Presents Their Fall 2021 PAL Awards - Best Toys, Games, and Media that Encourage Language Development, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving through Play

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Play On Words, led by highly respected speech-language pathologist Erika Cardamone, announces Fall 2021 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 15 years of child development experience working with kids empower her PAL Award selections, video reviews, popular blog, media appearances (FOX News Milwaukee), and consulting practice, alongside PAL Award Founder Sherry Artemenko.

Rather than “school is work and recreation is play,” perhaps parents and educators can see now that play is the work.

The holidays are approaching and this time the season does feel brighter. With more hope for safe gatherings amongst grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends. Many adults may be eager to return to a somewhat of a familiar holiday social calendar… and perhaps our children are too.

It’s been 20 months of pandemic life, where children’s schooling and playdates came to an abrupt pause and a 4-year-old could explain new vocabulary for us all - “social distancing.” Through all of this, play remains exactly what children need. Research conducted by The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “in the presence of childhood adversity, play becomes even more important.”

Play encourages symbolic thinking at a higher level. Children have the opportunity to use their imaginations helping them draw their own conclusions, negotiate for turns with peers, and practice social-emotional skills. It’s these critical experiences that help children build self-regulation, self-awareness, and foster relationships. And once again, they are able to have these moments with friends at school and in the neighborhood.

The pandemic helped us all look at education and learning through a different lens. Perhaps the idea of education as a dichotomous system will be changed. Rather than “school is work and recreation is play,” perhaps parents and educators can see now that play is the work.

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 matching fruits and vegetables and learning associations, playing music and guessing sounds, learning early math vocabulary and being amazed by giant bubbles requesting for more or patiently waiting their turn, kids learn essential early language skills.

  • DJ Mix and Spin by Hape
  • Eating in Season by Adventerra Games
  • Get Ready for Preschool with Monkey Around by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Light-Up Activity Board by Crayola
  • Mickey & Friends Magical Treats by Wonder Forge
  • My First Math Dice by ThinkFun
  • My Little Farm by Smart Felt Toys
  • Scribble Scrubbie Ocean Pets Lagoon Playset by Crayola
  • Sort & Recycle Ride-On Truck by VTech
  • Spill Proof Washable Paint by Crayola
  • WOWmazing Kit by South Beach Bubbles

READING AND WRITING: As children grow older, literacy becomes a focus in academics. Learning their first functional words and phrases, rhyming words, identifying letters and sounds while connecting with nature, using a magic stylus that builds confidence in decoding, and reading rhythmic stories about our digestion, all pick up essential skills to advance reading and writing.

  • 150 First Words by Merriam Webster
  • Bizy Buddies Explore Digestion
  • Etch A Sketch Freestyle by Spin Master
  • LeapLand Adventures by LeapFrog
  • LeapReader Learn-to-Read 10-Book Mega Pack by LeapFrog
  • LeapStart Learning Success Bundle by LeapFrog
  • Rhyming Bingo by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Touch & Learn Nature ABC Board by LeapFrog

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 experiments, making observations, solving problems, and drawing conclusions, designing and constructing giant forts, structures made of cups or a balanced marble run further language learning, flexible thinking and promote innovative thinking.

  • 12 Days of Science by MindWare
  • Bubble Gum Rummy by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Cupstruction by MindWare
  • Dig It Up! Bubbling Volcano Discovery by MindWare
  • Kinetic Sand Sandisfactory by Spin Master
  • Make-a-Fort
  • Paint and Create Easel Case by Crayola
  • Paper Butterflies Science Kit by Crayola
  • Orbeez Challenge Set by Spin Master
  • Q-BA-MAZE 2.0: Super Race Set by MindWare
  • Shimmer Me Body Art by Spin Master

STORY-TELLING / PRETEND PLAY: Whether telling stories using shadow puppets, following a grocery list and going shopping, building a jungle for magnetic animals to play, or imagining a playful scenario of giving a cow a shower, 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.

  • Builder 32-piece Set by Magna-Tiles
  • Choppin’ Fun Learning Pot by LeapFrog
  • Count Along Basket & Scanner by LeapFrog
  • FabStudio 3-in-1 Vanity Easel by Grow-n-Up Limited
  • Gabby’s Purrfect Dollhouse by Spin Master
  • Get Ready for Kindergarten All Around Town by MindWare’s Peaceable Kingdom
  • Happy Cow Wash by Schleich
  • Jungle Animal 25-Piece Set by Manga-Tiles
  • On-the-Go Story Pal by LeapFrog
  • Papaton Shadow Theater
  • PAW Patrol Movie Marshall’s Transforming City Fire Truck by Spin Master
  • PAW Patrol Movie Chase’s Transforming City Cruiser by Spin Master
  • Together Set by Joguines Grapat

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, improving mindfulness with the help of a pup, or aligning on “house rules” with the help of glowing clock, children understand and manage their emotions, leading to stronger EQ's.

  • Dr. Seuss Happy Birthday To You! Game by Funko Games
  • Goodtimer by Plus Up
  • Happy Or Not: A Game of Emotions by Skill Ease
  • Pawz, the Calming Pup by hand2mind

ABOUT PLAYONWORDS.COM is fueled by well-respected speech-language pathologist, Erika Cardamone. Her 15 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, Chief Play Officer and Owner
Play On Words
+1 (203) 228-4438
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