Friday, December 10, 2010

Shake and Stack Vehicles - Stacking Farm Animals by Fisher Price

If you are looking for a fun and simple "first toy" for a young child this is definitely one that's worth a look. Even though the toy is designed to be stacked, which is beyond the motor capabilities of very young children, each piece is fun to use all on its' own. The cow has a jingle bell, the pig squeaks when you push it's nose, the chicken rattles, and the tractor is just fun for older infants and toddlers to push back-and-forth. What's nice about the Stacking Farm Animals Toy is that the ways it can be played with actually change as children get a bit older and develop better fine motor skills. Initially the toy really is a simple cause-effect toy, where babies can poke, shake, and squeak their favourite animals. Once they get a bit older they can stack the animals on top of the tractor and take them all for a ride. Because each animal has two sturdy bristle-block like surfaces, the animals can be put together in many different ways as children learn to explore size concepts. Overall, a fun little toy!

Pets Jumbo Puzzle by Melissa and Doug

Just like all of the other Melissa and Doug Jumbo wooden puzzles this is a wonderful one for older infants and toddlers. The pieces are large, the knobs easy to grasp, and the pictures are big, bold, and beautiful! The pieces are easy for young children to remove from the puzzle board and even if they aren't able to get the pieces back into the right spots, there's still fun to be had by matching the pictures to one another and making fun animal sounds. I really like that Melissa and Doug do "theme" puzzles (pets, farm animals, fish bowl, etc.) because it's a wonderful way to help young children learn about categorizing and similarities/differences. I have found these puzzles to be extremely durable and don't hesitate to use them with children who still like to chew or mouth toys. I've heard some complaints that the pictures will peel off of the wooden backings after awhile, but I've never encountered those kinds of difficulties.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Toddler Barn by Fisher Price

I'm not sure if the actual name of this toy was "The Toddler Barn" but since it's no longer commercially available, that's what I call it. This is another one of those toys that I've had for over 20 years and am truly disappointed that Fisher Price no longer makes such a simple and fun barn for very young children. The barn, which is the size of large lunch box, is very portable and of course durable. There is a door on each end of the barn that open up to store the farm animals and the silo is actually a chute that the animals can slide down. It doesn't sing, light up, or make animal noises - it's just a fun toy to play with. I don't remember what animals originally came with it, but I have found that most of the current Fisher Price animals fit into it quite nicely. It's an old but wonderful toy, definitely something to check for on eBay or at yard sales.

Toddler House by Fisher Price

I have used this house in therapy for about 25 years and it is still as interesting and exciting to young children as it was all of those years ago! The house is very simple, but includes some excellent opportunities for exploration for young learners. The door bell rings, the front door opens and closes, the garage door opens and closes, The roof opens up into a little bedroom, and the chimney is actually a great sliding chute. What's nice about the house, is that little people from more current play sets sit fit in nicely, so you don't have to worry about tracking down all of the old people pieces to use with it. There are not a lot of bells and whistles on this toy, but if you're able to find one on eBay or at a yard sale, grab it because it will be an investment that will give your child hours and hours and hours of uninterrupted play fun!

Little People Zoo Train by Fisher Price

This is a great first train for young explorers (9 months+)! The train consists of three cars that can be easily attached/detached from one another and the animals are a great size for little hands to hold. When you push down on the animals, a song plays. What makes this piece one of their best is the movement of the pieces when the train is pushed around. The giraffe spins in a circle, two other animals are able to tetter- totter and the parrot (I've lost my parrot and replaced it with a peacock, but it still works just wonderfully) swings back and forth on his perch. Children seem to enjoy putting the train together in different combinations and like to include animals from other Fisher Price sets in their play. The pieces are bright and don't seem to fade. This is also a toy that is very easy to wash.

Cow Peek-a-Boo Rattle by Infantino

This is a small, plush rattle that has lots of great sights, sounds, and textures for infants to explore. Some of the loops surrounding the cow's head are a hard textured plastic that is great for chewing on while the other cloth pieces make different crinkling and rattling sounds when moved even slightly. The best surprise about the rattle is that when you flip the cow's head back, there is a little unbreakable mirror inside, so babies can spend time looking at their faces. There is also a boomering on the top of the cow so it can be clipped to a stroller or diaper bag quite easily. The rattle is small enough (and textured enough) that it is easy for little hands to manage. It's a great early rattle because of the size and materials used to construct the toy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Big Frog Can't Fit In by Mo Willems

This is a really unique pop-up-book by one of my favourite children's authors Mo Willems. The idea behind the story is that Frog is so big that the book simply can't hold her in. She wishes she was smaller or more bendable, but nothing she did would help her fit inside the book. But with the help of many of her smaller friends they finally discovered a way to help Big Frog - they made the book BIGGER! The story is simple, and some of the pop-up figures a bit hard to get folded up again, but I every child I've used it with has loved the impossibility of Big Frog's problem. They try to figure out how to fit their bodies into small spaces, so it's actually a great story to promote all kinds of problem solving four young children!

The Late Talker: What to Do If Your Child Isn't Talking Yet by Marilyn Agin, Lisa Geng, and Malcolm Nicholl

As a speech-language pathologist, I'm not really a big fan
of lots of books that tell you "why" your child might not
be talking. But this book not only addresses why some children can really be identified as late talkers, it tackles the issue of apraxia of speech in a way that makes sense to families. This is not a "How to Book" or something that will give you great hands-on activities to do with a child who is not yet talking, but it does offer some great insights to parents, teachers, and therapists about what could potentially be the cause behind this developmental difference. The book isn't for everyone, and if you're looking for a "This is how I teach my child to talk" book - this one is definitely not the one for you. I found it to be very interesting and shared some of the chapters with families I work with and have received very positive feedback from them.

Elmo and Grover Full Body Puppets by Sesame Street

These fluffy hand puppets are soft and easy for little hands to manipulate. Each puppet has a movable mouth that let's the puppet chew, talk, and blow kisses to their adoring toddler fans! What I like the most about my puppets is that they are surface washable and their mouths are fairly easy to operate, even for toddler hands. Each puppet stands about 15" tall but can be snuggled into a smaller ball if your child wants something soft to hang on to. Each puppet costs about $15 so they aren't cost prohibitive for many families. Besides, as any toddler knows, you can get a lot of play value out of these furry little friends!

Handy Manny's Talking Tool Box by Fisher Price

This busy little tool box is popular with a wide range of children at different ages. It comes with Pat, Turner, Dusty, Stretch, Felipe, Squeeze, and Rusty and when the Manny button on the front of the box it pushed, the tools come to life! They sing, "Hop Up, Jump In", "dance", and say handy tool phrases like "Let's get to work!" The tools are a great size for little hands and I've found that the children I work with like to incorporate the toys into all kinds of other play activities (e.g., fixing the tires on a car and building a play doh house to name only a few). The only draw back is that the music on the toy is a little bit on the loud side and since there is no volume control button - you get Manny full blast at all times! I've taken the batteries out a few times when I just couldn't take the singing any more and for the most part the children I work with still loved the toy and didn't seem to miss the sound.

Building Blocks Sevilla by Haba

This is my largest set of Haba blocks. There are 25 unique shapes with creative designs on each of the pieces. As usual, they are made out of beech wood and decorated with a non-toxic solvent-free dye. There are some of the blocks that contain a rattle, bell, mirror, magnifier, peephole, and prism. Like all Haba block sets these are beautifully crafted and can stand up to chewing, throwing, dropping, and just about everything else an active toddler can throw at them! They are great size for a toddler's hand and some of the larger pieces are actually quite easy to stack. Whenever I use them, I'm always reminded of how much fun play can be when using just a basic, simple toy. They are a bit expensive (about $60- $70) but the quality of each piece is worth the extra price. I've had mine for some time now and have found them to be extremely durable and highly popular with children of all ages.

Cordoba Blocks by Haba

This 16 piece block set is made out of beech wood are painted vibrant colours that seem to be appealing to children and parents alike! The blocks contain a rattle, bell, mirror, and prism features, which are very popular with young explorers! The shapes of the blocks are fairly unique and while you don't get a lot of blocks for your money (they cost about $35 for the set) they are certainly worth it because of their durability and overall play value. This set is also nice because it can be incorporated into other Haba building sets quite easily. I've used my set quite a bit for the past year and they still look great and I find that they are popular with children at all different ages! The building possibilities are endless for older children and the bells and mirrors hold special appeal for young children (12 months+).

Click Clack Ball Track by Haba

If you're looking for a wonderfully sturdy ball track for your older infant or toddlers this is one that is definitely worth checking out! The wooden track which measures about 19" x 6" x 16" is natural wood painted with water-based, solvent free lacquers. There are three golf ball sized "marbles" that come with the toy and are easy to make roll down the curvy track and drop through the big holes at each end of the slanted levels. The track is the perfect size for 12-18 month old children because they can sit in front of it and still drop the balls through the holes. What I like about it is that there are relatively few special effects like music, buzzers, or lights that go off as the balls make their way down the track. It's a bit on the expensive side (about $119-$125) but worth it! Sometimes the green ball falls off the track, but for the most part it's a fun and quality ball track that children can enjoy for a long time!