Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't Put Your Finger in the Jelly, Nelly by Nick Sharratt

This is a great variation on a "finger in the hole" book for slightly older children. Preschoolers and young school aged children find the wacky illustrations and silly text absolutely irresistible. It's impossible to resist text like "Don't put your finger in the jelly, Nelly! You might upset a jellphant! (an angry looking elephant made out of green jelly) or "Don't put your finger in the cheese, Louise! You'll get caught by an alligrater!" (an alligator whose skin is the surface of a cheese grater). The book is wonderful to read aloud to a group of children.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems

This is another fabulous addition to the "Pigeon" series of books by Mo Willems. The pigeon simply wants to gobble up that hot dog that he found and not share a bite with anyone, especially a persuasive and pesky little duck who is just dying for a taste. At first the pigeon entertains the duck by telling him that "Each morsel is a joy! A celebration on a bun" and has no intention of sharing his yummy hot dog. But the little duck persists with his questions about hot dogs: "What do they taste like?...Would you say that it tastes like chicken?...Hey, I'm a curious bird." Finally the pigeon realizes that he has been our negotiated by the clever little duck who gets half of the hot dog. The illustrations are compellingly simple and the text is hilarious! Most children (and adults) will find something to laugh about in this great book.

Sugar Cookies: Sweet Little Lessons on Love by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal uses cookies as a metaphor to illustrate the qualities of love! Each page begins with a capitalized, bold word that is then defined in simple terms related to the overall theme of cookies. For example "COMPASSIONATE means that when you burn the cookies to a crisp, I'll be there to give you a hug". The books defines complex emotional themes in very simple and meaningful ways for young children. The illustrations are whimsical and help to convey the overall theme of love and caring. It's a lovely book to share with young children of all ages. 

Little People Dumpety the Dump Truck by Fisher Proce

Little construction workers will have lots of fun exploring the construction site with this bumping and bouncing dump truck. The "eyes" on the front of the truck blink as it is pushed forward and two "dirt" boulders bounce up and down as the truck is pushed along. When the driver is pushed down securely in his seat, the engine roars, a horn beeps, and the truck makes dumping sounds. The toy comes with a little people construction worker and two dirt boulders. Strengths: The toy promotes lots of simple pretend play and can be easily incorporated into other little people play sets. Weaknesses:  It's a great little truck that the children I work with love it, so I haven't been able to find any limitations. It pretty much performs as expected!

Melody the Mini Van & Lil Mover SUV by Fisher Price

Both of these vehicles are great additions to the Fisher Price house set. They come with "Mommies" and babies in car seats that fit neatly into the back seat of each car.  The hatch back doors open and both play music when certain buttons are activated.  Strengths:  These little vehicles have ample space to hold a wide variety of different people and play accessories (especially if the child doesn't need to have all of the people sit in a specific seat). Weaknesses: The side doors on my vehicles don't open (but they are a little bit older) and this can sometimes frustrate children if they are having difficulty getting the people into the cars through the roof openings.

Lil Mover Dump Truck by Fisher Price

This is another great little vehicle from Fisher Price that is appealing to toddlers and preschoolers alike. The styling is simple and there aren't lots of bells and whistles that detract from the overall play value of the toy. The driver wobbles in his seat when the truck is pushed and if the driver is pushed down on the seat a song plays. The truck comes with a driver and pretend dirt that lifts easily out of the back of the dump truck. Strengths: It's a wonderful pretend play toy that can be incorporated into many different play sets. Weaknesses: The pretend dirt is great, but it doesn't fit securely into the back of the truck. 

Lil Mover Fire Truck by Fisher Price

Fisher Price has a great reputation for making durable toys that appeal to children of many different ages. This sturdy little truck is no exception. It's a nice size for toddlers and has some interesting little cause/effect features.There are 4 sounds when you press down on the driver's seat: a fire engine's horn, police sirens, ladder extending with a dog barking, and the "Up and down, down and up" song. The truck comes with two characters, a fireman and dog with a fire helmet (not pictured). Strengths:  The truck appeals to very young toddlers because it is so easy to manipulate but older children also like it because it's a fun toy for imaginary play. It rolls easily on a variety of different surfaces and the figures are easy to insert/remove from the truck seat and ladder bucket. Weaknesses:  Because the ladder can be folded down there is a risk that little fingers could be pinched, but I've personally never had any difficulties with the toy and the children I work with seem to love it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn & Why They Need to Play More & Memorize Less by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kathey Hirsch-Pasek, & Diane Eyer

When a book includes a quote that states "Put away your credit card and get out your library card" you know that you are in for an excellent review of play and development that focuses on the importance of social interactions with other people. Children of all ages really do learn the most through interacting with people in the world around them and the authors of this book explore how to make learning time fun time. Many "store bought" toys encourage children to play with them in certain ways. Those can be fun play options, but it's always nice to know that children can branch out and play with toys (and other items) in creative and engaging ways that the manufacturer of a toy may have never thought of. This is a practical and easy to read book for parents, teachers, and anyone else interested in promoting development through fun and socially reinforcing interactions!

Crazy Car by Haba

Pulling toys are always a wonderful way to encourage young children to reach out and explore their environments. Haba's Crazy car is a simple yet interesting pull toy that is appealing to little ones for many different reasons. There is a little person in the front of the car who can be rotated from side to side, a little bell that rings, a kaleidoscope that reflects the light, and shiny patterns on both the car and wheels. Both infants and toddlers find this toy interesting - babies want to crawl to get it and toddlers like to walk around pulling this funny little car behind them. As with all Haba wooden toys it is made of solid beech wood and painted with a non-toxic solvent free dye. Strengths: The care is very easy to move, so even a child who doesn't have much upper body strength can get the car to move forward by lightly tugging on the attached cord. The wheels are fun because they are slightly misshapen and therefore the car has kind of a lopsided movements that many of the children I work with find funny. The edges of the car, wheels, and little triangles on the back of the car are rounded so they won't poke or pinch little fingers.  Weaknesses: It's not a really high-tech toy with lots of bells and whistles, so if that's the kind of pull toy you want, don't get this one. But if you're looking for a durable and appealing toy that is simple and well made, this is one you should definitely check out.

    Building Blocks Zoolino Maxi by Haba

    This is a really charming set of blocks by Haba! The 25 pieces are uniquely shaped and have interesting designs painted on the front side of each block., which helps young children learn to distinguish between different shapes and colours. They work well with the Bausteine Block set and when the sets are combined there are lots of creative stacking options for young builders. Like all Haba blocks these are made of beech wood and painted with a non-toxic solvent-free dye.  Strengths: The blocks are small enough for toddlers to comfortably hold them and large enough not to pose a choking hazard. Like the Bausteine blocks the edges are all rounded so there aren't any sharp corners that could hurt a young child. Weaknesses:  The surfaces are a bit slippery and the blocks are expensive, but they offer great play value and are well worth the investment.

    The Baby Human: Geniuses in Diapers & The Human Baby 2

    , Babies are pretty amazing little beings to say the least. In a few short months of life they learn to walk, talk, relate to the world around them, solve problems, and to think. It is astounding to realize that in just a few short months babies are able to accomplish so much! Both DVDs in their series (The Baby Human and the Baby Human 2) both focus development during the first 24 months of life. From the first moments of life through the becoming a vocal and independent toddler, these DVDs allow viewers to see the world from the point of view of the child. Illustrated through a series of different learning tasks presented in a research setting, the viewer is able to see how babies learn about language, problem solving, physical development, and social interactions. For example, it is fascinating to see how babies progress from being universal language learners to being able to identify the sounds of their primary language in just a few short months of age. This is a marvelous resource for parents (and educators or clinical practitioners) to watch if they want to see how their baby learns. It's not a "how to" activity guide, but there are great vignettes about how babies master new skills.

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Little People Peek 'n Discover Backyard by Fisher Price

    Every house needs a backyard that offers lots of different play options. If you're looking to expand the play options of the Happy Sounds Home by Fisher Price, this is a nice addition to the set. In addition to the girl and pet dog there is a two level play house, an open-and-close roofed dog house, a squeaking tree, a trike, a swing, and a slide. This means that there are lots of different options for pretend play with this toy. Strengths: The dog and girl figures are a little bit bigger than the traditional Little People figures, but I like them because they are very easy for little hands to manipulate and there is absolutely no choking risk. Weaknesses: Although the swing is a fun option on the toy, it doesn't really work as a swing because you can't push it back-and-forth. It spins fairly well but sometimes gets stuck when it bumps into the tree or side of the play house.

    Little People Happy Sounds Home by Fisher Price

    It's always fun to have a doll house for pretend play and this one is a durable option from Fisher Price. The house, which folds closed has three spacious "rooms" on two floors. The upstairs bedroom has a bed for the parents and a rocking crib for the baby. Downstairs you can find a living room, kitchen, washroom, and laundry room. The house also comes with two "adult" fisher price figures (a Mummy and Daddy), a baby, high chair, kitchen table, and two chairs. It's a toy that seems to appeal to children of all different ages. I have really young children that I work with who just enjoy pushing the buttons and putting the baby to bed, and older children who really get into the imaginative play aspect of the toy. Strengths: There are lots of different buttons and sounds for little ones to explore on this house. The phone rings, the toilet flushes, the shower makes running water sounds, the washing machine churns a load of clothes, and the doorbell rings. Weaknesses: The biggest drawback is that the table and chairs that come with the house are much to big to actually fit inside, so the family has to dine in the backyard. I also wish that there was some kind of sound effect in the kitchen like the fridge opening or the water running in the sink rather than the washing machine sound that the toy features.

    Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

    As usual Eric Carle teaches an interesting life lesson in the colourful pages of a children's book. Mister Seahorse  discusses how the father seahorse is actually the parent who carries the mother's eggs around in his pouch until they hatch. After Mrs. Seahorse deposits her eggs in his pouch, Mr. Seahorse swims through the sea, he meets five other fish fathers who take care of the babies: Mr. Stickleback hatches the eggs; Mr. Tilapia holds the eggs in his mouth; Mr. Kurtus, a nurseryfish, sticks the eggs on his head until they hatch; Mr. Pipe, a pipefish, carries the eggs on his belly; and Mr. Bullhead, a catfish, babysits newly hatched fry.Not only is the story an interesting one for preschool aged children, the illustrations are beautiful. What's really fun is that an acetate overlay camouflages the sea creatures as Mister Seahorse passes by: the trumpet fish hide in a patch of reeds, the lion fish hides behind a coral reef, leaf fish are hidden among the seaweed, and the stonefish hides behind a rock. It's an interesting story and the hidden fish a great fun to find!

    Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

    This is a truly delightful story about a tiger cub who just isn't quite as advanced as some of his other animal friends. He can't read or draw, he is a sloppy eater, and he never says a word. His Daddy wonders why Leo isn't able to do these things but his Mummy always tells Daddy not to worry because Leo is just a late bloomer. Daddy watches and watches but never seems to see any signs of blooming, but one day Leo blooms! He can read, write, draw, eat neatly, and talk. Leo is a classic story (published in 1971 but still going strong) that let's children and parents realize that it's okay to be different. This is a very relevant social lesson that allows children to celebrate their own sense of uniqueness! The illustrations are simple but the message is powerful.

    Always Copycub by Richard Edwards

    This book is now published under the name "Why Are You Hiding Copycub?" This is a delightful story of a baby bear who loved to play hiding games, but he could never seem to find a place to hide where his mother couldn't find him. One day he was exploring deep in the woods with his mother, but Copycub slipped away to find the best hiding place ever. When his mother wasn't looking he ran down to the stream, climbed up a hill, and wiggled into a hollow tree far away. He called out "Can't find me here!" so his mother would come and play the hiding game with him, but she didn't come. Soon Copycub decided to try and find his mother but he got lost and became scared. Just when he thought his mother would never find him again, she does! Mama bear takes him home and makes him promise that he will never run away ever again. Still she assures him that if he ever does get lost she will ALWAYS come and find him.

    Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

    Spoon is feeling sad because his life does not seems as exciting as the lives of his friends Knife, Fork, and Chopsticks. He covets their thrilling jobs and unique styles (“And Chopsticks! They are so lucky! Everyone thinks they’re really cool and exotic.”). As it turns out, the other pieces of cutlery think Spoon is the lucky one because he gets to bang on pots, sink into a bowl of ice cream, or relax in hot cup of tea. Essentially this is a story about celebrating your own unique characteristics, which is a great lesson that all children (and many adults) should learn! The illustrations are hilarious and make this a book that should definitely be shared with young children.

    The Pigeon Has Feelings Too! by Mo Willems

    The pigeon is back and in fine form talking about his feelings. Although this is a board book and isn't as long as some of the other pigeon books (as the author says this is just a "smidgeon" of pigeon) it's still a wonderful little book that helps young children explore a range of different emotional expressions. The drawings are simple but very expressive as the pigeon lets the reader know when he is sad, angry, and happy. There's also a little surprise tie in to the classic "Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" at the end!

    Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton

    This is a charming story of a slightly bewildered hippo and the earnest penguin who wants nothing more than to be his friend. The unique and touching relationship between these two quirky characters unfolds nicely over the course of the story as the penguin does his best to make the hippo realize what a great friend he would be. With text like " Now, lots of other penguins seem to be fine in a universe of nothing but ice. But if I could be yours, and you could be mine, Our cozy little world would be twice as nice. I want to be Your Personal Penguin". The story is a read-aloud favourite for many young children and their parents. Boynton always offers up something that is a little off-beat and fun, and Your Personal Penguin is a great book in this tradition.

    Pots and Pans by Patricia Hubbell

    This is a fun book about something that all older infants and toddlers like to do - make lots of noise by banging pots and pans together. Bouncy rhymes exuberantly describe the sounds of play as the baby experiments with different objects by hitting, slamming, and banging them together, creating a multitude of sounds. The illustrations are bright and engaging and seem to hold the attention of very young audiences. Any parent who has a child who would rather play in the pot and pan drawer than with their other toys will appreciate the wonderfully impromptu performance given by the baby in this book.

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Bausteine Zoolino by Haba

    This nine-piece set of beech wood blocks is another great building toy from Haba. Each block is painted with natural, water-based, non-toxic lacquers that retain their colour over long periods of use. The edges are rounded so there is very little chance that a child could be poked or hurt by any of the blocks. Strengths: These blocks are a great size for toddlers to handle and the individual pieces are large enough so they won't pose a choking hazard. I also like them because they can be easily incorporated with other Haba block sets, which really can extend a child's interest in the toy. Weaknesses: Although each block is a good size for playing, the surfaces are very slippery and sometimes can frustrate toddlers (and older children) who aren't able to place the blocks securely on one another.

    Beyond Baby Talk: From Sounds to Sentences - A Parent's Guide to Language Development by Ken Apel & Julie Masterson

    On the back cover it states that the book goes "From 'Goo' to Gab - Guiding Your Child to Effective Communication" and I actually think that that's a pretty accurate description of the contents! The book thoroughly covers language development between the ages birth to five years. Naturally I was most attracted to the chapters that focused on social communicative development in infancy, but each of the nine chapters provides great information for parents about what to expect and how to promote those emerging skills. There's also a great chapter on how to support language development in a childcare setting. One aspect that I especially liked about the book was a chart published by the American Speech and Hearing Association ( called "How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?" It's a brief but helpful list of important developmental milestones related to speech, language, and hearing skills.

    Look Who's Talking: How to Enhance Your Child's Language Development, Starting at Birth by Laura Dyer

    This is a great book for parents and teachers that focuses on how children master the complex process of language learning. With chapters on red flags that could indicate a child has a language delay or disorder to a comprehensive overview of different developmental milestones important to the language acquisition process, Dyer covers an impressive range of topics about language development in children between the ages of birth to seven years. Although there is interesting information throughout the book, like using music to support language development and how to help children master pre-literacy skills, the information I enjoyed the most was related to preverbal and gestural communication. So often people focus on the acquisition of words in language development and don't appreciate the behaviours that must be developed in order for words to eventually emerge. Simple gestures like waving and pointing, eye contact, being able to shift gaze between a person and an object, and even learning that people respond to the cry of an infant are all necessary precursors to more formal language acquisition.

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    Terry Train by Haba

    This is yet another durable and visually appealing wooden toy from Haba that's interesting for infants and toddlers alike. The three little wooden cars hook together through a wooden bead and string loop system to create a 14-inch long train. Because the two sets of wheels on the front engine are two different sizes the engine bounces up and down when it is rolled along a hard or carpeted surface. Like all Haba wooden toys the train is made of beechwood and decorated with a  solvent free non-toxic dye. It's recommended for use by children 12 months+, but I have children that I work with who are developmentally younger than 12 months and they really like the toy. Strengths: Each car of the train has a novel element for children to explore. The engine has a squeaker, the middle car has a kaleidoscope, and the caboose train has a little bell that rings as the train is pushed along. Weaknesses: There are two things that the children I work with seem to find frustrating about this toy. First, the squeaker on the engine is difficult for them to activate independently and they usually need a little adult assistance to make it work. Second, the wooden bead and string loop system for attaching the cars can be difficult for little fingers to manage. Personally, I wish that there was a cord attached to the front of the train so children could pull it toward themselves when we are working on cause-effect relationships. Because it is very visually appealing children want to get the toy so adding a cord would help them work on reaching, grasping, and pulling the toy closer to themselves.

    Global Babies by the Global Fund for Children

    This is a beautiful board book for infants and toddlers that depicts babies from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Each page features a single picture of a baby from countries such as Guatemala, Thailand, Greenland, Mali, the U.S., India, South Africa, Fiji, Peru, Afghanistan, Malawi, Spain, Iraq, Rwanda, and Bhutan. There is a simple line of text on each page that reads in full "Wherever they live, / wherever they go, / whatever they wear, / whatever they feel, / babies everywhere / are beautiful, / special, / and loved." The book was developed by a nonprofit organization called the Global Fund for Children ( and part of the proceeds from the book's sales go to support community based programs directed by the fund around the world.

    Talk to Me Baby: How You Can Support Young Children's Language Development by Betty S. Bardige

    Many people don't know this but May is Better Hearing and Speech Month! So I thought that this would be the perfect time to talk about a resource that offers some outstanding ideas on how to best promote language development in young children. Playful and socially engaging interactions with infants, toddlers, and young children are much more than play activities. They are actually the basis for language, social-emotional development, and cognitive development. In Talk to Me Baby, Dr. Bardige explores six stages of language development starting with the "baby babbles" during infancy and ending with early literacy skills of preschool and kindergarten aged children. The book is a combination of research information and hands on activities that teachers and parents can use to promote social communicative skills in young children. Activities such as social games, songs, and sharing books are presented through actual vignettes of parent-child and teacher-child interactions. Each chapter also includes a list titled "20 Fun Things to Do With......" which I have found especially useful for sharing with parents and other caregivers.

    Slice and Bake Cookie Set by Melissa &Doug

    Preschool children benefit greatly from participating in pretend play activities that allow them to explore different aspects of their daily environments.  Melissa & Doug have a long standing reputation for designing toys that promote creativity and foster development of pretend play skills. The Slice and Bake Cookie Set is a great example of a toy that supports this type of development. The set comes with 12 wooden cookies that are held together by Velcro dots and can be "sliced" with a blunt wooden knife. After slicing the cookies, children can pretend to bake and decorate them (everything is held in place with Velcro). The manufacturer of this toy suggests that it be used with children age 3 years+, but I have lots of 2 year olds who really enjoy cutting, baking, and decorating the cookies. Strengths: Pretend food is wonderful to pair with a play kitchen and I have found that the children I work with really enjoy being able to "bake" treats to share with one another. Weaknesses: In 2009 this toy was recalled in Canada because of high barium levels, which can be toxic to young children. I've tried to find more current information about Barium levels in Melissa & Doug toys, but haven't found anything that voices more recent concerns about this issue.

    Sophie the Giraffe by Vulli

    Sophie is a cute and highly popular teething toy for infants and toddlers these days. She is made out of natural rubber and painted with a food-grade paint, which makes it safe for lots of chewing and gnawing by little ones with sore and irritated gums. The rubber on Sophie's ears, horns, and feet is thicker than that on the rest of her body, so these areas are especially durable for infants and toddlers to chew on. Strengths: Sophie is not only a teether but also an interesting toy for young explorers. The high contrast spots provide visual stimulation and there is a squeaker that is auditorily interesting for very young children. Additionally, Sophie's long, thin neck is easy for little hands to grasp and because she is so light, babies are able to safely hold and drop her. Weaknesses: Sophie is wonderful but a bit expensive for a teething toy. She does stand up to a lot of wear and tear but I have heard a few parents complain about the rubber cracking.

    Little Garden - Pegging Game by Haba

    This is undoubtedly a cute toy! There are 25 beechwood flowers, leafs, and bugs that can be placed on three tall and sturdy pegs (I'm only showing 15 of the 25 pieces in this picture). It's a fun twist on the idea of a stacking toy because rather than just having the same combination of rings or shapes all of the time, children really do have the chance to be very creative in how they choose to build their garden. Strengths: Because there are so many different pieces that can be used, the combinations of the "garden" are endless, which is something that really makes this toy a big hit with young children. Weaknesses: Although I think this is a really cute toy (which is what attracted me to it in the first place) in my opinion there are some big drawbacks to it. First, even though the recommended age for the toy is 2+ years some of the pieces are on the small side and could pose a potential choking risk for young children. When I use this toy in therapy I usually put the smaller pieces away in order to reduce the risk of a mouthing accident. Another drawback is the price. Typically Haba toys are expensive, and well worth the price, but this toy is fairly small and on the expensive side for what you get.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Growing and In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn, and Grow by Carol Stock Kranowitz and Joyce Newman

    Just like the other two books in this series, Growing and In-Sync-Child focuses on the importance of incorporating motor and sensory activities into the routines of children on a daily basis. Although this volume doesn't specifically focus on children with Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) it provides an outstanding range of ideas for helping all children become more sensory aware and physically active. It provides valuable information about typical developmental patterns as well as guidelines for helping parents and other adult caregivers choose activities that will be most beneficial to their children in specific situations (for example, using an activity called Angel Wings to help a child calm down when he/she is a little bit out of sorts. These activities can be used successfully with children who demonstrate more overt characteristics of SID, but are really great for those kids who are considered to be typically developing. I use it a lot to help with ideas in the therapy room to help my clients get and stay organized during a session.

    The Out-of Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (Revised Edition) by Carol Stock Kranowitz

    This is a companion volume for the book The Out-of-Sync Child. For children who have been given a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) this is a wonderful resource filled with play activities that are designed to promote sensory awareness as well as help children learn how to meet their own need for sensory input. Along with general information about SID, the book has seven specific chapters that are dedicated to each sense: Touch (tactile), Balance and Movement (vestibular), Body Position (proprioceptive), Seeing (vision), Hearing (auditory), Smelling (olfactory) and Tasting (gustatory). Each chapter offers a wide range of play ideas for children of different ages and developmental abilities. The book also provides information related to the best activities appropriate for children with coexisting conditions such as Asperger's, Autism. I have found this book to be an invaluable resource for me in therapy and have encouraged many of the families I work with whose children have ASD to check it out. 

    The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (Revised Edition) by Carol Stock Kranowitz

    Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) is a challenged faced by many children. Although the diagnosis is common for children with ASDs, SID can affect children who may be described as difficult, picky, oversensitive, or clumsy. Simply put, SID is considered to be a condition in which the nervous system misinterprets information from the senses, making it difficult for individuals with SID to organize and process the sensory information they encounter in their everyday lives.  From being overly sensitive to the tag in a shirt to wanting to sit in small or cramped spaces, SID can have a profound impact upon being able to successfully engage with other people in meaningful social relationships. This book provides guidance for parents who may be concerned that their child is experiencing some type of SID. This book is an excellent overview of all of the sensory systems, including vision, touch, balance, proprioception, hearing, taste, and smell. It also discusses the typical pattern of sensory development and provides checklists for parents (and professionals) related to possible areas of sensory dysfunction. If you're interested in the basic of SID this is a wonderful resource to have.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    TalkAbility: People Skills for Verbal Children on the Autism Spectrum - A Guide for Parents by Fern Sussman

    This is another tremendous resource from the Hanen Centre ( that focuses on helping verbal children affected by Autism, Asperger's, or other socially based communicative impairments to build more positive social relationships with people in their immediate environments. Like all of the Hanen publications, TalkAbility is filled with practical information and tips for parents and other adult caregivers, teachers, or therapists that can be used to support the development of more advanced language skills. This is a great upper extension program for children who have outgrown More Than Words but still need some support when it comes to accessing social and peer relationships. The TalkAbility guidebook is very user friendly and offers suggestions on how to help children develop better conversational skills, learn to be better story-tellers, become more adept at pretend play, and most importantly, learn how to make friends. There's also an excellent chapter that discusses how adults can become their child's "play coach" in order to help facilitate peer interactions.

    More Than Words: Promoting the Communication Development of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Social Communication Challenges DVD by the Hanen Centre

    This is the companion DVD for the guidebook discussed in the previous post. It's a wonderful supplementary piece to the book and provides terrific video illustrations of how to apply the concepts presented in the More Than Words guidebook. What I like about this DVD is that it is a collection of taped segments of parents interacting with their children that clearly show how the More Than Words strategies can be used with children at a wide range of developmental levels. Often I hear parents say things like "Well my son does these things for the therapist but he won't do them with me" and this DVD is a great way to show families that they can be successful social and communication partners for their children. There is narration that accompanies the taped segments and each section corresponds to a specific chapter in the More Than Words guidebook.  As good as this DVD is, it certainly can't replace actually participating in a More Than Words training program with a Hanen certified Speech-Language Pathologist. However, if a program isn't available, the DVD and guidebook can go a long way in helping adults best prepare themselves for working with children from this population.

    More Than Words: Helping Parents Promote Communication Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Fern Sussman

    As a professional who works with children with ASD and their families there are just some resources that are an absolute must have and for me More Than Words is definitely one of those resources! The guidebook, which is typically used by parents when participating in a More Than Words Training group facilitated by a Hanen Certified Speech-Language Pathologist, is filled with outstanding information about how to effectively promote social communicative development in children  with ASD. What is so wonderful about this book is that it shows parents (teachers, other caregivers, and therapists) how to apply a core group of language support strategies to children at four different levels of developmental functioning. Beginning with children at the "Own Agenda" stage (children who prefer are not yet intentionally communicating with other people) and continuing until children reach the "Partner" stage (children who stay longer in interactions with other people and who are beginning to use words, gestures, or picture exchanges for a wider range of reasons), this guide provides practical suggestions on how adults involved in the lives of children with ASD can encourage these children to participate in more socially directed exchanges, which is the best place for meaningful language to develop. The book also helps parents identify and manage other factors, such as sensory issues, that may be contributing to their child's inability to engage in social exchanges. The guide helps parents (and professionals) to identify developmentally appropriate communication goals for young children based on current levels of social communicative development. It is an outstanding resource that is a perfect hands-on guide for helping adults tackle the challenge of engaging a child with ASD. The guide is published by the Hanen Centre located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Hanen Centre has a world-wide reputation for creating educational programs and materials that are designed to help parents, caregivers, teachers, and therapists promote language development in young children within the context of meaningful social relationships. If you're looking for more information about the Hanen Centre, check it out at

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Playing, Laughing, and Learning with Children on the Autism Spectrum: A Practical Resource of Play Ideas for Parents and Carers, 2nd edition by Julia Moor

    As any parent of a child with Autism knows it is very difficult to find activities that encourage their child to socially engage in activities with other people. This book is a great great resource for parents of children with ASD who are about 2-years-old or older. The book starts out talking about why social play is so difficult for children with ASD and why it is so important for parents and other who care for children with ASD to promote play skills that require these children to engage and interact with us. Moor discusses structured play activities where principles of ABA can be applied to help the child become more successful in play based exchanges. She provides suggestions for table-top games and activities, music, physical games, water play, and outdoor play activities that are appealing to children of many different ages at various levels of functioning. There is also a very interesting chapter on how to find websites that present interactive games appropriate for a child with ASD. Personally, I have found some great activities in the book that have worked well in therapeutic settings. Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is that the activities are written in very family friendly language that would be easy for someone who didn't know a great deal about how to play with a child with ASD to understand and implement.

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Communication Temptations - Part 2

    As I mentioned in the post about wind up toys, communication temptations are activities that are designed to encourage the child to interact with other people. Wind up toys are a great temptation device, but other activities can be equally successful. Here are others that I have used over the years.

    Bubbles: Open a container of bubbles, blow some bubbles, put the wand back in the jar, and close the lid tightly. Hand the bubble container to the child and wait to see what happens. When the child hands the bubbles back to you, open the jar again, and repeat the sequence. Every time you close the bubble container you're giving the child another opportunity to practice communication skills.

    Balloons: For older children balloons can be a safe option for play. Blow up a balloon, let it deflate, and then hand an identical balloon to the child. Wait for the child to hold the balloon out to you as a request for you to blow more. You can do this task with just one balloon, but I prefer to use two for sanitary purposes. If the child hands me his/her balloon I quickly switch it for my own balloon.

    Treasure Box: Find a toy or other object that the child really enjoys using. Put it in a clear plastic container that the child is unable to remove the lid from ( large, clean plastic peanut butter jar with a screw on lid works well). Show the child you can open the lid, but close it again before he or she takes the toy. Hand the container (with the lid screwed on tightly) to the child and wait to see what happens! Initially the child my become frustrated, but that's okay. If you are patient and stick to your plan, eventually the child will realize that in order to obtain the desired object you have to be involved in the process.

    Snack: This is a lot like the treasure box but it involves an activity that many children love - Eating! Sit down for snack with the child and get some juice or crackers for yourself, but don't offer any to the child. Quickly the child will let you know that he or she wants something (maybe by screaming) and then you say something like "Oh, you want juice too?" and pour a tiny bit of juice into a cup (also give cookies in small pieces). By only giving the child a little bit a time, he or she will have to keep coming back to you to get more. The more children interact with us for specific purposes the greater their chances are for using language (verbal, signs, or pictures) more spontaneously.

    These techniques work for most young children learning language but are especially useful when used with children with Autism.

    Communication Temptations Using Wind Up Toys

    When speech therapists work with children who have social communicative disorders or children with Autism, one of the most effective techniques for promoting interactions is through the use of something called communication temptations. These are activities that are designed to increase the child's interest in communicating by making communication a meaningful and fun activity. There are many different forms of communication temptation that can be used, but the basic premise is that an adult is able to use, obtain, or manipulate an object that a child is interested in but that the child cannot operate independently. I like to use simple wind up toys as communication temptations (especially with young children with Autism). I wind up the crab or alligator just enough to make it briefly move so the child is attracted to the toy. When it stops I wait to see what the child doesn't. Typically a child will reach for the toy and try to activate it without any help from an adult. When the child is unsuccessful often they will go to an adult for help and a communicative exchange has been established. It might not be truly social initially, but as the child learns that another person can actually help make toys fun it's a great hook for building more complex communicative turns. The most important thing when choosing a wind up toy (or any object) to use as a communication temptation there are two things you must consider. First, the object must be something that the child is interested in. Toys that have lights, makes sounds, or move are good first choices to try. Second, the object must be something that the child cannot operate, open, or obtain independently. In order for a communication temptation to work the child must need to involve another person in the activity. Finally, when choosing a wind up toy (or any cause-effect toy for that matter) make sure that it is something that poses some challenge for the child to operate. The purpose of playing with these toys is not for the child to immediately be able to operate the toys independently, but rather to learn how to use them with the help of another person.

    Early Intervention Games: Fun, Joyful Ways to Develop Social and Motor Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum or Sensory Processing Disorders by Barbara Sher

    Children who has been identified as having Autism or a Sensory Processing Disorder typically have difficulty actively engaging in fun social play activities with the people in the world around them. Sher, who is a teacher and occupational therapist, provides a wonderful range of different activities that can be used to help support these children develop meaningful social relationships with their primary caregivers and peer groups members as well. I was impressed with a variety of activities suggested and how easy the majority of them are to implement in a therapy setting. She uses simple materials that could be found in most homes and turns everyday items into creative toys. With games titles like "Pudding Party", "I'm Here!", and "What's in the Sock?", it's impossible to not want to read further in this wonderfully written and straightforward book. Sher also provides an excellent overview of what sensory processing issues actually are and an excellent chapter on why certain types of games can help children with sensory processing challenges. Personally, I have found this book to be invaluable in my own clinical practice and am thrilled that I have a great resource to go when when I'm feeling "Stuck" in terms of coming up with a new activity a child might enjoy. This book is never far from my fingertips! It's also available for Kindle, so on-the-go reading is a breeze as well! It's an excellent resource for parents, teachers, and clinicians alike and has enough diversity of activities that you're bound to find one that works for that especially challenging child.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    April is National Autism Awareness Month

    Since the 1970's April has been recognized as National Autism Awareness Month. This disorder affects 1 in 110 children in the United States. Early intervention for children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an important step in helping children live fulfilling and successful lives. Although there are no absolute indicators for the disorder there are red flags that every parent should be aware of so they can have their child evaluated early if any developmental concerns arise. Filipek et al. (1999) found that the following behaviours should be used as guidelines for immediate evaluation for the possible presence of ASD: (1) no babbling by age 12 months; (2) no gesturing (pointing or waving) by 12 months; (3) no single words by 16 months; (4) no two-word spontaneous (not just imitated) phrases by 24 months; and (5) any loss of any language or social skills at any age.

    Filipek, P., Accardo, P., Baranek, G., Cook, E., Dawson, G., Gordon, B., ..... Volkmar, F. (1999). The screening and diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 439-484.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Wonder Dice by Haba

    This set of eleven fabric blocks is a great "first" block set. Each foam block is covered with cotton and polyester (which is hand washable) and is easy for little hands to grasp and knock down. Each block has a different texture or pattern on it and there are flaps to lift, ribbons to feel, fabrics to rustle, and bells to rattle. Strengths:  The fact that there are different shapes and sizes of blocks included in the set is very appealing. Most cloth block sets are made up of mostly squares and triangles, but this one includes cylinders, half circles, arches, and different sized squares. This really allows for lots of different stacking opportunities. Weaknesses:  Because some of the fabrics are very light colours I have found that the blocks can appear "stained" much more quickly than other fabric and foam blocks that I have.

    Laugh & Learning Kitchen by Fisher Price

    A play kitchen just seems to be one of those timeless toys that every toddler can enjoy in one way or another. The Laugh & Learn Kitchen offers a wonderful range of exploratory activities with lots of great sound effects. The light over the sink & stove can be turned on and off, when the tap is pressed you can hear running water and dishes clattering, the oven door squeaks when it opens, and when you put a pan on the burner it boils or sizzles. There is also a recycling bin on the side of the oven where toys can be dropped into a tray inside of the oven. Additionally the door of the fridge is a three shape sorter (a milk carton is the square, carrots the triangle, and a jam jar the circle). The inside of the fridge lights up and there are peek-a-boo flaps that hide smiling fruits and veggies. Strengths: It's a sturdy toy that is interesting to explore. The tray that is inside of the oven is pretty roomy and can hold a variety of different objects. Weaknesses: The toy hinges together so you can actually close it for storage purposes. Unfortunately it doesn't latch shut so the two sides swing open easily and if you're storing toys inside they will naturally spill out. Another thing that I don't like about the toy (but this is probably just me) is that it does talk, so there are children that I work with that get caught up in just pushing the buttons to hear the voice. You can always take the batteries out, but then the other sounds on the toy don't work.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox

    "Here is the blue sheep. And here is the red sheep, Here is the bath sheep. And here is the bed sheep. But where is the green sheep?" This is the type of easy, predictable, and repeatable text that is found in this little book about different kinds of sheep. The light and lilting text of this charming board book are a perfect compliment to the simple illustrations that show sheep frolicking on the swing, going down the slide, taking a sun bath, and singing in the rain! It's a great early book for toddlers that will help to build their understanding of different words and concepts and is also a great way to learn colours!

    Little People Click n' Explore Barnyard by Fisher Price

    This is another fun addition to the Fisher Price Farm set. This little "barn" comes with a farmer, tractor, horse, duck, and food bin that can be easily used with other Fisher Price toys. The pond has little peek-a-boo holes so when the child spins the "water" they discover fish and frogs underneath the surface. The door of the barn opens and closes, and the rooster that sits on top of the barn clicks when turned. Strengths: This is a simple toy without a lot of bells and whistles, which I like because it helps to encourage more imaginative play rather than repetitive button pushing or door opening/closing. Another cool thing is that the food bin can be attached to the back of the tractor and moved around the barnyard. Weaknesses: If you're looking for the complete farm experience you'll probably be disappointed with this toy. It's cute but doesn't have as many exploratory opportunities as a big barn. However, it's a great supplemental piece if your child really enjoys farm play.

    Little People Tow n' Pull Tractor by Fisher Price

    This is a sturdy little tractor that is a great addition to any farm/barn play set. The tractor is a good size for toddlers to manipulate and there aren't any little parts that can be pulled off and swallowed. The tractor rolls smoothly on all types of surfaces and when the farmer is pushed down on the seat of the vehicle a little song about "towing and pulling" plays. One fun aspect of the toy is that the pig in the haystack actually pops up and down when the tractor is pushed, so it's a nice little surprise for little ones when they play with the toy. Strengths: The toy comes with the farmer and cow that can be taken out of the tractor and used with other farm toys. The pig is cute, but stationary. Weaknesses: The tractor and trailer don't come apart, so you can't use either piece separately. Some children seem to like the fact that they have a "big" vehicle to play with but others become frustrated that they can't get the two to come apart.

    Little People Baby Animal Nest by Fisher Price

    I like to have lots of options for extending the play with the children I work with, so I decided to add this little "shed" to my farm collection. It's a simple little toy that basically consists of three beds for a bunny, chicken, and llama. They toy doesn't make sounds, light up, or move, so it's really just a nice piece for encouraging imaginative play. The children I work with like matching the animals with their pictures behind the nests as well as putting together animal families into their house. Strengths: It's a simple, quiet toy that provides lots of opportunities for creative play and isn't that expensive. Weaknesses: If you want something that is high-tech this isn't the toy for you.

    Little People Animal Sounds Barn by Fisher Price

    Every toy collection should have a barn and a nice array of animals. This is another really solid addition to the Little People collection of "real life" toys. The barn comes with Farmer Jed, a cow, horse, pig, sheep, and goat that can be easily stored in the silo. There is also a little chicken that stays attached to the front of the barn and when you push it from side to side a hay bale moves across the hay loft. There are great sliding windows on one end of the barn that uncover baby chicks and bunnies and the silo is a fun place to drop and hide the animals. If you choose to use the toy with the batteries (I don't) the different animals will oink, cluck, moo, baa, and neigh when put into their "stalls". Strengths: This is a fun barn with lots of areas to explore. The children I work with really seem to enjoy the sliding chicken the most because you can put other animals (or Farmer Jed) into the hay loft, push the chicken and make the other characters tumble off of the roof of the barn! Weaknesses: The biggest weakness that I have noticed is that since the back of the barn is open, it's easy for the animals and farmer to fall out when you pick it up. It's not the "old" Fisher Price Barn but is still a classic in it's own right.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Our Granny by Margaret Wild

    This book is a celebration of Grandmother's who come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. A little boy and girl talk about all of the wonderful things that different Grannies can do, but they put special emphasis on their Granny. The young narrators of the story tell us that some Grannies drive trucks, go to t'ai chi, have friends, wear silky dresses, and make sick people well. It's a wonderful exploration of diversity and perceptions of what "Grannies" like and can do. This is a wonderful book for a preschooler and really emphasizes the importance of family relationships, no matter what your Granny is like. The illustrations were done by Julie Vivas (someone I really admire) and are absolutely beautiful. The Grannies have a wonderful depth, dimension, and simply ooze love and kindness.

    Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

    For preschooler and young school aged children this is another hilarious addition to the series about Framer Brown and his insubordinate animals. Farmer Brown has decided to make a corn maze shaped like the Statue of Liberty. He enlists all of the animals to help with the farm chores, but of course Duck has other plans. As Farmer Brown clips and trims his corn maze, Duck makes some minor adjustments to the Farmer's drawings and does some clipping and trimming of his own. When the big day finally comes Farmer Brown and Duck climb into a hot air balloon so they can see this corn maze masterpiece. When they finally look down into the corn field Farmer Brown is astounded by the unexpected change that Duck has made to the maze. Duck is as usual, a little sneaky and very funny, but my favourite part of the book is the mice who are taking a correspondence course on meteorology! This is just a laugh out loud book for children and adults alike!

    The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

    This is perhaps one of the most tender children's book that I have ever read. It's best for preschoolers and early school-aged children but I think that every child (and parent) will appreciate the sentiment that it expresses. Chester Raccoon does not want to start school, he wants to stay at home with his Mummy and play with his toys and friends, read his books, and swing on his swing. But Mrs. Raccoon tells him that sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to do and that he's going to like his new school. She then tells him about the secret of the Kissing Hand. She takes his little hand, spreads his fingers wide apart, and kisses his palm. She then tells him that whenever he is scared or sad all he has to do is hold his hand to his cheek and think "Mummy loves you". So Chester goes to his new school knowing that his Mother's love will always go with him. When he gets home from school that night he gives his Mother a kissing hand so she will always know how much he loves her.

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Peeks the Clown by Discovery Toys

    This is from the archives of Discovery Toys but it's a little Jack-In-The-Box that many of my younger clients have really enjoyed. Peeks is made of soft fabric with some kind of loose spring inside of his body so you can push him down into the box, close the lid, and he'll still gently pop out when the large yellow button is pushed. When you push Peeks down, he emits a little squeak that many children demonstrate a real curiosity about. Additionally you can completely remove Peeks from the box and play with him like a stuffed toy or doll. Strengths: He is a "kinder and gentler" Jack-In-The-Box than many of the more traditional models. Also he is easy to activate. There is no handle to turn just a nice big button to push. This is a nice type of "first" Jack -in-the-Box for young children who don't enjoy the big popping action of a more traditional pop-up box. Weaknesses: I'm not sure if Peeks is available any longer through Discovery Toys. I've had mine for years so it wouldn't surprise me if they no longer carried the toy. Some times Peeks get stuck in the box so the pop-up action can be a bit delayed, which some children find extremely frustrating.