Announces Top 10 PAL (Play Advances Language) Award Picks 2021/Holiday Gift Guide: Top Toys, Games, Books and Media That Spark Fun and Encourage Language

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Respected speech-language expert Erika Cardamone announces her Top 10 PAL product lists by category representing the only industry recognition promoting language development through great play. Parents and educators alike value Erika’s decades of experience and benefit daily from her work with children, consulting practice, media appearances and articles.

Language catalyzing PAL Award winning toys and games are powerful additions to a child's tool box, since children learn through play, and language is integral to learning!

Regular interaction with children guides Play On Words CEO and speech-language pathologist, Erika Cardamone, to unique set of the best toys, games, books and media that have the chemistry to develop language while delivering great play. Today, Play On Words is announcing its annual “Top 10 PAL Picks for 2021/Holiday Gift Guide” by age and product category. Our Top 10's take the guesswork out of giving great holiday gifts. Parents and grandparents use our lists to shop for smart toys with lasting play value.

Winners are assessed and reviewed by Erika with input from parents, kids and educators. Observing kid's play in action, combined with her critical eye for language potential, Erika awards products and writes insightful reviews offering practical tips on how to maximize the educational value in each winner catalogued on

Language catalyzing PAL winning toys and games are powerful additions to a child's tool box, since children learn through play, and language is integral to learning! Our 2021 Top 10's include a number of great winners that inspire imagination and story-telling with engaging props, from Schleich’s “Happy Cow Wash" and recreating fairytales with “Papaton Shadow Theater,” to the “Jungle Set” by Magna-Tiles. Promoting children’s critical thinking is a strong theme throughout this year's winners, often combined with STEM skills as children design and build cardboard forts with “Make-A-Fort,” conduct daily experiments with MindWare’s “12 Days of Science,” and learn about physics while building with sticks from “Craft Stick Creations” by hand2mind. The toy industry continues to value new toys, games and books to promote literacy. Kids make a rhyme to rhythmic beat in “Rhyme Antics” to encourage phonological skills, learn sound-letter correspondence with a flying kangaroo in “Rooby’s ABCs by SimplyFun and build confidence reading with some help from a magic stylus in LeapFrog’s “LeapReader Learn to Read Mega Pack.”

Erika’s expertise has been tapped by FOX TV News 6 Milwaukee, Honest Company Blog, ASHAsphere (official blog of the American Speech Language Hearing Association), and ASHA LEADER magazine.

For Erika, great play is not just about fun, or language development, it’s about going deep in both. Her expertise has been built on science and thousands of hours of client experience. Each set of Top 10’s represents a breadth of themes and genres, but they all have one thing in common - they are trusted lists of fun products that boost learning through play. Here are 2021's Top 10 PAL Picks - See her reviews at


  • 150 First Words by Merriam Webster
  • Cozys by GUND
  • Cookie Monster Construction Worker by GUND
  • Everybody Loves Acorn Soup by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Fab Pals by GUND
  • Kissy Animated Penguin by GUND
  • Lil' Critters Soothing Starlight Polar Bear™ by VTech
  • Magical Mermaids Bath Puzzles by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Musical Whale Fountain by Hape
  • Oh So Snuggly Collection by GUND


  • AQUA Splish Splash Water Park by PLAYMOBIL
  • Count Along Basket & Scanner by LeapFrog
  • Eating in Season by Adventerra Games
  • Jungle Animal 25-Piece Set by Magna-Tiles
  • Light-Up Activity Board by Crayola
  • My First Math Dice by ThinkFun
  • Panda Playground Indoor Jungle Gym by EZ Play Toys
  • Seek-a-Boo Mix-and-Match Memory Game by MIndWare    
  • Sort & Recycle Ride-On Truck by VTech
  • WOWmazing Kit by South Beach Bubbles


  • Create A Scene Neighborhood by The Learning Journey
  • DJ Miz and Spin Studio by Hape
  • Get Ready for Preschool with Monkey Around by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Kinetic Sand Scented Ice Cream Playset by Spin Master
  • Magna-Tiles Structures: Monster at the End of This Story by CreateOn
  • On-the-Go Story Pal by LeapFrog
  • Rocky Reuse It Truck by Spin Master
  • Scribble Scrubbie Ocean Pets Lagoon Playset
  • Scribble Scrubbie Pets Backyard Bungalow and Cloud Clubhouse
  • Together Set by Joguines Grapat


  • Busy Busy Bake Shop by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom    
  • Candy Collections by Cybele’s Games
  • Find and Seek Scavenger Hunt by hapinest
  • Happy Birthday to You by Funko Games
  • Imagination Links by MindWare
  • Mickey and Friends Magical Treats by Wonder Forge
  • Rhyming Bingo by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Rooby's ABCs by SimplyFun
  • Stack Your Chickens by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • With a Cherry on Top by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom


  • 12 Days of Science by MindWare
  • Builder 32-piece Set by Magna-Tiles
  • Craft Stick Creations by hand2mind
  • Dinosaurs in Space 3X49-piece Puzzle by Ravensburger
  • Gravitrax PRO: Starter Set and Expansion Accessories by Ravensburger
  • Happy Cow Wash by Schleich
  • Papaton Shadow Theater by Papaton Kids
  • Q-BA-MAZE 2.0: Super Race Set by MindWare
  • Sunny Day Mobile Farm Stand by Schleich
  • Toca Life Subscription Boxes by Spin Master


  • Block Chain by ThinkFun
  • Bold Made by Hot Taco Inc
  • Bubble Gum Rummy by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Idiom Addict by Good Game Company
  • Raya’s Journey: An Enchanted Forest Game by Ravensburger
  • Rhyme Antics
  • Secret Squad by Gamewright
  • Tapple by USAopoly
  • With A Cherry On Top Game by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Word Witt by Darling


  • 100 Words About Places I Go by VTech
  • 150 First Words by Merriam Webster
  • Aaron Slater Illustrator by Andrea Beaty
  • Bizy Buddies Explore Digestion by Kevin Kohlstedt and Rudy Valenta
  • Everybody Loves Acorn Soup by MindWare's Peaceable Kingdom
  • LeapLand Adventures by LeapFrog
  • LeapReader Learn-to-Read 10-Book Mega Pack by LeapFrog
  • LeapStart Learning Success Bundle by LeapFrog
  • Tales of Courage and Kindness by Disney Books
  • Touch & Learn Nature ABC Board by LeapFrog

Each holiday season, millions are spent on kids’ toys, games and books. These PAL winners above are not only great fun but also encourage rich language development. Think “tastes like ice cream, fortifies like spinach,” optimizing your toy purchases to build language while maintaining all the fun. Now’s the time to be intentional about your child’s toy chest, game drawer, bookshelf and tablet! is fueled by speech-language pathologist and Mom of 4, Erika Cardamone. Her 15 years championing language rich play, esteemed PAL Award, and insightful tips to parents set her apart as the leading advocate for the language component in toys. With thousands of 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

Founded by fellow speech-language pathologist, Sherry Artemenko, the PAL Award identifies 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 and caregivers how to get the most from toys, games and books to build language and underlying cognitive skills.

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Erika Cardamone, Chief Play Officer and Owner
Play On Words
+1 (203) 228-4438
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