'n Nest Cups

There are so many things to learn at bath time, but one of the first is recognizing/identifying body parts and labeling body parts. You can make this part of your routine as you wash your child. Start by simply labeling what you are washing. You can use simple phrases or sing a song (i.e. “now it’s time to wash your arm, wash your arm, wash your arm). Or, you can tell your child I need to wash your foot—show me your foot. As your child starts to master identifying body parts, you can leave the body part out of the phrase or song and let them fill in the label (i.e. as you wash your child’s hair you could sing “now it’s time to wash your _____ [pause and let your child fill-in “hair”]). Make a game of it by giving your child his own washcloth and take turns washing. You could give your child a choice of which body part to wash next: Do you want to wash your leg or tummy? With a lot of repetition and play your child will learn all their body parts and become an active helper at bath time.

Drip Drip

I also love bath time toys and water play. I try to pick one to two toys per bath, so we don’t get overwhelmed. Here are a few of the toys I love to add to the bath:
· Stacking Cups that Drain: Fill them up and dump them out. Watch the water drain from the holes. Vocabulary to focus on – water, fill-up, empty, pour, more, again. While watching the water drain from the holes at the bottom of the cup, sing a rain nursery rhyme like “Rain Rain Go Away”, once your child is very familiar with the song pause and let her fill in the words.

  • Bubbles: I like to have a small container of bubbles for blowing near the bath. You can blow them for your child or let him work on blowing. Vocabulary to focus on: bubble, pop, blow, more. Bubbles are often very motivating and good for gaining shared attention.
  • Squirt toys: I like squirting toys because young kids usually need help to fill them up and squirt them. They offer a great opportunity for communicative temptations. Vocabulary to focus on –squeeze, fill-up, wet, oh-no (when you get squirted), empty, more, help.
  • Boon Pipes: These are so much fun. They stick to the side of the bath and are perfect for watching the water flow. Vocabulary to focus on – stick, scoop, pour, build, go, more, in, out, empty.
  • Boon Jellies: These colorful toys can stick to the bath, float, and stack. Vocabulary to focus on – up, down, float, more, fall, stick, pull, pop (when they come off the bath), help.

Boon Jellies

Boon Pipes

Remember the rule of plus one/two: for every word your child says you repeat the phrase adding one-two words to help build language skills. If your child is pre-verbal, look for gestures, sounds, or facial expressions and help give meaning by modeling a one/two-word phrase (i.e. “pour” or “pour water”).

Lastly, I love bath time for singing finger songs (i.e. itsy bitsy spider) and playing social games like peek-a-boo. I find that children who have difficulty attending to others in a large space can often learn to focus on these quiet tasks in the bathtub. The child may be calmer in the water or they may simply have fewer things fighting for their attention. I often end bath time with a song. You can encourage your child to imitate your gestures. The song also helps signify the end of our bath time routine. Remember at the end of your routine have a clear ending this can be as simple as saying “all done” or “finished” and/or signing these words. Once your child is familiar with the routine they will be able to learn to participate more independently. As always, have fun with your child because when they are playing and having fun with you they are learning.

Dec 03

Top Toys for Increasing Speech and Language Skills this Holiday

By Randi Fried | Toy Guides

I’m so excited to refresh and renew our toy collection this Holiday Season.  Here are a few of my top toys the can help bring hours of fun and speech/language learning into your home.

I love [SpinAgain] because there are multiple pieces that I can hold onto to encourage a child to request.  I can work on requesting the word or sign “more” or the noun “gear”. We can build up to phrases “I want gear” and questions, “Can I have the gear?”  I can also, work on simple yes/no questions: “do you want the gear?” or “Should I put the gear on my head”. Finally, you can work on concepts like big/small, on/off, and colors.  Kids love watching the spinning gears go down the rod so they are highly motivated by this toy.

If you like these, I’d try the Spoolz by Fat Brain Toys, too.  It’s a fun stacking toy that kids will be eager to try over and over again.   The Roll Again Tower by Fat Brain Toys is another great toy that I can’t wait to try; you can use to encourage requests, too.

SpinAgain

Spoolz

Roll Again Tower

I really like to change out the foods in our play kitchen to add variety to our pretend play.  This year I plan to add this snack food set because what kid doesn’t like snacks?! Also, I love that it comes with re-sealable bags for the snack foods. There are so many language-learning opportunities.  First, we can sort the foods into the correct bags. Then we can count the foods. Of course, we can pretend to eat the foods and have a snack party with friends. But, what I am really looking forward to is mixing up the foods or putting other items into the bags to surprise my little one.  I may put toy spiders in one bag, and small balls in another. This will offer us new things to talk about. Also, we will need to problem solve to find the right snacks.

I also, really like the Smoothie Blender Maker Set by Melissa & Doug.  This set offers opportunities to cut foods and follow directions to make different smoothies.

Store & Serve Snack Food Set

Smoothie Blender MaKer Set

We got our first set of Magna-Tiles a few years ago for Hanukkah and every year since we have been adding to our collection.  This is the number one toy in our house for all ages. This year I plan to add the “Magna-Tiles House Set”. I look forward to adding stairs and doors.  I also, like the reusable stickers to increase vocabulary.

Magna-Tiles are great for working on language skill.  You can hold back pieces to work on requests. Magna-Tiles also offers many opportunities for problem-solving. You can work on concepts like big/little, colors, and shapes.  You can build structures and hide objects inside to work on labeling. You can also work on ‘where’ questions by putting different objects in, on, next to, in front, or behind structures you build.

Magna-Tiles

This is a game, a stacking toy, and a peek-a-boo set.  It says for 2 +, but you could start using it as a stacking toy earlier and work up to taking turns in a game of “Where’s Bear?

Each stacking box represents a room in a house.  They have great pictures that you can use to help your child label or identify.  For an older child, you could work on naming 3 things you find in a specific room (i.e. Tell me three things you find in a bedroom?).   This game is also great for question answering and question formulation. As the parent, you can ask your child a yes/no question about where the bear is hidden (i.e. Is bear in the kitchen?) or you can work on ‘where’ questions.  Find other animals or people figurines and ask “where” or “who” questions (i.e. “who’s in the kitchen?”). This toy has so many possibilities.

I also like the other early game by Peaceable Kingdom.  They teach early turn-taking skills and they are quick and motivating for the child who isn’t ready to sit for a longer game.  Acorn Soup is great for following a sequence of directions and Bunny Bedtime is good for making choices and sequencing.

Where's Bear?

Bunny Bedtime

[Slapzi] is fast and fun to play with older children.  I like the realistic photos on the cards and the prompts on the clue cards are great for categorizing items in new ways.  Slow down the game or play on the same team as your child to help increase word finding and categorization skills. Try to find as many pictures as you can for a clue (i.e. how many things can we find that are “often found in the garage” (lawnmower, work gloves, bucket, skateboard, hose etc.).  You can also use the picture cards separately to label common and uncommon objects or use the clue cards to labels items in a category without the pictures.

Slapzi

These are some of my current favorite toys to help with speech and language development. When I look for new toys, I try to find toys that don’t make too much noise; that way your child and you can do the talking and make sounds.  I also look for toys that are open-ended and can be used in many different ways. I look for some toys that help encourage cooperative play and others that will help encourage independent play. Finally, I look for toys that will help expand and build my kids interests.
Nov 19

How To Survive The Holidays Without Overwhelming Yourself or Your Child

By Randi Fried | Power Of Play

I can’t wait for the holidays.  The family get-togethers, the food, and the presents are all so much fun. But, every year after the initial excitement, I get overwhelmed and frustrated.  There is just so much stuff that takes over my house. I get anxious from all the clutter and so do my kids, even if they can’t verbalize it, I can see it in their behavior. Over the years, I have tried to come up with a few strategies to avoid most of this stress.

First, I take inventory of what my kids have before the holidays.  I try to go to all the different play areas in the house and take out all the toys.  I look at the games, blocks, puzzles, pretend play toys, ect. I make sure all the games and puzzles have all the pieces we need to play.  I ask myself: does my child still like this toy? Is this toy still developmentally appropriate? Does this toy engage my child for more than a couple of minutes?  I also ask myself: what’s missing from our toy collection? Would a set of animals, new people, or more blocks add to their creative play? Would new dress up clothes help spur their creativity during pretend play? While I do these things, I make piles and take notes.

After I take inventory of what we have and what I think might be missing I start to decide what to do with the toys we have.  I make a pile of toys that continue to get a lot of use every day. From this pile, I will keep some toys on the shelves in the rotation and others I will put away in the closet for a month or so.  I find that when I rotate toys my children start to use their toys in new ways and their creativity and attention to toys increases. Toys that my children have outgrown, I will either put away for when a younger child is ready for them, pass on to a friend, or donate.  Finally, I will get rid of any toys that are broken or missing too many pieces. When I’m done with this my toy shelves should be clean, organized, and have room for new items.

Next, I will make a list of what I think will add play value to my children’s toy collection.  For me, these will be toys that increase open-ended creative play, add to a developmental skill (i.e. sorting, storytelling, spatial skills) they are learning, or help build on something they love.  I try to find toys that have lasting power and can grow with them like Magna-Tiles (we’ve added new pieces to our collection for the past few years), dollhouses and pieces, or new items for their play kitchen.  I also like to add a new game or craft set to the mix. Once I have a list of what I think my kids would like/benefit from, I talk to my kids about what they really want for the holiday. I make sure my predictions about what I think they’ll like are right.  They also get excited and begin to anticipate the upcoming holiday. After all this, I’ll have a list of things I know my kids will like and benefit from this holiday. I can use this to give friends and relatives ideas when they ask. I always make sure to put a few experience type gifts (i.e. a day at a favorite museum, trampoline park, or a lesson) on the list, too.

Finally, it’s time to share in the gift giving. Since we celebrate Hanukkah, most of the time we aren’t too overwhelmed with too many gifts at once: we generally open one gift for eight nights.  But those gifts do add up quickly and if we don’t have places for our new toys we can get overwhelmed after a couple of nights. To avoid this, I try to make sure that new toys have a place on the toy shelf.  Also, I try to mix in other items with new toys. One night my kids will get a new book, another night something to wear, another night we might go somewhere together, and finally a few nights they’ll get new toys.  Now, even though most nights during Hanukkah we only get one gift, there are nights when we’ll have family parties and my kids will get multiple gifts. On these nights, I try to let them pick one toy to open and play with.  The other toys I’ll move out of sight and I’ll introduce slowly, one by one so they can really explore them. I may put away craft sets for a snow day or if it’s one that multiple kids can use then I may save it for a play date.   By preparing for the holidays and slowly introducing the new toys I hope this year we won’t be overwhelmed and the excitement the new toys bring will linger a little longer.

Oct 17

Toyology Academy: Imaginative Play – Featured Products

By Randi Fried | Toy Guides

Nothing makes my heart sing more than when I see a child enter the world of imaginative play.

Children can be anyone they want to be while immersed in play: mom/dad, grandma/grandpa, a doctor, a firefighter, or a unicorn – just to name a few. Usually, imaginative play starts off simply when a child begins to imitate things they observe in their environment. They may pick up a play phone and bring it to their ear or bring a toy cup to their mouth.  Eventually, as a child gets older their pretend play will contain an entire story.

Why does imaginative play make my heart sing?  Pretend play shows us that children are becoming symbolic.  They are learning to use one object to represent another (i.e. he picks up a block and pretends to talk on the phone.) This is important to language because words are a set of symbols that we use to represent people, places, actions, ideas, and abstract concepts like emotions (happy, sad, mad) or physical states (hungry, tired, cold).  When a child begins to use pretend play we can see the foundation for language learning grow.

Here are some of our favorite products that encourage imaginative play:

Melissa & Doug

Slice and Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set

STAX

Plus Plus

Melissa & Doug

Brew and Serve
Coffee Maker Set

Learning Resources

Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register

Melissa & Doug

Pet Care Play Set

Mindware

Superkid In Training

Melissa & Doug

Pretend-to-Spend Wallet

Brackitz

Oct 10

Toyology Academy: Imaginative Play

By Randi Fried | Power Of Play

Nothing makes my heart sing more than when I see a child enter the world of imaginative play. Children can be anyone they want to be while immersed in play: mom/dad, grandma/grandpa, a doctor, a firefighter, or a unicorn – just to name a few. Usually, imaginative play starts off simply when a child begins to imitate things they observe in their environment. They may pick up a play phone and bring it to their ear or bring a toy cup to their mouth.  Eventually, as a child gets older their pretend play will contain an entire story.

Why does imaginative play make my heart sing?  Pretend play shows us that children are becoming symbolic.  They are learning to use one object to represent another (i.e. he picks up a block and pretends to talk on the phone.) This is important to language because words are a set of symbols that we use to represent people, places, actions, ideas, and abstract concepts like emotions (happy, sad, mad) or physical states (hungry, tired, cold).  When a child begins to use pretend play we can see the foundation for language learning grow.

How can you as a parent or caregiver promote pretend play?  Have household items readily available for your child to play with. If your child’s interested in watching you cook, give them a bowl and spoon and see what they do.  Does your child bang the bowl with the spoon? If so, their play is still exploratory. Does your child pretend to stir? If so, they’re entering the realm of pretend play.  Maybe, they’ll pretend to take a bite of the ‘food’ or you can help them expand their play by asking for a bite of what they’re making. Other household items that are great for pretend play include brooms, brushes, and washcloths. Anything that your child can use to pretend they’re participating in their daily routine will help expand their pretend play.

If your child starts pretending with your household items and you are still looking for ways to expand his play check out the selection of imaginative toys at Toyology Toys.  They make sets for everything: cleaning, cooking, going to the doctor, or being a farmer. I suggest starting with something that’s very familiar to your child. For example, if you make cookies together every week, check out the Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set.  It comes with cookies, topping pieces to decorate the cookies, an oven mitt, baking sheet, and spatula. Your child can pretend they’re in charge of the baking. They can pretend the baking sheet is too hot to touch without the oven mitt.

Do you make coffee in your Keurig every morning?  Check out the Melissa and Doug 11-piece Brew and Serve Coffee Maker Set. Then your little one can join you for a morning cup of joe.  The food sets are endless if you make something at home Toyology probably has a set to go along with it (i.e. waffles, pasta, salad, cake, snacks).

Do you clean the kitchen every day?  Check out the Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House Dust! Sweep! Mop! Play Set or the Melissa & Doug Spray Squirt, and Squeegee Play Set.  Pretty soon your child will be able to take over the real cleaning for you. Does your child love to run errands with you? Get your child a play cash register, shopping cart, or doctor’s set.  These are great toys to help your child use their imaginative play to expand what they see in the real world.

Once you see your child start to engage in pretend play, sit down observe and see where you can join in the play.  Try to follow their lead in the play. This means you see what captures your child’s attention. Let your child interact with the toys and then you join in by imitating what your child is doing (i.e. if your child is pretending to stir you pretend to stir), commenting about what your child is doing (i.e. “you’re stirring the cookies”), or join in the play (i.e. pretend to eat a cookie).  Try to stay focused on what your child is doing and avoid making comments or giving directions that will take your child’s attention away from the task that they have initiated. If your child’s play with the object seems repetitive you can try commenting to help your child expand what they are doing. For example, if your child is making cookies but stirs the cookies over and over and doesn’t try another step, you could say “Those cookies look so yummy.  I really want to try one.” Then wait and give them time. Your child may offer you one. You can tell them how yummy it tastes. If your child offers you another you can say “no, I’m full” or take the cookie and pretend it’s yucky. In this way, you are following your child’s lead but expanding the type of play and reactions they are being introduced to.

Another trick I like to use with pretend play is puppets, dolls, or stuffed animals.  In the previous example, the child was making cookies and feeding them to you. When you get “full” you could grab a puppet and tell the child that the puppet is so hungry.  In this way, you are still following your child’s lead/idea but adding another level of pretending. Sometimes the puppet may love the cookies, sometimes he may spit the cookie out and say “yucky” or he might eat too much and get a tummy ache.  The possibilities in imaginative play are endless.

Pretend play usually begins between 18 and 24 months of age.  Again, it starts fairly simply with the child pretending to do single activities that they have watched their caregivers do (eat, brush hair, put on a hat, talk on the phone).  What if you don’t see your child doing these things? You can help facilitate this stage by gathering a few common objects (i.e. phone, keys, brush, cup, spoon) and practice using them functionally (for their intended purpose).  Sit face to face with your child and demonstrate the objects use, then wait and see if the child imitates you. If your child does use the object functionally smile and make a simple comment (i.e. “talk on the phone”) to reinforce the action. If your child doesn’t you can help them and make the same comment.  If you make this a fun part of your day hopefully your child will catch on quickly and the pretend play will continue to expand.

I focused mainly on pretend kitchen play because it is a great place to start.  Eating is something we all do and it’s a social activity. As your child gets a little older dollhouses or other playsets with figurines (i.e. airport, school, fire station) are great additions.   There is no one size fits all toy, look at what interests your child and build from there. You can also use your child’s interest to expand their play. If it seems like your child plays with cars all day every day and you want to expand their interest then maybe the car gets sick and goes to the doctor.  You can check the cars ‘heart’ with a toy stethoscope or check the car’s temperature. Or, maybe the car gets hungry and needs to go to the kitchen to “eat”. Remember, it’s pretend play, there is no right/wrong answer, whatever you or your child does they are expanding their imagination, building problem-solving skills, and increasing their language skills.  Bring back your inner child, get on the floor, and have fun with your child.

Jul 30

Language and Relationship Building at the Park!

By Randi Fried | Toyology Toys Contributors

Summer is in full swing and one of our favorite summer activities is visiting local parks.

 

We have fun spending time in the fresh air, running around, and believe it or not we can get language and relationship activities done at the park.  Kids are very often on the move and that’s definitely developmentally appropriate. So, when we can find ways to enrich language skills and relationship skills while they’re moving, it is a win for everyone.

Very often when we think of speech and language skills, we think of words and the sounds we use to form the words.  There are actually a set of skills children need before they use words; these are called prelinguistic communication skills.  Prelinguistic communication skills include gestures, vocalizations, eye-gaze, and facial expressions. They include a set of skills called joint attention (when two people share an interest in an object and event) social reciprocity (or initiating conversation, turn-taking, and responding to communication).  Most of the time babies are very skilled at prelinguistic communication by 9-15 months of age. Children with language delays and Autism may take more time to learn these skills and require specific practice.

The park can be a great place to work on these skills.  The park allows your child to move around freely and engage their sensory motor skills, which may activate different parts of the brain, and help your child be more open to building relationships, and/or language skills.

Let’s start on the swings, because this is often the first thing a child can use at the park. Whether your child is sitting in a bucket swing or a regular swing try standing in front of them to push, this way you and your child are face to face.  Once you’ve established swinging as a fun game, try holding the swing like you are ready to let go, but wait for your child to look at you. Once they look at you, let them go and say “swing”, “weee”, or “go”. That way you’ve established joint attention, reinforced the eye-contact and given a language model.  To build on this and sustain the eye-gaze for longer you can say “ready-set-go” or “one-two-three-go.” Once you’ve established joint attention, you can build anticipation by changing the amount of time you wait between words in the phrase. Finally, wait until your child gestures, signs, or uses a word before you let go.  Remember the rule of plus one/two: for every word your child says you repeat the phrase adding one-two words to help build language skills.

 

After the swing, the slide is a great way to work on language and relationship skills. Let your child climb to the top of the slide and then playfully block them from going down.  Again, you can wait for eye-contact, a gesture, or a word to move out of the way. Great vocabulary words to work on with the slide include: go, stop, up, down, high, low, slow and fast.  If you are at a park that has a double slide, try going down next to your child. At the bottom try to sustain their attention with a high-five and say “we did it!” See if you’ll child will request ‘more slide’ thereby building more social reciprocity into the activity by extending the turn taking. You can see how long you can keep the turn taking going by keeping the sliding game fun.

 

Another structure we like to play with at the park is the merry-go-round.  My favorite thing to do with the merry-go-round is to sing a simple song:

“Round and Round on the merry-go-round
Round and Round on the merry go-round
Round and Round on the merry-go-round
Everybody Stop!”

You do exactly what the words say and then wait for your child to look at you, gesture, or request more.  Songs are great way to help promote language learning. They have predictable words in a predictable order, they may have predictable actions your child can do, and they lend themselves to predictable turn-taking.  Once your child is familiar with this song or any song, pause and see if your child will fill in the next word/phrase. If they do keep singing and try pausing in more places. If your child doesn’t fill in the word, fill in the words for them after the pause and try again another time.  Another song you can sing with the merry-go-round is Ring-Around-the-Rosey, instead of falling down you can say, “stop.”

Once your child tries some of these activities at the park they will become part of a routine, or predictable pattern which young children and children with Autism and language delays love.  The routine you build will not only help build social communication, and expressive communication but also comprehension. Once you have a well established routine try changing things up just a little.  For example, try spinning the swing instead of pushing it back and forth. This may surprise your child, which may cause him to look at you and smile (i.e. joint attention), and it will give your child something else to request in the future (i.e. social reciprocity).

Other language building activities to expand park play include:

  • Practice following 2-step unrelated directions:  Run under the monkey bars, then go down the slide.  Make a game of it and see how many directions your child can remember.
  • Take pictures at the park then when you are back at home or before bed look at the pictures and talk about what you did.  Tell me your favorite thing we did at the park today? Or, sequence three activities you did at the park. For example: First I went down the slide.  Then I went across the monkey bars. Last I played tag with mommy.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun with your child at the park.  We all learn best when we are interested in the activity and when we are having fun.