Monthly Archives: December 2014

Holiday Gifts and Toys For Kids


By: Jennifer Tripoli M.S., CCC-SLP

With the holidays right around the corner, everyone is beginning to purchase gifts for their loved ones. Christmas is a special time for kids (Santa is coming!) and you are probably looking for toy/game ideas that are worth your money. Not only do we wish to purchase toys that are children want, but also toys that are developmentally and educationally beneficial as well. Before you run out to the stores to get your hands on those “hot toys” (and fight those crowds!!), lets consider a few guidelines.

  • Is the toy developmentally appropriate for your child?

Just because a certain toy is the “it” toy, this doesn’t mean all children should have it.  Does your child have the skills to play with the toy in a productive way? You should buy toys that the child can play with functionally at this point in their development.

  • Will this toy grow with your child?

Toys can be very expensive nowadays, so we want to purchase toys that will grow with a child. Will your child enjoy this toy not only right now, but in the future? Are there a variety of different ways this toy can be played with? An example of a toy that may grow with a child is an animal set and barn. Toddlers may play with this toy by placing the animals in and out of the barn or learning the animal sounds. Older children may play the animals by creating stories or more complex play schemes with the barn.

  • How expensive is the toy?

Just because a toy is expensive does not mean it is the best toy for a child! Many of the best toys for children are in expensive such as blocks, balls, pretend play musical instruments, stuffed animals, etc. If you are on a budget, here are some toys you can make at home for next to nothing and even use some of those old things you have laying around the house! Click here for ideas!

  • Does the toy require batteries? Is it electronic?

My favorite toys for younger kids often don’t require any batteries!  Sometimes the toys do everything and anything and do not allow for the child to learn or do something independently. I think the best toys are old fashioned, basic toys. These toys don’t always make sounds, move, or have flashing lights!

  • Does the toy promote exploration and problem solving skills?

Toys that allow your child to figure out something by themselves should be given! E.g. Puzzles (for all ages), shape sorters (younger children), Playdough, building kits, etc.

  • Other questions to ask: Does the toy promote/allow for physical activity? Is the toy safe for child’s age/developmental level? Does the toy/game promote educational concepts? Is the toy durable?

Toy Ideas by Age

1-3 years

  • Musical instruments
  • Bubbles
  • Balls
  • Fisher Price play sets (bus, airplane)
  • Farm with animals (here) OR zoo with animals (here)
  • Elefun Game (here), Elefun ball popper toy (here)
  • Fisher Price Spiral Race Track (here)
  • Cause/effect type toys
  • Blocks (here or here)
  • Ball/hammer toys (here)
  • Stacking buckets (here)
  • Books with simple illustrations and early vocabulary
  • Basic wooden puzzles with early vocabulary (animals, vehicles, food, etc.)

*Note- Due to the “electronic age” many toy companies are pushing electronic/computer/ipad based activities for children under the age of 2 years. The American Academy of Pediatrics does NOT support the use of electronics for children under the age of 2 years.

For more information visit:

3-6 years (preschool and kindergarten age)

  • Dollhouse (any with family)
  • Pretend play dress up outfits- firefighter, cook, police officer, vet, etc. (here)
  • Doll/stuffed animal/puppets with clothes/accessories
  • Farm/zoo with animals
  • Play food with microwave
  • Stove, grocery cart, cash register, tea set, sandwich making set, etc.
  • Train set with city
  • Basic turn-taking games (Barnyard Bingo 3+, Zingo 4+, Candyland 3+, Chutes and Ladder 3+, Hi Ho Cheerio 3+, Diggity Dog 3+, etc.)
  • More complex puzzles that require higher level problem solving
  • Toys/games that target academic concepts (colors, shapes, numbers, letter, etc.)
  • Books with more pictures and words (compared to toddler books)
  • Play-doh and play-doh sets
  • Block set that allow for more creative/complex building
  • Art supplies, crayons, coloring books, etc.

6-9 years

  • Lego sets (look at age and complexity)
  • Board games (HedBanz, Operation, Zingo, Guess Who, Monopoly Junior, Charades game, Blurt, memory games, Trouble, Don’t Say It, etc.)
  • Books with more complex story lines- beginning chapter books
  • Games that encourage physical activity- basketball nets, soccer goals, baseball equipment, etc.
  • Art/craft materials to improve creativity

9 years +

  • Thinking games such as Chess, Sodoku, crossword puzzles, Checkers, Scrabble, Jeopardy, Catchphrase, Bop it!, Boggle
  • More complex Lego/building sets
  • Apple/Android apps or computer games (they aren’t all bad!) that target executive functions such as problem solving (apps- Cut the Rope, Rush Hour, Tetris, apps that aren’t just a game but actually make you THINK!) Click here for more on “executive functions” (here)
  • Check out Marbles-the Brain Store or other stores like it for unique games/activities that workout your brain! (Here)

Other Resources:

Click here for Toys R Us guide for differently abled kids!

Safety tips for toys:

Please visit my previous post on 3 classic games for targeting speech and language skills! here

Want ideas for speech and language? Please visit the Easter Seals DuPage Speech/Language Department’s Pinterest page! here

Lights, Camera, Action! A Parent’s Guide to Using Video Feedback for Changing Behaviors

video modeling

By Jessica Drake-Simmons

I keep finding myself pulling out the iPad during speech therapy sessions.  Not for the purpose of playing games or using therapeutic apps but simply to use the video camera.  Video feedback has been an effective way of capturing the attention and reinforcing a desired behavior with so many of my little friends. The implications for video feedback are endless but here are a few ideas to target:

  • Behavioral expectations:
    • Following directions
    • Cleaning up toys
    • Sitting at the dinner table
    • Walking next to you at the grocery store
    • Waiting in line
  • Executive functioning skills
    • Attention (e.g., The child watches a video clip of themselves doing homework and analyzes the time they stay on task)
    • Self-monitoring (e.g. The child watches the video and adult narrates the child’s initiation, persistence and completion of making their lunch)
  • Speech Production:
    • Discriminating correct versus incorrect productions of targeted sounds
    • Counting number of correct productions during a conversational sample
    • Self-correction of observed errors
  • Social Skills- Social skills can be hard to teach because real life social opportunities move SO quickly! Video modeling allows us to slow down the interaction, press pause, review the clip over and over and teach different aspects of the interaction such as:
    • Non-verbal Language
    • Eye Contact
    • Use of greetings
    • Conversation skills (staying on topic, conversational repairs, asking questions, responding)
    • Perspective Taking

The length of the video and the amount of behaviors reviewed is highly dependent on the familiarity of the task and the amount of information the child is able to process. Since positive reinforcement is one of the most effective ways of changing behavior, I primarily focus on what the child did well when reviewing a video with them.  Depending on the child, I may choose 1-2 behaviors to teach/correct.

Example of praising desired behaviors:

“I like how your body is facing your brother when he is talking to you.  When you                                                            looked at your brother, he knew that you were listening to him.  That was a nice greeting when you said ‘hi’.  When you stayed an arm’s length away from your brother, he felt comfortable.

Example of correction:

There your brother said ‘how are you?’  You could have responded with _(Child’s response)______.  Yes, “fine” would be a great response! 

Why should you use video feedback?

  • It is quick and easy! Throughout your day you likely have a device with a video camera within arm’s reach.  It’s easy to take a video of your child and it’s quick to show it back to them as frequently as needed!
  • Most kids LOVE watching themselves on video! Their full engagement is one of the reasons that make this learning opportunity so effective.
  • It teaches your child what it means to ‘be good’! Using simple, affirmative language to describe the expected behavior in a situation helps prepare kids for what to expect in an event and prepares them to demonstrate the expected behaviors.
  • Videos provide multi-modal learning (visual and auditory). Multi-modal learning is effective for EVERYONE but especially beneficial for our kids who struggle with language comprehension.

I love watching children beam with pride when they witness themselves doing something well.  They love the recognition and praise that comes along with achievement in an area they sense can be challenging.  Watching a video of his or herself succeeding instills a feeling of confidence and they want to do it again and again!