Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stacking Tower Toy by Sevi

This is a sturdy little wooden peg stacking toy that is great for young children who are still in the process of learning how to stack toys. The toy itself only stands about 4 inches high when fully stacked and there are only four pieces that make up the body of the lady bug (there is also a stacking dog, mouse, cat, pig, and little green bug). Even though this toy is small it can help young children learn about matching patterns when trying to build a specific shape. The toy is handmade with hard woods and painted with a vegetable dye finish. Strengths: It’s cute and small enough to easily fit into a diaper bag. Because it’s small it is very easy for inexperienced fingers to manipulate the rings without much difficulty. Weaknesses: It’s a bit expensive for such a small toy, but it’s durable which is well worth the money.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Animal Tower Stack & Nest Cubes with Shapes by Hape Eco Toys

If you are looking for a great stacking toy that will “grow” with your child this one is definitely worth checking out. Not only do the wooden cubes stack in to a solid tower but also neatly nest together without any difficulty. The five cubes are easy to handle and have smooth edges that won’t hurt little fingers. What is especially noteworthy about this toy is that not only does it stack/nest, but it is also a simple shape sorter. Each cube has a picture of an animal on it and the shapes correspond to the food that the animal would eat. For example, the tiger has a little bone with some meat on it, the monkey eats bananas, and the rhino eats the grass. The shapes can be matched to the picture of the food on one side of each cube and then the shape easily fits into the slot. Another great feature of the stacking blocks is that on a third side of the cube the pictures show simple parts of the animal (e.g., feet, tail, etc) so the child can guess what part belongs to which animal. It really is a great toy that can be used in many ways by children at different stages of development. It is also important to note that the Hape Eco toy line, which is relatively new as far as I know, is made using FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood and non-toxic water-based paints in packaging made entirely from recycled materials. It’s a great toy from a company that is environmentally responsible. What a wonderful combination! Strengths: Everything – I love the toy and the children I work with enjoy it immensely. Weaknesses: Absolutely nothing that I have found.

Tobbles Neo by Fat Brain Toys

This fun stacking toy is one that truly catches the attention of busy toddlers! Tobbles Neo are lightly weighted spheres made of smooth plastic on top and a more textured, soft, easy to grip plastic on the bottom.  These vibrantly coloured spheres can be stacked traditionally or in fun and unusual angles. Because of the texture on the bottom half of each tobble and the fact that each sphere has a small indentation on the top, stacking is an easy task for toddlers who are learning how to coordinate fine motor movements. They are also great for promoting colour recognition, basic size concepts (e.g., big and little), and simple cause-effect relationships. Strengths: This is a fun toy that can keep toddlers entertained for a fairly long period of time. It is a simple toy, but one that offers great play value for the money spent. It’s also one that can grow with a child. I’ve used it with children as young as 10 months olds and as old as three years (and every age in between), and I have yet to find a child who doesn’t find a new way to explore and play with the toy. Weaknesses: Because of the indentation on the top of each tobble they can be difficult to roll, which frustrates some children. Also, you must have the base (it comes with the toy) in order to stack the tobbles. If the base is misplaced the toy basically becomes a “ball toy” which, as I’ve mentioned, can lead to frustration for some children. Overall it’s a fun toy that puts a new twist on a stacking game.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Lacing Sheep by Plan Toys

If you are looking for a puzzle toy for an older child (2 ½ years and up) that incorporates skills like matching and sequential ordering this is a wonderful toy to check out. The body of the sheep consists of five separate wooden rings that are held together by a strong elastic cord covered with colourful wooden beads. The head and tail of the sheep are attached to either end of the cord. The beads correspond in colour to small painted rings on each section of the body of the sheep (green yellow, blue, red, and orange). The wooden rings that make up the body can be taken off the cord so the child is able to rebuild the sheep. Children are able to rebuild the sheep in several different ways. First, they can match the colours on the inside of the rings to the beads on the elastic cord. Second, they can match the colours of the rings with one another (e.g., red to red, blue to blue, etc.). Finally they can rebuild the sheep according to the size of the rings moving from small to large and back to small. Strengths: This is a simple but versatile toy. It can help children learn basic concepts like colours, matching, and sorting based on the size of an object. I have found that children at many different levels of development enjoy the toy. Some like to chew on a ring, some like to match, some like to count the beads, and some actually use the toy for the intended purpose! Whatever they do with it, they seem to enjoy it. Weaknesses: The elastic cord that runs through the middle of the body of the sheep is strong and needs to be pulled with a very firm grasp to attach the end of the sheep to the rest of the body. The last piece just slides over the elastic cord, but the cord can be difficult to pull out. I snapped my fingers with it once and it really hurt. I can’t imagine how it would feel on little fingers.

Sheep in the Cloud Rattling Figure by Haba

This simple little toy is a wonderful clutching toy/rattle for children who are interested in simple cause/effect play or enjoy grasping toys and exploring their sensory aspects. This small sheep has a stacked design of solid wooden rings and two small “hands” threaded on a cord that is integrated into the centre of the toy. It’s small enough to be easily help even by little hands and the soft rattle of the arms when the toy is shaken produces a pleasant soft clacking noise. Like all Haba toys it is earth friendly, with materials coming from sustainable managed forests and the stain on the wood is non-toxic and water based. Strengths: It promotes visual tracking (following with the eyes), listening skills, and grasping skills. It is a solidly built toy and there is no risk of any of the parts separating from one another. I like it because it is small enough to tuck into little spaces so children have to use sounds or word approximations to get the toy from me! It’s also great because if you use it to promote a social exchange with a chronologically or developmentally young child you can gently rock the toy just out of the child’s reach and wait for them to smile, look at you, make sounds, or physically move in order to get the toy. Weaknesses: It’s a small toy and a bit on the pricey side, but it is well worth the investment.

Pound and Tap Bench by Hape

This charming musical bench is a fun toy for young children at many different developmental levels because it has two separate pieces that can be used independently of one another or combined for a great sensory experience. The toy is both a pounding bench where a child can use the hammer to knock balls through holes on the top of the bench and xylophone that produce a lovely tinkling sound as the balls roll over each individual steel bar. What’s neat about the toy is that the xylophone can actually slide out of the bench and be used independently. This wooden and metal toy is well constructed and is very child friendly (no nasty sharp edges or places to get little fingers pinched). The finishes on the toy are non-toxic so if something winds up in the child’s mouth there is no need for concern. Strengths: This is a truly fun toy that the children I work with enjoy playing with. The balls, which can be played with independently, are easy to pound through the little holes in the top of the bench and the fact that the xylophone can be removed from the bench opens up other options for play. Weaknesses: The toy is described as one that can play a musical tune when the keys of the xylophone are struck. I think this is an overestimation of what it can actually do. You can make sounds on the key board, but it’s not a toy that will actually teach your child how to create music. As a fun thing to bang on with the hammer the toy is great. If you’re expecting music to actually be produced you might want to look a bit further. Overall it is a really fun toy that children have lots of fun exploring.

Friday, January 25, 2013

To You My Sisters


By Maureen K. Higgins

Many of you I have never even met face to face, but I've searched you out every day. I've looked for you on the internet, on playgrounds and in grocery stores. I've become an expert at identifying you. You are well worn. You are stronger than you ever wanted to be. Your words
ring experience, experience you culled with your very heart and soul. You are compassionate beyond the expectations of this world. You are my "sisters."

Yes, you and I, my friend, are sisters in a sorority. A very elite sorority. We are special. Just like any other sorority, we were chosen to be members. Some of us were invited to join immediately, some not for months or even years. Some of us even tried to refuse membership, but to no avail. We were initiated in neurologist's offices and NICU units, in obstetrician's offices, in emergency rooms, and during ultrasounds. We were initiated with somber telephone calls,
consultations, evaluations, blood tests, x-rays, MRI films, and heart surgeries.

All of us have one thing in common. One day things were fine. We were pregnant, or we had just given birth, or we were nursing our newborn, or we were playing with our toddler. Yes, one minute everything was fine. Then, whether it happened in an instant, as it often does, or over the course of a few weeks or months, our entire lives changed. Something wasn't quite right. Then we found ourselves mothers of children with special needs. We are united, we sisters, regardless of the diversity of our children's special needs. Some of our children undergo chemotherapy. Some need respirators and ventilators. Some are unable to talk, some are unable to walk. Some eat through feeding tubes. Some live in a different world. We do not discriminate against those mothers whose children's needs are not as "special" as our child's. We have mutual respect and empathy for all the women who walk in our shoes.

We are knowledgeable. We have educated ourselves with whatever materials we could find. We know "the" specialists in the field. We know "the" neurologists, "the" hospitals, "the" wonder drugs, "the" treatments. We know "the" tests that need to be done, we know "the" degenerative and progressive diseases and we hold our breath while our children are tested for them. Without formal education, we could become board certified in neurology, endocrinology, and physiatry.
We have taken on our insurance companies and school boards to get what our children need to survive, and to flourish. We have prevailed upon the State to include augmentative communication devices in special education classes and mainstream schools for our children with cerebral palsy. We have labored to prove to insurance companies the medical necessity of gait trainers and other adaptive equipment for our children with spinal cord defects. We have sued municipalities to have our children properly classified so they could receive education
and evaluation commensurate with their diagnosis.

We have learned to deal with the rest of the world, even if that means walking away from it. We have tolerated scorn in supermarkets during "tantrums" and gritted our teeth while discipline was advocated by the person behind us on line. We have tolerated inane suggestions and home remedies from well-meaning strangers. We have tolerated mothers of children without special needs complaining about chicken pox and ear infections. We have learned that many of our closest friends can't understand what it's like to be in our sorority, and don't even want to try.

We have our own personal copies of Emily Perl Kingsley's "Welcome to Holland" and Erma Bombeck's "The Special Mother." We keep them by our bedside and read and reread them during our toughest hours. We have coped with holidays. We have found ways to get our physically handicapped children to the neighbors' front doors on Halloween, and we have found ways to help our deaf children form the words, "trick or treat." We have accepted that our children with sensory dysfunction will never wear velvet or lace on Christmas. We have painted a canvas of lights and a blazing yule log with our words for our blind children. We have pureed turkey on Thanksgiving. We have bought white chocolate bunnies for Easter. And all the while, we have tried to create a festive atmosphere for the rest of our family.

We've gotten up every morning since our journey began wondering how we'd make it through another day, and gone to bed every evening not sure how we did it. We've mourned the fact that we never got to relax and sip red wine in Italy. We've mourned the fact that our trip to Holland has required much more baggage than we ever imagined when we first visited the travel agent. And we've mourned because we left for the airport without most of the things we needed for the trip.

But we, sisters, we keep the faith always. We never stop believing. Our love for our special children and our belief in all that they will achieve in life knows no bounds. We dream of them scoring touchdowns and extra points and home runs. We visualize them running sprints and
marathons. We dream of them planting vegetable seeds, riding horses and chopping down trees. We hear their angelic voices singing Christmas carols. We see their palettes smeared with watercolors, and their fingers flying over ivory keys in a concert hall. We are amazed
at the grace of their pirouettes. We never stop believing in all they will accomplish as they pass through this world.

But in the meantime, my sisters, the most important thing we do, is hold tight to their little hands as together, we special mothers and our special children, reach for the stars.

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.