Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just a thought.....

During the first several months of life, play is not a baby's primary concern. At this stage, babies are looking for warmth, food, and comfort. Even so, they are active learning machines who are interested in exploring their environments. This exploration moves from accidental discovery (e.g., accidentally kicking something hanging off of a crib gym) to a purposeful movement (e.g., making something happen again and again by kicking the crib gym) to make smoothing specific happen. You'll find the best toys for babies in the first three months are designed to help them make important connections with the physical and social world around them.

Pick Me Up: Fun Songs for Learning Signs by Sign 2 Me

If you are interested in teaching your infant or toddler to use sign language this is a fun and worthwhile resource. There are 20 different songs in the song book, which is accompanied by a CD/DVD that you can play on a PC or Mac CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. You can also play it on a regular CD player. The songs are all performed in different styles of music that are appealing to adults and children alike. For example, the song "Please Change My Diapers" is actually performed in the style of Frank Sinatra! You can purchase the song book through a local bookstore or directly from the Sign 2 Me company at The website also offers a great selection of other signing resources. Strengths: The music is engaging and makes learning sign language fun for both parent and child. If you were to actually learn all 20 songs you would have a signed vocabulary of approximately 160 single word signs and 40 simple phrases/word combinations. Weaknesses: Some families have stated that they don't like the drawings of the signs that accompany the songs, but there are great live demonstrations on the accompanying CD/DVD.

My First Fishbowl by Lamaze

This is a toy that is enjoyed by infants and toddlers across a wide range of ages. The soft appealing "fish" each make different sounds (e.g. rattle and a squeaker) and are constructed of materials that are interesting to chew and feel. The clear plastic bowl is easy for little hands to manipulate as well as drop toys into. Strengths: The fish are just the right size for little hands and offer little ones lots of practice in grasping and releasing objects. Weaknesses: The fish are made out of fabric (which is easy to spot clean) so some parents are hesitant to let their child mouth them.

Peep & Squeak Bunny

This is a soft and gentle introduction to the traditional Jack-in-the Box for older infants and young toddlers. The bunny is spring loaded and when pushed down into the box will pop up when the lid is opened. Another nice feature of the toy is that if the bunny is removed the box itself can be used as a clutch toy for younger infants. Strengths: It's visually appealing to young children and the bunny can be taken out of the box for more independent play. Weaknesses: The bunny sometimes gets "stuck" in the box so the toy looses some of its surprise value. Although children initially like to explore the toy, I have found that their interest is not long lasting.

Ball Party Roll Around Tower by Tomy

This toy is a highly popular one for the majority of toddlers. This is because it incorporates several activities that they enjoy: dropping something down a chute, watching it reappear at the bottom of the tower, and having balls to throw and roll independently of the other functions of the toy! The tower is easy to store because it comes apart into five separate, smaller pieces. This is also a nice feature of the toy because you can make the tower shorter if your child is having difficulty reaching or maintaining balance when he or she is putting the ball in the top of the tower. The ball tower pictured is about 7 years old and there is an updated version of the toy out there, but the basic premise of both is the same. Strengths: Great play value for the money spent. It holds the attention of toddlers for a long period of time and they tend to come back to it time-after-time to play some more. Weaknesses: When built to it's full height the tower is a little wobbly for young children who need to hold on to it when they place the ball down the chute.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just a thought....

As toddlers get older they start to express a new found sense of independence and that means they might have difficulty sharing their toys with someone else. Remember, they are not being purposefully difficult; they are simply showing an increased understanding of the rules we live by. One option for handling these behaviours is by giving choices to your toddler, "Do you want to play with the blocks or the elephant?"

NUK Massage Brush by Gerber

This may not be a toy in the traditional sense, but it is by far one of the best teething "toys" that I've ever found. Sadly not many families seem to know about it, so here it is. The NUK massage brush is approximately 4 inches long, made of a durable plastic and malleable rubber, and has a bumpy end that is just the right size for older infants (8-9 months+) and toddlers to mouth during those nasty teething times. You can find NUK massage brushes on Strengths: According to Gerber this brush s a great way to get young children used to using a toothbrush. It's probably very effective on that front, but it's also also an excellent teether. Weaknesses: This isn't really a weakness, but given the age of the children interested in using a NUK brush, it must only be used under adult supervision.

Stack, Flap, and Tumble by Yookidoo

Dropping things into buckets and stacking objects are activities that can keep toddlers busy for a long time. With this in mind the concept behind Stack, Flap, and Tumble is a good one. This 5-piece stacking tower comes with three brightly coloured balls and wings on the side of three of the stacking cubes. When a ball is dropped down a circular chute (formed by holes in the centre of each cube) the wings flap and a musical tune is activated when the ball hits the bottom piece. Strengths: The balls are just the right size for little hands and toddlers enjoy shaking, dropping, throwing, rolling, and mouthing them. Weaknesses: Most of the toddlers I've used this toy with seem to lose interest after dropping a ball down the chute once or twice, so the play value is not great when compared to the cost of the toy. Also, the flapping action on the wings isn't that dramatic, so visually the toy doesn't seem to keep the attention of a busy toddler for an especially long period of time.

Tangiball by Discovery Toys

Balls are always a popular play choice for toddlers and the Tangiball is one of the MOST popular one's that I've used. This ball is interesting for infants and toddlers of all ages! Currently the Tangiball is not listed in the Discovery Toys ( on-line catalog, but it is available through Strengths: This ball is packed with sensory experiences for infants and toddlers alike, It's nubby texture and vanilla scent make it a fun toy to experience on several levels. I've had one for about 16 years and it still smells really good! Weaknesses: The plastic of the ball will become cloudy after a few years, but this doesn't detract from its overall play value.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Push n' Go Mother & Baby Giraffe by Bruin

This is a simple toy that is great for "on-the-go" toddlers. Basically, the toy works by pushing the head of the mother giraffe down, making the wheeled legs open like a pair of scissors. When you let go of the head, mother and baby roll across the floor. The toy moves fairly quickly, so little feet get lots of practice chasing it. It also requires the child to use both hands to operate the toy - one hand to stabilize it and the other to push the mother's head down. Although Toys R' Us carries Bruin toys, I've never seen this particular toy at stores in the U.S. The website for Fat Brain Toys,, carries the toy on occasion. Strengths: It's a fun, colourful toy that both toddlers and infants can enjoy - infants by watching and toddlers by chasing. Also it's reasonably priced so it offers good play value for the money you'll spend. Weaknesses: It is difficult to find and younger toddlers can become frustrated with a toy that requires them to use both hands to operate in.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Just a thought.....

If you're interested in learning more about typical development during the first three years of life, visit the website for the National Centre for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. This non-profit organization provides information about cutting-edge research as well as general developmental information for families with children between the ages of birth - 3 years. The website offers information to parents and other caregivers that ranges from discipline, feeding, reading to, and playing with a child as well as many other topics. Their web address for Zero to Three is

Bee Bop Band by Parents

Children and music seem to be inseparable. Band sets let toddlers explore shaking, pounding, clapping, and squeezing while making lots of new noises. The Bee Bop Band comes with 5 different instruments: a drum and 2 drumsticks; a lady bug xylophone; a bumble bee maraca; a worm tambourine; and an ant bell shaker. Strengths: All of the instruments fit into the drum and the lid is a fairly tight fit so a toddler could have some difficulty getting in to it (which means no unwanted concerts when you a trying to grab just a couple of seconds of sleep!). Weaknesses: Although instruments can be a great deal of fun, a couple of those in the Bee Bop Band Set (the ant bell shaker and the worm tambourine) are very loud and can startle some children if they are sensitive to unexpected, loud noises.

Discovery Knock Knock Blocks by The Discovery Store

These wonderful blocks will allow your toddler to explore different textures, sounds, and pictures, and will keep his or her attention for months to come. You can find Knock Knock Blocks at the Discovery Store, but I have usually found them at their online store Once you reach their home page, enter "knock knock" in the Search box and click GO. Strengths: They are easy for little hands to grip and manipulate and the door and windows on each block are actually flaps that hide other pictures. Weaknesses: The fact that the blocks are made out of fabric and spend a lot of time being chewed on by younger children, have caused parents to express concerns about cleaning difficulties. I wipe mine off with a warm, damp cloth or even a Clorox wipe and have never had any difficulty with stains or germ contamination.

Moo Sounds Milk & Cookies by Fisher Price

This is a classic dump and drop toy. You dump the cookies out of the bottle and then drop them back inside. It may not sound like a great deal of fun to adults but trust me babies love to do this. By about 8-9 months of age the idea of dropping and dumping predominates a baby's way of playing. This toy offers 5 brightly coloured plastic "cookies" that are easy for little fingers to explore and manipulate, as well as a nice wide opening on the top of the milk jug that the cookies easily fit through. There is also a nice surprise for baby when he or she dumps the milk jug over - it makes a mooing sound (a little distorted, but a moo none-the-less). Strengths: This toy will be a favourite for a long time. It is flexible enough to move from simple games such as dumping & pouring, to more sophisticated games like sorting/identifying colours and numbers, and finally can be used as part of simple symbolic play activities (e.g., having a tea party for stuffed animals) as your child gets even older. Weaknesses: As mentioned earlier, the moo sounds fairly artificial, but adults will be bothered by this more than children.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Just a thought....

Try not to overwhelm your child with toys. In fact, it's a good idea to put some toys away for a while and then bring them back at a later date. They will have much more appeal than if your baby or toddler sees them everyday. Also, try exchanging toys with your friends who have little ones. You'll be surprised at how excited your baby will be to play with a "new" toy.

Spin-a-Shape Elephant by International Playthings

If you're interested in a shape sorter that will take your child through many stages of development, this is the shape sorter for you. It comes with six different sorting blocks. For younger children (about 12 months) this sorter
is fun because they can drop the blocks in/dump them out of the elephant's trunk. Older toddlers can actually learn to sort shapes that are more complex than the basic circle, square, and triangle that are staples of most sorters for young children. A cute feature of this toy is the tail of the elephant. It's actually a crank that allows you to move the shape openings to different positions on the box (e.g., if your child is trying to find where the circle goes, you can position the opening for the circle at the top of the elephant's back. A company by the name of Circo also has an elephant shape sorter like this one and is available at Target Stores. Strengths: The toy is able to offer more challenging activities for children as they get older, so it has good play value for the cost of the toy. Weaknesses: Children may become very frustrated with the more complex shapes, so it's definitely a toy you want to use during parent-child playtime.

Lock-a-Block by Ambi Toys

This is a GREAT basic shape sorter. I've had one for about 20 years and it's still going strong. There are six sorting blocks and the box locks with an attached plastic key. This helps to encourage some social play because your child will need help getting the box open and relocked. You can't find this shape sorter at most major toy retailers in the United States, but it is usually available through the Beyond Play website ( Strengths: This toy is great for teaching fine motor skills, cause-effect relationships, and even sorting/matching skills. The large shapes are very easy for little fingers to manipulate. Weaknesses: Since the top and bottom of the box are glued on they can separate from the box. This happened to mine after about 15 years of having it in my therapy room with many children playing with it, so if you're planning on using it with only 1-2 children this probably won't be a big weakness for you.

Dinosaur Ball Pit by K's Kids

Balls are always a popular toy for older infants and toddlers. A new twist for playing with balls can involve using a "ball pit". The K's Kids Dino Ball Pit is a wonderful plush dinosaur that zips open and closed as a means of storing the balls neatly away. The dinosaur is covered with spots and scales made of crinkly, soft, smooth and reflective fabrics that will keep young children interested in play for a long time. Strengths: Because it is made of soft fabrics the ball pit is great for promoting social games with your child. Tossing balls in and out, playing peek-a-boo over the side of the ball pit, or giving baby a ride by gently pushing or pulling the ball pit for short distances are all fun ways to spend time together. It's also fully machine washable. Weaknesses: The balls that come with the pit are very light weight and can therefore be easily crushed or dented.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just a thought....

Children don't need lots of toys in order to learn and grow. In fact YOU are the best and most exciting toy your child will ever have. Instead of just focusing on playing with objects, think about playing "People Games" with your child everyday. Games like "Peek-a-Boo" or"So Big", and songs such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", "Tiny Tim", "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree", and "The Ant, the Bug, and the Bee" are all great action games and songs that your child will love. You can even make up songs and games about things you and your child do. Don't worry about the rules or tune, just have fun!

Chime Garden by Lamaze

Older infants love little surprises when they play with toys. That's what makes the Chime Garden such a wonderful toy to explore. When you touch the flowers they light up and play several different songs or just a musical tone. Younger infants enjoy watching this toy, but babies between the ages of 6-9 months really seem to enjoy batting at the flowers as well as exploring the textured petals with their fingers and mouths. In general this has been a very popular toy with almost all of the infants and young toddlers I have used it with. Strengths: The lights, music, and different textures of the petals offer great sensory play opportunities for babies. Weaknesses: Sometimes infants have difficulty activating the toy and this can result in tears and frustration.

Happy Apple by Fisher Price

This toy is a CLASSIC!!! It's actually a chime ball that is extremely easy for 1-2 month old infants or children with significant motor planning issues to operate. Basically you tap, push, kick, or shake the ball and the chimes ring. Not very high tech, but sometimes simple is best. Strengths: It's another toy that can help babies tolerate a little more tummy time because it gives them something fun and simple to reach for. Weaknesses: It's hard to find. Fisher Price puts it back into their line-up of toys on occasion. Personally I wish it would come back as part of their regular offering. Usually you are able to find one on eBay.

Swap n' Go Musical Snail by Yookidoo

This is one of my favourite and most popular toys for children between the ages of 6-15 months. There is a three pronged "button" on the snail's tail that when pushed starts a song and lets the snail roll forward. When the snail moves the rattle on it's back rolls along with it. The toy comes with two interchangeable rattles. Both are interesting, but the one pictured next to the snail has a squeaky push button and can be taken apart and turned into a stacking toy. Strengths: The toy is easy to operate, so little fingers can easily push the button and make it go. Since it moves at a fairly slow pace it's a great toy to help young children develop visual tracking skills and can be a great distraction for babies who don't enjoy tummy time. Weaknesses: The only drawback of this toy is that there isn't an on/off switch - anytime you bump the tail the song starts to play, so it can become a little annoying for adults.