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.