I’m lucky to have enjoyed the unique opportunity to attend the International Toy Fair in New York City as a member of the press, viewing the exciting new products being introduced. After seeing hundreds of new games, toys and books, I shared my first impressions of what stood out, delivering language learning potential. Now that I have had a chance to catch my breath, the boxes are arriving with Ninja Turtle games and fuzzy chick puppets to review for my PAL Award (Play Advances Language). As speech language pathologists, we are a busy crew, spinning many plates at once–serving our clients, keeping data, attending meetings, planning therapy and keeping up with what’s new. Many of you have told me how much you appreciate my selection process and the products I recommend, saving you time, so here are my newest recommendations with descriptions on how I have found them to be helpful. As always, I love your comments on how YOU use them in new and creative ways too!
Animal Soup The Mixed-Up Animal Board Game! by The Haywire Group
Just setting up this game gets lots of giggles going as kids look at the pictured math showing the sum of a tiger plus a rhinoceros equals, of course, a “tigeroceros!” Preschoolers request that I read through each zany combination of animals before starting the game. Players make their way around the forest game board, which cleverly uses the box, as they land on different animals, collecting the corresponding picture card. Kids continually check the large reference chart of combined animals to see what they need to complete their “croctopus,” “birdle” or “squale”–(crocodile+octopus, bird+turtle, or squirrel+whale). Thankfully they have a “trade” option to land on so they can negotiate with a peer for the animal to complete their creature. Flip the two matching cards over, and you are rewarded with a hilarious animal soup combination. Two completed mixed-up animals wins the game. This game, based on the best selling book by Todd S. Doodler, can be used to further speech and language skills:
- Articulation: repeat the goofy combined animal names, which I’ve found helpful in making preschoolers aware of moving their mouths and listening to include all the sounds in a word.
- Practice negotiating skills as they realize cards needed for a trade and anticipate where their needed card is coming up on the board.
- Follow directions.
- Comparisons between the game and the book it is based on.
Suggested age: 3 and up. This is so popular with my preschoolers, they consistently request to play.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Clash Alley Strategy Board Game by Wonder Forge
Start your social language lesson as kids set up the 3-D game board, stacking boxes at different levels for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to traverse through the maze-like warehouse. A collaborative effort, players help each other to customize the board. An excellent introduction to strategy games, Clash Alley has many options to enhance the turtle’s success as they run, climb and leap to race to complete their mission, uncovering the card to rescue April, retrieve the AI chip, grab the Mutagen or even pick up a pizza! Earning and playing action cards are the key to successful travel across the board as your turtle can team up to battle villains–Kraag, powerful mutants and even Shredder–to collect spy cards to peak under a mission disk, swipe card to steal from another player, or Team Up, which allows two turtles to combine attack points to overcome a villain. The directions take a little time to understand but once kids got them, they couldn’t get enough of this game. Speech and language goals to address:
- Description: I use this multi-leveled game of strategy in my group with higher-level kids on the autism spectrum and their typical peer play partner. I have my client explain the directions (which have many options for beating the villains) which can be challenging. The visual prompts of action cards and triple option dice help.
- Social language: Learning to take turns and a group attack option to join forces with another player.
- Academic language: Language of math as kids help each other add up attack points and have to determine what number is greater or less than another to win the battle.
- Pretend play: Kids surprised me as they got into the game because even though they were competing against each other, there was a feeling of camaraderie against the villains.
Suggested age: The manufacturer says 6 years and up but I found the directions are more suited to 7 or 8 and up although you certainly can adapt this game to younger kids, since Teenage Ninja Turtles are so hot right now.
On the Farm Who’s In the Barnyard by Ravensburger
This farm set with characters, vehicles and animals is a puzzle, pretend play set and first game all in one. Open the barn like a book, identifying all the animals and objects from pigs, chicks and bunnies to tools and bales of hay. Talk through the illustrations on the outside of the barn with the fruit stand, conveyor with bales of hay and parked tractor. Kids love to snap out the windows and door as a puzzle experience so they can peer inside, or even play a game of peek-a-boo. Add the base and roof and you have a perfect house for your barnyard friends to practice your animal sounds as kids match and place your cut-out figures next to corresponding pictures on the barn. Take the play up a notch with a matching game as you switch game figures and others have to guess who moved! This set is so open-ended, I used it for several activities with 2 year-olds. Here are some speech and language skills to build:
- Teach animal sounds, as you play with the corresponding figures.
- Articulation. I had plenty of /p/ and /h/ words to model with this set.
- Pretend play as the barn is built and animals can move in and out of the play scheme.
- Verbs, and prepositions can be modeled as you play with this set.
Suggested age: 2 years and up. I’d say this is best for the toddler set. Excellent educational suggestions are included in the box so this is also a good product to suggest to parents who would like some assistance in how to encourage language learning with this toy.
WordARound by Thinkfun
I never knew reading in circles could be so much fun! Each round card has blue, red and black concentric circles, with a single word written in each ring. Players race to unravel the word and shout it out to win a card. Flip the card over and you will see what color ring to examine on the next round, searching for a word. With no beginning or end to the word, players look for patterns, prefixes and suffixes like “ant,” in “hesitant” and ” er,” in “finger.” I found myself looking for consonants to start a word, until other players beat me at “uneven” and “almost,” leading me to factor in initial vowels too. Some cards flipped over to present the word so I could read it easily like “porcupine,” which made for an easy turn. Starting anywhere on the ring and sounding out the string of sounds also brought results as players recognized parts of words like “typical.” WordARound is addictive, and watch out because little clients can beat you at this! I use it for:
- Vocabulary: Discuss meanings and practice using new words.
- Reading: Develop strategies to find words in the circle.
- Articulation carryover for older kids.
Suggested age: 10 years and up
What’s It? by Peaceable Kingdom
What’s It? is a cooperative game where players interpret doodle cards and score points for thinking alike. Roll the dice with category options such as you love it, use it, wear it, don’t want it, or make up your own category. Flip over a doodle card, start the 30-second timer and play begins. Players record at least three guesses based on the drawing and category but try to think like their fellow players. This is where I was at a bit of a disadvantage, playing with 8 year-olds. They saw buttons when I saw a pearl necklace and they saw shark teeth when I saw a zipper! Players earn points when their answers match. I’ve used this game with higher functioning kids on the autism spectrum, encouraging more abstract thinking.
- Calling up words in categories
Suggested age: 8 and up
Qualities by SimplyFun
SimplyFun’s game, Qualities, is a natural language catalyst and a creative way to get to know and be known by friends. Up to seven players take turns identifying and rating certain qualities in themselves, while game-mates offer up their own perceptions. “Qualities” runs off of a Preference Board as players accumulate points as they match their assessment of player’s personalities to their own judgement. What gives you the most energy… going to the park, going to a museum or organizing? Lots of conversation follows as players defend their answers with examples of that behavior. Players rate the extent to which a player is “tolerant,” “cautious,””empathic” or “sympathetic,” to name a few. The trait and value cards were a vocabulary lesson in themselves.
- Language of persuasion
- Explanation of how traits are manifested in a person’s actions or activities
- Abstract thinking
Suggested age: 12 years and up. This game is great with adults too.
Disclosure: The above games were provided for review by their companies.
Sherry Y. Artemenko MA, CCC-SLP, has worked with children for more than 35 years to improve their speech and language, serving as a speech language pathologist in both the public and private school systems and private practice.