Presents Their Spring 2022 PAL Awards - Best Toys, Games and Media that Spark Language Development Through Play

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Play On Words, led by highly respected speech-language pathologist Erika Cardamone, announces Spring 2022 PAL Award Winners, the toy industry's only recognition directed by a credentialed speech-language expert recognizing the language learning edge in exceptional toys, games and media. Erika's 16 years of child development experience working with kids empower her PAL Award selections, video reviews, popular blog, media appearances (FOX News Milwaukee and PHL17), and consulting practice, alongside PAL Award Founder Sherry Artemenko.

Erika Cardamone discusses the benefits of learning through play LIVE at PHL17

“Play is not just about having fun but about taking risks, experimenting, and testing boundaries.” American Academy of Pediatrics

Play is the foundation for a child’s learning. When children play, they’re experimenting, problem solving, conversing, and collaborating. These are the essential skills of the 21st century. We’ve seen the importance of play and adaptability especially in the last few pandemic years. Our children have endured virtual playdates, developmental setbacks, educational shifts, and academic crises. Through all of this, play continues to be the forerunner for our children to learn self-regulation, empathy, creativity, problem solving, and build a lifelong love for learning.

During uncertain pandemic years with less social opportunities for us all, social-emotional wellness became an important theme in schools and homes. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an essential skill that helps children better understand their emotions, improve self-awareness and problem solving, and build empathy for others. Bringing SEL into the classroom improves academic performance and lifetime outcomes.

Play encourages self-regulation where a child builds a sense of self. During play, children use their imaginations, take risks, negotiate for turns with peers, and practice important language and conversation skills. It’s these critical experiences that help our children build self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills and thus leads to responsible decision making.

The PAL Award continues to seek out the best toys and games that foster learning through play and encourage language development, flexible thinking, problem solving, and creativity. helps toy brands and consumers alike see the strategic value of language learning in play through its helping to build vocabulary, foster cooperation, express emotion, kindle creativity and expand descriptive and problem solving capacities. The PAL Award on the internet, packaging and in print media differentiates brands who know the marketplace now demands products that are not only fun, but also infused with learning potential. The gold seal with three smiley faces tells customers that more than great entertainment is to be found on the box, book cover or app license.

EARLY DEVELOPMENT: Erika’s experience in pediatric speech-language therapy has given her an eye for the best products to build attention, vocabulary and concepts through play, preparing children for their first sounds, words and sentences. While discovering themselves in a fun mirror, learning cause and effect during playtime, practicing pretend play through planting and counting and exploring their environment while scooting around on their first bike, kids learn essential early language skills.

  • Friendly Fishin’ by SwimWays
  • Glow in the Dark Monsters Puzzle by The Learning Journey International
  • I See Me Lion Mirror™ by VTech
  • Kick & Score Playgym™ by VTech
  • My First Big Floor Puzzle: Fire Truck, Recycle Truck, Train, Digger by The Learning Journey International
  • Numberblocks MathLink® Cubes 11–20 Activity Set
  • Poppy the Count & Stack Flower Pot by Learning Resources
  • Scoot Around Bike by Hape
  • Turn & Learn Ferris Wheel™ by VTech

READING AND WRITING: As children grow older, literacy becomes a focus in academics. Learning their first functional words and phrases, rhyming words, creating new words during gameplay, using a magic mat that allows for tons of writing practice, and learning fun facts on your favorite themes, all pick up essential skills to advance reading and writing.

  • 100 Things That Go™ by LeapFrog
  • Animal Rhymes Music Book™ by VTech
  • Chalk-a-Word by SimplyFun
  • Color and Erase Reusable Mat and Activity Pads by Crayola
  • Smart Sparks by MindWare
  • Triangle Math by ThinkTank Scholar
  • Trivia: Animal, Geography, and Science by MindWare
  • Word Heist by Gamewright

LANGUAGE STRUCTURE, CRITICAL THINKING AND REASONING: These outstanding products can build language structure, critical thinking and reasoning, often teaching vocabulary, concepts or grammar while delivering fun. Following directions to complete complex designs, making observations in the dark, solving problems, drawing conclusions, designing and constructing your own floor plan and structures made of blocks to practice physics further language learning, flexible thinking and promote innovative thinking.

  • Art-chitect by MindWare
  • Contraptions Reactions by MindWare
  • Dinosaur Escapes Shiny Mosaics by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Dino Explorers, Underwater Explorers and Space Explorers Puzzles by Learn with OjO
  • GeoLogic by ThinkFun
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Dig It Up! Dinosaur Eggs by MindWare
  • Raccoon Tycoon by Forbidden Games
  • Recycling & Conservation Pattern Block Puzzle Set by hand2mind
  • SavannaScapes by SimplyFun
  • Techno-Tiles by The Learning Journey International

STORY-TELLING / PRETEND PLAY: Whether telling stories about a Wild Life Ranger who rescues animals and explores, checking off daily chores like ironing, reenacting a grocery store trip, or imagining your favorite pets in an igloo, treehouse, or spa, children enter the world of pretend, creating their own stories with plenty of flexible props to guide their imagination. Oral story-telling precedes writing as kids learn the steps to create a good narrative.

  • Aquabeads by Epoch Everlasting Play
  • Design and Drill Bolt Buddies Tractor by Educational Insights
  • Ironing Time Learning Set™ by LeapFrog
  • Scribble Scrubbie Arctic Pets Igloo, Safari Pets, and Scented Spa Playsets by Crayola
  • Sensory Bin Mermaid Lagoon by Creativity for Kids
  • Teach and Talk Cash Register by MindWare
  • Wild Life Ranger Adventure Station by Schleich

SOCIAL LANGUAGE: Complementary to pretend play, social language blossoms when children play with toys and games and interact with media that encourage extended social interactions. Naming, and recognizing emotions in oneself and others by taking on a puppet personality, taking turns during gameplay, or exploring the outdoors with a friend, children understand and manage their emotions, leading to stronger EQ's.

  • Funny Bird by Folkmanis
  • Funny Bunny by Ravensburger
  • Kangaroo and Joey by Folkmanis
  • Make Your Own Bug Catcher by MindWare
  • Ultra Baby Spring Float by SwimWays
  • Ultra Power Battle Game by Expand Your Mind
  • Yeti by Folkmanis

ABOUT PLAYONWORDS.COM is fueled by well-respected speech-language pathologist, Erika Cardamone. Her 16 years championing language rich play, lead reviewer for the PAL Award, popular blog, and insightful tips to parents set her apart as the leading advocate for the language component in toys.

Over 10,000 hours working directly with children has shown her that a unique set of the best toys, games and books have the capability to develop language while delivering great play.
Studies show:

  • Kids with highest IQs at three, had the most words at one and two
  • Language learning is cumulative – early words => early sentences => language & reading
  • Most kids maintain their verbal advantage through childhood

Creative pretend play that sparks story-telling can advance future literacy

Erika hopes that parents will recognize the PAL Award to identify unique toys, games and books that through their design, quality and character, encourage play that advances language. PAL winners in the hands of kids, spark fun and creative play with lots of talk. Such toys, recognized on the basis of her child development expertise, are complemented by practical coaching in her blog, showing parents, caregivers and teachers how to get the most from toys, games and books to build language and underlying cognitive skills.

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Erika Cardamone