Best New Games for Speech Intervention

May23

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
  • Word-finding
  • Description

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.

  • Vocabulary
  • 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.

Toddler Talking Points

toddler blog

Toddlers are some of my favorite people—they explore with abandon, imitate pirates and fairies, refuse with gusto, stack, dump and search, communicate with persistence, and give enthusiastic hugs with sloppy kisses. So why would we get in their way? One of the most common mistakes I see parents make with their toddlers is to ask too many questions, which actually inhibits their language.

I arrived at a home this week, to evaluate an 18-month-old boy, whose mom was concerned he was delayed in talking. As our play session progressed, it was apparent that he wasn’t far behind, using many words meaningfully in his little world, like “milk,” “ball,” and “car.” When I watched his mother interact with him, she was questioning him with, “What’s that?” or “Can you say ‘book’?” I gently suggested that when we ask too many questions, especially for the child to perform, it is not natural and many times the child clams up. They are smarter than you think and can feel the pressure.

Rather than questioning, model a word, phrase or sentence related to what your toddler is doing at the time. When we talk about what she is focusing on, she can take in more language since it relates to her experience. When she chooses a book, simply say, “Book. Let’s read our book. This book is about the beach.”

Joining your child’s play, following their lead and talking about what they are playing with can boost their language development. Selecting appropriate toys for learning at this stage engages the child and builds cognitive and language skills. Pretend play begins to emerge at around 1 year of age and progresses as a child imitates the adults around him. At one year of age, a teddy bear, cup, spoon, and blanket can encourage a little story, while a two year-old will enjoy pushing a fire truck into the station.

Look for toys that have a few related props for open-ended play that your child can direct. Playmobil’s 1.2.3 sets are geared for toddlers, providing simpler chunky figures that only take a twist to sit them down, or ride on an animal. The Playmobil 1.2.3. Large Zoo comes with fence sections to enclose the animals, a tractor and detachable trailer to deliver the food, and plenty of people, including mom and baby to chat on a park bench.

Doll play encourages dialogue and imagination as children care for and take their friend out on activities. Corolle‘s premier dolls, geared for age appropriate play from infant and up, has just introduced a new doll that loves the water,

Bébé Bath & Accessories.” Pack up for a snorkeling adventure in the tub, complete with floaties, flippers and a snorkel mask!

Thinkfun’s “Hello Sunshine” joins their first toddler game, “Roll ‘n Play” which was popular with toddlers and their moms last year. I am more frequently asked for toy suggestions by parents of toddlers than any other age, which might explain why these simple starter games provide more structure for parents and caregivers who appreciate some guidance on where to start their play. Hide the plush Sunshine ball according to picture cards depicting positions such as in a box or on top of your head!

Flexible, multi-use toys are my favorites as HABA’s Arranging Game My Animal Friends can be a flat puzzle of 17 interlocking, brightly colored wooden pieces or a three-dimensional story making houses, bridges, or towers while stars, a fence, bridge and grass provide the backdrop for a cat, dog, mouse, frog, ladybug, and bee to carry on with the storytelling.

WOW Fire Rescue Rory is a parent’ s dream because it has only four pieces but so much potential for creative play. The helicopter is powered by kids, pulling the trigger, activating the friction motors to fly to the rescue. A casted figure slips into the stretcher to be scooped up by Rory thanks to a magnet system. Kids love to transport the injured person and release him to a doctor’s care. The story is totally up to the child as they add on doctors, hospitals and helpers.
Finally, an excellent resource for parents is “My Toddler Talks, Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development” by Kimberly Scanlon, MA, CCC-SLP.

So come along side your toddlers and enter into her play, following her lead as she builds a town for her ladybug and bee, feeds the zoo animals, goes for a swim, searches for an injured friend, or delights in finding a little sunshine.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. The above products were provided by their companies for review.

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.

Back to School Great New Games for Speech Therapy

The beginning of a new school year is always exciting for students as well as educators–I still feel the thrill several years after I’ve left the public schools to start my private practice. Everything is fresh and new–paper, name tags,  friends, teachers and backpacks. In keeping with a fresh start, I wanted to share some of my favorite new off-the-shelf products that can add a fun twist to your speech and language therapy sessions. Some of the toys and games are produced by large, international companies and some invented by ingenious educators and therapists who followed their dream and assembled a game in their garage:

Storymatic Kids by The Storymatic Corporation

Originally designed as a writing prompt by a creative writing teacher in Vermont, Storymatic Kids has taken on a life of its own. Fans are using this little box of 360 idea cards to inspire many creative endeavors beyond writing including cartooning, music, film and improvisation. Start out choosing two random yellow cards to describe your character and one blue card to get the story going. Our first story cards were “grandpa,” “bookworm,” and “here comes trouble.” Kids took off with a tale about our bookworm grandpa who was getting in trouble for losing his books, while a “mistaken identity” card had him sneaking off to the skate park to stay in shape since he was a skateboard champion. “Recess,” “befriended by a hippo” and “kiss” all had to be associated with the story and woven into the theme. It could be a jump from “recess’ to “befriended by a hippo” unless you were my little friend who linked them because the zookeeper visited the school to teach about animals. This box of thoughtfully designed cards is so portable for itinerant therapists and can be used to advance speech and language skills:

  • build vocabulary
  • associate ideas to build a coherent story
  • collaborate with classmates on storytelling or writing goals
  • carryover for stuttering and articulation therapy
  • teach elements of a good story–characters, setting, problem, solution (the only 2 rules for this game are that your character has to change through the story and stay alive–the inventor clearly understands kids!)

Recommended age: 5 and up. There is an older version called Storymatic although I have used the kids’  version with middle school students with language learning issues.

Feed the Woozle by Peaceable Kingdom

 

Preschoolers love this goofy, orange, furry creature wearing black high-tops with his signature “W” on them. His sign to “FEED ME” cannot be ignored as kids load up their spoon with wacky snack tokens like toenail toast or spider-egg pudding and make their way to Feed the Woozle without dropping their loot, depositing them in his wide open mouth. Three levels of cooperative play provide a perfect game for a group of kids of different ages. Three year-olds roll the die, count up the snacks to place on the spoon and walk carefully to feed the Woozle. Level 2 ups the ante for 4-5 year-olds as they use the spinner to direct how to move toward the Woozle–hula dance, bunny hop, spin, march, walk backwards or go crazy! Get out the blindfold for the third level, as you play with your eyes closed, relying on other players to verbally direct you to Woozle’s mouth. Here’s a tip–let’s hope your fellow players know right and left. I’ve used this game to:

  • improve social language with kids on the autism spectrum and their typical peers as they work together to feed the Woozle
  • work on following directions during the blindfold level 3
  • carryover practice for articulation

Two other great collaborative games from Peaceable Kingdom are “Seeds for the Birds” and “Race to the Treasure” where players race against an ogre which is quite motivating!

Recommended age: 3-6 years.

Jake and The Neverland Pirates Never Land Challenge by Wonder Forge

My pirate mateys loved this game as we worked as a team to complete pirate challenges and earn more gold doubloons than Captain Hook. Flip over a red and a blue doubloon to tell you the object to use, and how to use it to complete your task–”with the sword on your head, walk backwards around the vines,” or “with the cannonball under your chin, hop on one foot to the X and back.”  Kids started to ask each other, “Can you do the challenge?” and their friend replied, “Yo, Ho, Let’s go!”  Kids are so engrossed in the action, that they don’t realize the language learning involved to advance in the game. Tasks vary in difficulty from walking backwards to zig-zagging through the foam vines. We talk through each challenge, offering advice and laughing at the outcome as kids learn to:

  • Follow directions
  • Collaborate
  • Ask questions
  • Solve problems
  • Learn prepositions

Recommended age: 3 and up

FitzIt by Gamewright

Kids have such fun playing FitzIt, generating words based on multiple attribute cards they draw. My favorite was: what is usually used for entertainment, can melt, is smaller than a golf ball and doesn’t need a plug or battery? Of course, a chocolate truffle! It is such fun to see what kids create. The next player adds to the grid, using as many of his descriptor cards to connect horizontally or vertically to a card already played and announces his word to fit. FitzIt can build vocabulary and language as it requires players to think within a category as they move from general to specific,  adding additional descriptors and attributes. This little box of fun is portable speech therapy on the move.

  • Builds vocabulary
  • Encourages deductive thinking
  • Builds categories and association skills

Recommended age: 10 years and up

Morphology Jr. by Morphology Games

Morphology Jr. is like playing Pictionary only with objects, as the Morphologist picks a word card, gives the clue–which is associated with the target word, usually its category–and proceeds to “create” the word with 30 available props. Colored cubes, wooden shapes, string, rubber rings and glass drops can transform into a band-aid, bunk bed or a yawn.  Players have to continually modify their structure to add features of the concept they are trying to convey. A wooden figure with two rectangular blocks was thought to be a bird until the Morphologist did a slow and steady take-off for an airplane.  More abstract concepts like “wind,” “yell,” and “roots” required abstract thinking as the string represented the roots of a tree topped with green blocks for foliage. The kid-friendly game board is a series of lily pads, as your frog marker advances and follows the directions for various challenges including limiting the number of props available, adding sound effects (really helpful for the wind!) or becoming one of the props yourself. Kids represent a word with a series of objects, requiring them to know the essential features of the object, action or person and then guessers have to re-convert the concepts presented back to a word. Quick thinking and language processing help players identify critical differences to distinguish their word from the wrong one being guessed. What do I have to portray to show a garbage truck and not a dump truck? The discussion afterwards about how a player portrayed a word and why players guessed certain words was a helpful exercise to work on syntax, inference, or description.

  • Discuss similarities and differences
  • Builds description, object properties
  • Language processing
  • Inference

Recommended age: 8 years and up

Rory’s Story Cubes- Actions by Gamewright

Roll out this newest Rory’s Story Cubes set and start your stories. Each of the 9 cubes has 54 illustrated everyday verbs–listen, jump, draw, take, light, or press–to move the story to a new place in the plot. Similar to the original set of Rory’s Story Cubes including nouns, this set can be viewed from a concrete to more abstract perspective. I thought one figure was sleeping while another player thought he was “snooping!” Flexibility is a key value of this game as kids can tell stories solo or in a group, combine the dice with other sets, or practice verb tenses. A favorite version with my players was naming opposites as we made a tower of dice. What’s the opposite of play? Work. What’s the opposite of build? Destroy. They loved to keep going until our tower toppled! I use this set to:

  • Tell stories teaching the elements of a good story
  • Work on  verb tenses–present, past, future
  • Work on opposites
  • Use conjunctions

Recommended age: 8 years and up

Sound It! Found It! by Wowopolis

Kids are master noise-makers as they guess the sound source, and find the image of what made the sound in a related illustration. 96 sound cards are broken into categories that match the 8 scene boards illustrating kids’ events–a basketball game, carnival, rock concert, space station, haunted house, zoo, house and classroom.  A designated “Sounder” selects a card in a category, and makes the sound pictured for others to guess. The “Listeners” try to be the first to guess the sound’s source and also find it on the corresponding scene board. I heard some terrific burps, ketchup splurts and basketball whooshes.  Kids need to think on many levels–interpret the picture, generate an associated sound, match the auditory sound to a visual picture, scan a packed illustration and often look for associations (looking for the frog? find the water). The inventor of this game confided in me that his wife is a speech pathologist so we know he got some great input! Help kids:

  • Think in categories
  • Process
  • Build association skills
  • Build listening skills

Recommended age: 7 years and up

Disclosure: The above games were provided by their companies for review

(This post originally appeared on Play on Words.)

 

Sherry Artemenko M.S.CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist for over 35 years, has  a private practice, Play on Words LLC, popular blog,www.playonwords.com, and is the founder of the PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) which distinguish the best new toys, games and books that have the DNA to build language skills in children.

 

Speech Therapy Ideas for Preschoolers

Toy Face

Photo by Flickr

One of the joys of having a blog is that I hear from people literally all around the world. Some are parents seeking advice for their children who have speech and language delays, some are students in grad school asking my opinion on a app they are developing or a grant they want to pursue, and some are fellow SLP’s who have great suggestions, questions or just need a little encouragement. I got the following note that falls in the last category. I asked the sender if I could excerpt her note and include it on my blog in hopes that it would help others who might have the same questions.

 ”Hi Sherry.  My name is__and I am an SLP.  I came across your blog a few weeks ago and have enjoyed following it very much. I just started working again in the schools, part time, after taking 10 years off having my own 3 children.  The needs and direction of services seem to have changed so much since then!  I am enjoying myself and the kids tremendously, but still feel trepidation as I enter the preschool classroom!!!!  I have five 3-4 years olds I’m providing services for, 3 of which are on the spectrum, and 2 others with rec/exp delays.  I go in for an hour at a time, and work with 2 kids at a time, 20 min each in a small corner of the room.  To be honest, I am beside myself with coming up with things to do and bring!!  I have one boy who is really difficult to engage, protests and yells “no” to everything in front of him basically.  Other than “no” he has very limited spontaneous language, but when engaged will imitate up to 3 words.  The others are pretty compliant. I guess I’m just wondering if you have suggestions for engaging 2-3 kids at a time with various levels of engagement and communication skills.  Are there toys, games, activities, etc that you have found to be successful, a bag of tricks perhaps?!   I havent worked much at all with this age group and population.”

Dear SLP Colleague,

I can relate since my first job as a speech pathologist was with preschool kids and I went full-circle to again end up with that age in an early learning center in our town before I started my private practice. I actually had to serve five 3 year-olds at time for up to 1 1/2 hours per session. Basically you need lots of activities to change things up to keep them engaged. On my website, I have listed my PAL Award winners which you can sort by year and age for toys, books and games to encourage language. Here are some of my favorites that I fill my therapy bag with:

  • Play-Doh–an essential. You can keep kids interested by having a set of cookie cutters (there are great tubs by theme available such as Play-Doh Picnic Bucket), add a roller and put them in a closed container so kids have to ask for them to get one. Even opening the Play-Doh lid requires “help me” or “I do” or “open” to get a response by you. The Play-Doh EZ 2 Do Zoo is like a Mr. Potato Head with animal pieces that you stick into a ball of Play-doh. Kids love this!
  • Duplo, Lego sets that again involve you holding on to the box of pieces as they request one, either a bear, water, fish, man or car in the Zoo Set or try the farm and supermarket themes. Kids love these because they are familiar vocabulary and they can add-on and build a little bridge, pond or step for their figures. Here is my blog about best Duplo lego sets for building language.
  • Fisher Price Little People sets are great for generating language and conversations, working on pretend play as you model talking with one of the figures and kids respond. Boys really like the cars and trucks, gas station and car wash. Camping, motorhome and eating themes are popular too.
  • I often read short books, modeling 1-3 word phrases and pausing for the kids to repeat, and then do an activity related to the story whether it is a song, or simple craft. If we make something, then they can take it home and it becomes an opportunity to share with the parents what they did, bridging the language lesson to home. Help kids to see the joy of reading a book early. I even get my kids to repeat with me, “We LOVE books!” (especially if they are a little resistant, it seems to get them fired up.)
  • Play food and a kitchen are always popular with the kids and a great way to build language. You don’t need a huge kitchen. Step2 makes aSizzlin’ Shapes Kitchen table top version for portability and HaPe has several smaller sets of wooden food to throw in your therapy bag for an activity.
  • Puzzles are another preschool therapy activity. You can model a word or phrase and reward a child by giving them a piece to the puzzle. Puzzles by Lauri and Rubbabu provide a sensory experience with their rubber pieces. Also I might use a bigger puzzle like  “The Pirate Ship”from Ravensburger because I describe the scene on a piece before putting it in the puzzle.
  • Pretend Play scenarios are fun whether it has to do with buying or eating ice pops or creating cupcakes in the add-on Duplo lego set,“Creative Cakes.” or Alex Toys’ stand for making ice pops.
  • Crafts involving glue, glitter and paint seem  to excite preschoolers. I have been through many tubes of glitter glue, decorating frogs or people. “Dot a Dot” paints are simple tubes of paint with a stamp at the end. Kids are excited to ask for the tubes by color, “more,” “on,” etc.

These are just a few of my favorite materials to use with preschoolers in speech and language therapy.  I invite my fellow SLP’s to add on their favorites to this list. I know when I was working in the schools we had very limited budgets for materials so I bought a lot of my toys at tag sales (garage sales) and got many things donated by parents of elementary aged kids who were more than happy to have me take their outgrown toys when they were cleaning out their play room. That being said, I started to buy a few good quality toys and games each year and many are still with me.

Disclosure: The PAL Award winners were provided for review by their companies. The opinions expressed in my reviews are solely my own.

(This post originally appeared on Play on Words.)

 

Sherry Artemenko M.S.CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist for over 35 years, has  a private practice, Play on Words LLC, popular blog, www.playonwords.com, and is the founder of the PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) which distinguish the best new toys, games and books that have the DNA to build language skills in children.

Is the Toy Industry Listening to Kids With Special Needs?

Enchanted Cupcake Party by Wonder Forge

Earning bling for my princess tiara, landing at the secret rangers headquarters, shooting mini-marshmallows, cuddling up in a wearable puppet, guessing, rhyming, plinking and popping, I was captivated by every minute of the 2012 New York International Toy Fair. The air was alive with excitement as I talked to inventors, tried out products, and listened to manufacturers about the play potential of the best new products to benefit our kids with special needs. For the first time in my 6 years of attending the show, I saw an increased interest from the toy industry in learning how their products can be helpful. Companies were hearing from retailers that parents had successfully used their products to strengthen specific skills related to disabilities.

More than one-fifth of US households with children have at least one child with special needs. About 5.8 million of the nation’s schoolchildren, ages 6 to 21,  are receiving special education services (about 61 percent percent of those students have specific learning disabilities or speech or language impairments) and that doesn’t include preschoolers who are targeted for early intervention.  Several national organizations and popular blogs are getting the word out about effective diagnosis, treatment and recommended techniques and products to build delayed skills.  People are getting it–this is a population that wants, needs and deserves to be taught with the best, most innovative and most importantly, FUN toys to advance their development. Parents of children with special needs want their kids to enjoy the same play experience as their peers and siblings. Their child’s days are often filled with hours of specialized therapy that can and should be augmented with great play using mainstream toys.

Here are some of the companies that are interested, listening, learning and responding:

Roll & Play by ThinkFun

Charlotte Fixler, Communication Manager and Education Specialist at ThinkFun, said “I’ve heard from more speech therapists this year than ever before about how they effectively use our games for speech therapy. Speech therapists are an incredibly creative group.” Once again, ThinkFun has several new games that would adapt well to speech therapy including their first toddler game, “Roll & Play” which includes a large soft block with primary colors on each side. Toss the plush cube and match the color to a card and perform that activity, “Make a happy face” or “Moo like a cow.” Check out ThinkFun’s blog, SmartPlay for inspiration on how games can help those struggling to learn due to disabilities or accidents. Recently a woman wrote, “I want to thank you for creating a game that children love, and one that helps heal a brain that has been so badly damaged.”

Rory O’Connor, inventor Rory’s Story Cubes

Rory O’Connor, the inventor of Gamewright’s “Rory’s Story Cubes,” has heard from so many parents and education professionals working with children and adults to develop language and communication skills, confidence and self-expression and he is still listening. ”When we designed the original Rory’s Story Cubes®, we made them compact enough to fit in a bag or pocket. This was so that your set of Rory’s Story Cubes® would always be to hand when needed. Since launching in 2009, we have been regularly asked by parents and professionals working in the area of special needs, if we would consider making a version of Rory’s Story Cubes® using bigger dice. The main reasons why they want this larger set are:

  • Supporting reduced motor skills. For some players with reduced motor skills it is difficult to pick up small objects.
  • Supporting reduced vision acuity. Some players find small images difficult to read.
  • Avoiding accidental choking hazards. We have learned that for some players it is important that the dice are made bigger to avoid choking.
  • Group Training. Trainers and facilitators working in larger groups would also like bigger cubes to aid group storytelling.

It is important to us that Rory’s Story Cubes can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. One of the most rewarding things for us is hearing feedback from parents and teachers who tell us how Rory’s Story Cubes is allowing self-expression among children and adults who would normally find it difficult to do so.” The result of their feedback is the design of “Rory’s Story Cubes: MAX,”  larger cubes for easier manipulation and recognition. You can weigh in on the subject on Rory’s website here.

Annika Harper introduces new games at Blue Orange

Blue Orange Games contacted me to assess the therapeutic value of their games from a speech and language perspective. I have been blogging about their great games for years with specific tips on how to use them in speech therapy. This year I found an even greater array of games loaded with language learning potential: “Shrimp Cocktail,” “Chef Cuckoo” and “On the Road,” all round card games in a take-along tin (great for the itinerant therapist) which involve vocabulary, description, selling your dish concocted by the chef, and calling out what you see on a road trip! Again, my observations from 15,000 hours of kid work have been born out–great language flows from excellent toys and games. It can’t be contained.

Infantino Right Angle Tummy Triangle

Step2/Infantino has launched the initiative “Everybody Plays,” according to Colette Cosky, Senior Brand Manager at Infantino. “We are committed to diversity in our brand communications. The Everybody Plays campaign encourages all kids together, including children with special needs, because everybody plays. As a company we feel it is our responsibility to show diversity on all levels of our visual communications.  The more we do our part, the greater potential that society as a whole will see inclusiveness as the norm.” At the Toy Fair, I was introduced to specific products that are great for typically developing children but have also served kids with special needs in advancing their development such as “Right Angle Tummy Triangle”, developed with pediatric occupational therapists, to build upper body strength and balance, which contributes to early speech development.

Hape’s language nutrition

Hape Toys knows that language is an important ingredient in learning. Their bright, durable wooden toys are rich in open-ended language play. The recent re-branding of the Educo line reflects their emphasis on educating kids through creative play– “Learning is at the Heart of Our Toys.” In talking to Robin Lehnert, Hape’s Marketing Manager of Hape North America, it is obvious that they look closely at their products that are designed to grow all kids but might have the criteria to help build specific skills for kids with disabilities. Their “Eggspressions,” a set of wooden eggs with different facial expressions on them, is a helpful tool to get kids talking about and naming their emotions while building social language.

The Wonder Forge consistently produces fun preschool board games embedded with language learning and preschool skills. I am in touch with their inventors, president and marketing team, pointing out the developmental learning in their games. Their games cultivate language from “Richard Scarry’s  Busytown Eye Found It! Game” which is a great vocabulary builder to their new products, “Enchanted Cupcake Party” and “Dazzling Princess’ which encourage sequencing, while baking princess cupcakes, earning jewels for answering princess questions, or role play. Kimberley Pierce, WonderForge’s VP of Marketing Communications, shared, “We’ve heard from a number of parents over the years who tell us that our Wonder Forge games have helped their children with special needs develop important skills. We intentionally build in age-appropriate learning in our games. We try to engage kids physically, socially, and creatively, so there are many different ways for children to connect with the content and enjoy the fun.”

Jumbo Bananagrams

Judee Cohen, Public Relations Consultant at Bananagrams, was very interested in hearing about any success stories I had in using their games with kids with special needs. We discussed how many kids on the autism spectrum are hyperlexic,  exhibiting an intense interest in letters, so Bananagrams’ letter games would capitalize on that for learning. This year, their introduction of a larger “Jumbo Bananagrams” and “Zip-It” allows for more active play outside and certainly easier manipulation for kids with special needs.

HABA’s Henri Haba Knight Costume

HABA USA‘s president, Lea Culliton hit on why their products are effective with kids with special needs–durability, multi-levels of play, and the fun factor that joins them with their siblings. “HABA is continuing to learn just how much our products are being embraced by the community of parents with children of special needs.  I’ve been told that the durability of our wooden blocks, game boards, boxes and game pieces and the various levels of play that the HABA assortment offers these families is very strong.  Families comment on how their children with no challenges can easily interact and not get ‘bored’ playing our games with their siblings with special needs.   What may seem as a simple color sorting or stacking game can provide hours of fun just interacting with the pieces of the products themselves.  HABA USA will continue to take that feedback back to Germany to our designers to continue to provide the extended value of play within our assortment.” Some of HABA’s new products that I liked for language learning were their pirate and knight costumes, “Henry Haba” and “Captain Charlie,” as well as their preschool playsets with just enough direction for play but open-ended for the child to lead–”Large Playset on the Farm,” and “Out and About With Tom,” which includes a train and add-on road or track. Several “First Games” for 18 months and up promote early learning too.

I see a powerful synergy growing in the toy industry–between manufacturers and retailers who value specific learning features in their products, parents of kids with special needs pursuing skill-building products and creative educators and therapists sharing what toys work best to advance skills.

As therapists, educators and parents we should collaborate with and support these companies, not only by using their products but providing them with feedback on how their toys and games have been helpful to our kids, so more children can benefit. Send a detailed lesson plan, a success story or a picture to encourage manufacturers to keep our kids in mind when developing and marketing their products to help all kids. After all, isn’t that one of the first concepts we learned as educators, to reinforce behavior we want to continue?

(This post originally appeared on Play on Words)

 

Sherry Artemenko M.S.CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist for over 35 years, has  a private practice, Play on Words LLC, popular blog, www.playonwords.com, and is the founder of the PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) which distinguish the best new toys, games and books that have the DNA to build language skills in children.

Best New Games for Speech Therapy

I have always used toys and games in my speech therapy sessions that are designed for all kids, meaning the fun factor comes first. It has been my passion to find outstanding products marketed for the general population, that have the DNA to build speech and language skills. I want to share some of my Best New Games for Speech Therapy:

1. Buzz Blast by Discovery Bay Games

I knew “Buzz Blast” was a favorite when kids begged to go first to share their answers as soon as a new challenge card was presented. Kids delighted in the timed task of coming up with original answers to four challenges: describing the differences between two pictures in “Check and Double Check,” filling in the blanks on “Silly Sentences,” answering abstract questions in “Brain Play” or blurting out their “Tongue Twisters.” Kids fed on each other’s creativity as they gave an answer, passed the Buzz Blast timer to the next player, and continued generating original answers until the buzzer went off—oops, you have to talk fast so you’re not left holding that buzzing buzzer! “My perfect picnic would include____ but no____, called up favorite foods, games and people, and even “making a new friend” to be perfect. Kids need to think in categories, describe, “How is a window different than a mirror?” use abstract reasoning, “Name a way you are like a pencil” and compare. You get the most for your money with this set of 4 games. Buzz Blast gets the conversation moving while building critical language skills:

  • categories
  • association
  • similarities and differences
  • abstract thinking
  • can be used in later stages of carryover for articulation therapy

Recommended age: 7 and up

2. Chuggington’s Traintastic Cargo Game by I Can Do That! Games

Hang on to your conductor’s hat for a clever, multi-leveled, game of fun, strategy and learning. Drive your favorite Chuggington train into the depot to load up your boxcars, making sure your cargo is in the proper order. Spin to determine what boxcar to open and select tiny cargo pieces based on their color, shape or number. Faced with several options, players must decide what category to pursue to sequence their cargo pieces, matching a chosen Vee card. Ensuring that different ages can play together, the Vee cards are as simple as a sequence of five colors, or as difficult as ordering a combination of 5 numbers, shapes and colors. Kids loved opening the game board boxcars to retrieve their cargo, requiring an element of memory as players try to remember what car holds which cargo. All bets are off when a player spins “Move the Train,” and the circular board rotates to mix up the boxcars and their loot. Language is strengthened while kids learn early categories of color, shapes and numbers, as well as use the words to sequence their cargo–first, second, third, last–and pick up some emergent literacy skills while matching and ordering game pieces.  This high quality game is enhanced by the packaging, providing a detailed town around the inside of the box to create more opportunities for talk. Language learning:

  • vocabulary: colors, shapes, numbers, first/next/last
  • learning sequences
  • can be used as a reinforcing game for articulation therapy

Suggested Age: 3 years and up

3. I Built It! Memory Match+Tic Tac Toe by I Built It! Games

The possibilities are endless with Memory Match+Tic Tac Toe as kids create and customize their game before playing. Continually under construction, this set of games is flexible for endless fun and learning. Unscrew the 18 game pieces and insert your personalized pictures, drawings or stickers to set up for play. If you want to play Memory, be sure to draw in duplicate! A sample sheet is provided to jump-start your play. Extra free drawings–including 3-D Shapes and Numbers– are easily downloaded from their website or simply create your own. My kids started out coloring the pictures provided but wanted to customize the second round along their favorite theme. I used this game to teach what insects do to prepare for winter by having a child draw the insects in duplicate and giving facts about their survival when they made a match. The language learning potential is unlimited:

  • vocabulary
  • concepts
  • emotions, facial expressions
  • opposites
  • sounds for specific articulation practice
  • word-finding

Age 3 and up

Who Am I? by HABA Toys

Who am I? An astronaut? Rain boots? Or a fried egg? Ask the right questions and you’ll discover the answer. The “Guesser” straps on the headband, while the rest of the players select a picture card and attach it to his forehead with a cute question magnet. Through a series of yes and no questions, the child determines what picture is on his forehead. Guess your picture card before you use up your 10 tokens from “no” answers.  All the pieces fit into a small cartooned tin which makes this game ideal for travelling in a speech therapist’s bag!  This game is a great language building experience which is a load of fun:

  • Asking and answering questions
  • Thinking in categories
  • Deductive reasoning

Recommended Age: 5 years and up

Mermaid Beach By Gamewright

Intrigued that a girl their age actually created this game, kids jump right into “Mermaid Beach” and love this beachy-Go Fish card game. There is no lying around on Mermaid Beach because you have to be on your toes to craftily play the right cards to empty your hand and possess the most high scoring shell cards at the end of the game. The colorful cast of undersea characters include Priscilla Pearls,  Swirly Shirley, and Mussels Mark–a speech tongue twister in itself! Play your cards to win some shells, but watch out for Sneaker Waves who laps up an opponent’s shell card, or the yucky Seaweed that adds another card to your hand. Don’t be left with The Sea Monster or your tally will diminish. I’ve seen parents pick right up on teaching their child vocabulary of who has “more” or “less” shell points. Language lessons:

  • beach vocabulary
  • math vocabulary of more and less, 2 more than you, etc
  • if/then discussing options and strategy
  • articulation practice

Ages: 6 and up

What’s In the Cat’s Hat? by I Can Do That Games

Wait a minute, The cat  just left his hat behind with a little surprise inside. It’s our job to guess what it is. Kids love being the Hat Master who selects an item from around the room, hides it in the hat and waits for you to guess. Each turn you choose two cards to ask questions of the Master –Is it round? Does it come apart? or carry out a clue–Lift the hat by the brim, or Feel the hat with your elbows. Little flaps open on the hat to give a smell, a peek (you only see shadows), or a feel of the object hidden inside. A language building game of deduction, “What’s In the Cat’s Hat?” gives kids lots of practice combining information, asking questions and describing the hidden object. After the clue to “Jiggle the hat,” my little friend said, “That gave me a clue, it’s heavy!” or after poking his finger in the hole he said, “It’s definitely hard.” Your therapy room provides all the variety for many rounds of this game. Kids selected a train car, remote control, cotton ball and scotch tape dispenser. Children had so much fun with this game, after an hour of play, one said, “Do we have enough time for another round? Of course! Language learning:

  • Asking questions (kids are given some help with picture cards depicting the question
  • Answering questions
  • Descriptive vocabulary by category (how it feels, looks smells)
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Auditory memory

Recommended age: 3 years and up

Disclosure: The above products were provided for review by their companies

(This post originally appeared on Play on Words)

 

Sherry Artemenko M.S.CCC-SLP, a speech language pathologist for over 35 years, has  a private practice, Play on Words LLC, popular blog, www.playonwords.com, and is the founder of the PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) which distinguish the best new toys, games and books that have the DNA to build language skills in children.