An invitation to do less this season

As far back as I remember, Christmas time always evoked mixed feelings. Being Jewish, my family celebrated Hanukkah, which sometimes coincided with Christmas and other times did not.
My school hosted a number of Christmas related events and I envied the many families who celebrated what I believed to be a glamorous and universal holiday. Hence the mixed feelings. It all looked so great but I just wasn’t a part of it.  ANY OF IT.
Whichever holiday they are celebrating, toys and games are important to children. But… do you remember all the gifts you received over the holidays? Me neither. 
As adults we hardly remember the toys we so desperately wanted or received as gifts. What we remember most are the memories created from hanging out and laughing with family.
This year don’t lose sight of those things that build lasting memories. Choose to do less. Spend more time together playing and sharing stories. Invite your children to join you baking and decorating.  Create new family traditions your children can look forward to year after year.
Involving children in activities promotes language and social development. These are the interactions that will provide the basis for future reminiscence and story-telling.
For those of you still working on your gift list, I recommend you lean towards items that will provide your child with opportunities to use their language skills and learn through discovery.

Consider age appropriate novels, magazine subscriptions and cookbooks to promote a love for reading.  Consider toys that encourage turn-taking, guessing and word-finding to promote language development.
Here are some SLP endorsed gift options for all ages. Each item supports literacy, pretend play, guessing, turn-taking or vocabulary expansion.

1 – 3 years


Dot Magazine
An illustrated ad-free magazine for preschoolers. It is full of fun stories and activities. Use it to build pre-literacy skills and teach kids that reading is fun.

Munchkin Fishin’ Bath Toy 
The magnetic rod makes it easy to catch sea creatures. Use it to introduce “who” questions “Who did you catch?” and “where” questions “Where is the fish?” Use this toy to promote pretend play.

Fisher-Price Little People Caring for Animals Farm
Every kid should have a farm!! This toy encourages pretend play and conversations between the farmer and the animals. Animals are perfect prompts for teaching toddlers how to make different sounds and appreciate the connection between sounds and their meanings.

I Spy Eagle Eye Game
Young kids love searching for images. This helps develop vocabulary, particularly concepts to describe where they found each picture.

3 – 6 years

The Gruffalo
One of my all-time favourite children’s books. If The Gruffalo is not on your book shelf, order it now. One of the best books to help your child understand the unwritten text by encouraging them to consider what each character is thinking.

Dot to Dot Count to 25
Help your toddler guess what the image will be. Kids get super excited to eventually see the image for themselves. These dots follow each other in a logical manner.


Hape Dynamo Kid’s Wooden Domino Set
Model concepts (in-front/behind, first/last, close/far, fast-slow) and verbs (build, turn, push, fall, watch, repeat).

Cate and Levi Puppets
Handcrafted in Canada. Hand puppets stimulate pretend play and turn-taking. Puppets also encourage interaction, through scripts, which is the breeding ground for language development.

6 – 9 years




Wee Hee Hee
Who doesn’t love to giggle? These illustrated jokes strengthen metalanguage skills by using “wordplay”, a humorous use of words with more than one meaning.




National Geographic – 5,000 Awesome Facts About Everything
Kids can’t resist this book with fascinating fun facts. If you want to inspire your child to read more, just leave this bad boy lying around the house.

This game is so much fun and requires that kids search their own vocabulary to create lists of words within various categories. Guaranteed to keep you laughing.

Klutz Make Your Own Movie Kit
For the child with lots of Lego! This kit inspires creativity. This is stop-motion animation made easy. Among other skills, children explore their language abilities as they learn how to write scripts.

Maybe you don’t have any children on your gift list, but you’re looking for a way to give back. One way to connect with the true spirit of the holidays and make a big difference in the lives of children is by supporting The Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau.

They are a non-profit organization with one goal, to ensure every child has a smile on their face Christmas Day. They collect and ship gifts to Community Agencies across metro Vancouver. Simply choose an item and give the gift of play.

Celebrate Your Connection

For many, December is a time of reflection and planning for the year ahead.  I invite you to set aside a few moments to reflect on your most memorable interactions with your children this past year. Next, celebrate yourself for your role in creating those memories. 
It may have been a moment of accomplishment when your young child spoke her first phrase, or a time you offered your undivided attention during bathtime, or perhaps she was able to clearly express her big feelings, and you were there to hear and acknowledge her words.


As parents, it is so easy for us to get swept away by our daily to do lists. And let’s be honest, the majority of those things on the list are likely for the benefit of our children. Yet when we stop doing for them and instead get present with them, this is when we more deeply connect and earn their trust and permission.


This past year, it was a few shared moments with my 3 year old nephew on the beach that were among my most memorable. We had been walking on the boardwalk with his parents when he suddenly ran onto the beach, kicking up huge amounts of sand with each step. The beach was not crowded, but there were people reclining ahead. I considered correcting him but decided instead to join him, imitating his steps, kicking up my own sand. Judging by his smile, he was thrilled to see me imitating him. At that moment I switched up the step to a gentle and deliberate lunge. He instantly copied me, allowing me to take the lead for a moment. Then he jumped up on a log and so did I. He turned to look over his shoulder and smiled. This routine of copying each other went on for only a few more minutes, but it was rich with connection. Connection that existed because I chose to be playful, attend, imitate and take turns rather than correct and direct. I used the tools I knew would yield his interest and attention leaving him receptive to me as his model.


As the poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there”  These words inspire me to suspend my own judgement about a child’s rights or wrongs, and release my desire to correct and direct.  Instead I ask myself what the child is feeling and needing in that moment and lean in. By just being present with them, we sweeten the connection, and organically increase the joy factor.


Connection, achieved through presence, attention, and turn taking allows children to maximally benefit from us as their speech and language models.


The video below is one of my favourite examples of how using these simple tools deepens connection. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face!


What strategies have you found that support deep connection with your little ones? Have you similarly noticed that by first establishing this type of connection, you receive their permission to take on the role of speech and language teacher?


It is my hope that you take some time to recall the moments worth celebrating. Interactions characterized by humour, play, eye contact, observing, waiting, listening, turn taking, imitating, delighting and awe.

Top Christmas Toys to Help Your Child’s Language Development

We are quickly approaching the busiest shopping season of the year. And parents will spend countless hours searching for the best Christmas toys for their children.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify toys that are safe, fun and support your child’s development.

Tips to get you started:

  1. Avoid noisy toys. Some toys are so loud they can cause hearing damage in children. And a child’s short arm length means those noisy toys are pretty close to their ears. If it sounds too loud to you, it will be too loud for your child. Furthermore, noisy toys do not encourage talking. If you are very keen on a toy that happens to be  noisy, simply remove the batteries or apply tape over the speaker!
  2. Pick toys that encourage pretend play. Play of this kind organically fuels children to use their imaginations and generate words and sentences describing what they are doing.
  3. Look for toys that will hold your child’s attention, and encourage her to interact with the toy. Interactions promote opportunities for your child to use her language skills to express herself.
  4. Choose toys you think look fun. The best way to stimulate language development is for you to join your child in play and talk about what he is doing. Therefore, choose toys you will both enjoy playing with.

These are what I believe to be exceptional toys and games. These toys, through their design and quality, promote play that advances language development at different ages.

Toys for 1-3 years

 Where’s Bear by Peaceable Kingdom

Offers opportunities to model vocabulary related to spatial concepts, asking and answering where questions, and language associated with problem solving.

 My Busy Town by ALEX

Features five types of games that will stimulate your child’s mind and language. Use simple phrases to narrate your child’s actions.

 GearZooz Roll and Roar Animal Train by VTech

Your child can customize his own animal train with spinning gears. There are interactive songs and phrases about animals, places and instruments. Language building activities have been incorporated into questions that stimulate thinking and following directions.

 Pet Vet Clinic by Battat B.

Includes two small plush pets, stethoscope, syringe, thermometer and keys to open colour coded doors.  This toy encourages imaginary play and action word vocabulary.

Toys for 3-6 years

 Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Truck by Leap Frog

Your child will pretend to run her own ice cream truck. Provides opportunities for extensive vocabulary through role play. She can learn numbers, colours, flavours, and skills such as listening and following directions.

   Better Builders Emotions Toy Set by Guidecraft

Contains six interchangeable bodies, faces and feet. Faces express different emotions and help children learn to name, identify and regulate their emotions. Features magnetic ball and rod construction.
  Story Train Firefighters by Janod

The inclusion of people with the train encourages more talking. Your child will tell stories about what he does with the train and the firefighters. Opportunities to use concept words and opposites.

 Barber in the tub by ALEX

What a better place for pretend play then in the tub? Add bubbles to the bath for shaving. Opportunities to practice vocabulary and phrases associated with getting a haircut.

Toys for 6-9 years

 Rory’s Story Cubes by Gamewright

Your child will practice her narrative skills while tapping into her own creativity. Provides practice planning and sequencing information. May also be used to practice writing skills.

 Pottery Cool Studio by Spin Master

Opportunities to use vocabulary related to sequencing and time. Your child can practice using past tense and narrative skills to describe what he made and how he built his creation.

 Fingerlings – Interactive Baby Monkey by WowWee

These interactive baby monkeys cling to fingers and react to sound, motion and touch. If your child blows them kisses, they will kiss her back! Opportunities to talk about cause and effect and use sequencing vocabulary.

 Eye’n Seek by Blue Orange

Play six possible games that reinforce matching, reading, vocabulary and phonemic skills.

It is my hope that this list of toys and games is helpful and brings some ease to your Christmas shopping experience.

A final word of advice regarding toy safety. Remember that typical wear and tear can result in once safe toys becoming hazardous. Check your toys regularly to make sure the are in good condition.