discovery toys blog of billie elias
Tips for parents who play with their children or who want stay-at-home income.
Toys for special need, autism, gifted and typical kids.

September 29, 2009

We've come a long way, baby

It's astonishing to discover what women used to think about and reflect on. One need look no further than F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age tale of Bernice Bobs her Hair in which someone says, "If she looks like a million dollars she can talk about Russia, ping-pong, or the League of Nations and get away with it."

September 26, 2009

Put the mitzvah back in Bar Mitzvah

I recently stumbled upon an article about putting the "bar" in Bar Mitzvah. Kosher beer maker, Shmaltz Brewing Co., brews up He'brew--"the chosen beer", fig- and date-infused Rejewvenator and Genesis Ale. Funny, because for years I've been thinking, "why not put the "mitzvah" (good deed) back into the Bar Mitzvah festivities.

The bar (for males)/bat (for females) mitzvah is the celebration of the passage into adulthood for Jewish teens at age 13 (that's why those Shmaltz beers are 13% alcohol). It's a time when the child is asked to consider what has brought them to this day and how they will project good deeds into their future. But, often with parties as lavish as weddings, the ceremoniousness of the occasion is lost. That's why kids like Sarah Rodriguez decided to ask attendees at her bat mitzvah to make hospital donations in lieu of gifts to her. She raised over $4000 with which she and her friends made comfort kits of fun stuff for the pediatric patients at the hospital.

Mitzvah Market is a website that offers many examples of mitzvahs for the occasion, including some involving Discovery Toys. Take a look....and let me know if this is something that interests you. I can customize toy chests or large donation baskets, or even a basket of children's books for your child to give to a worthy charity of their choice.

This is my son reading some of the books he donated with kids in the hospital waiting room.

September 24, 2009

Baby Shower Ideas

Surprise Baby Shower
Invite the mom to your house for a Discovery Toys party. Have a DT consultant give her usual presentation, with a huge display of everything the guests have secretly pre-ordered.
After the presentation, play "Whispering down the lane" (where one person whispers something to another, continuing around the room to see how much the message gets messed up).
Be sure to position the mom as the last person to get the message : "This isn't really a
Discovery Toys party, it's a baby shower for ___!"
Then ask her if she likes the items the consultant presented. (Of course she will; they're Discovery Toys!) Tell her "Well that's good, because it all belongs TO YOU!" Watch her gush!

Mommy/Baby Icebreaker

Print out stick-on address labels in a large font with the words in parentheses on the second line:
Marge Simpson (The Simpsons) Maggie Simpson (The Simpsons)
Olive Oyl (Popeye) Swee'Pea (Popeye)
Mrs. Pepper (Blues Clues) Paprika (Blues Clues)
Betty Rubble (The Flinstones) Bam Bam (The Flintstones)
Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch) Cindy Brady (The Brady Bunch)
Wilma Flintstone (The Flintstones) Pebbles (The Flintstones)
June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) The Beaver (Leave it to Beaver)
As you greet the guests, put a sticker on their back with the name of a famous baby or a famous mother. Each guest tries to figure out who she is by asking yes or no questions. A small prize is given out to everyone who figures out who they are. (note: a couple Discovery Toys Boomering Links would be a practical, affordable prize.)

Baby Grooves/Hot Potato Game
Give the Mom-to-be the music CD included in the Baby Grooves musical instrument set as your gift to her. Give one of the instruments to the person on her right. Make up a silly story that includes the mother's name and "baby." Everytime you say her name or the word "baby", the instrument passes to the right. The person holding it when you're done, gets to keep it.

How many Boomerings?
Ask guests to write down a guess of how many Boomering Links it would take to go around the pregnant mother. Have the dad-to-be or the hostess do the measuring.

Measure Up Cup Race
Divide cups by color: red/blue and yellow/green. Have 2 volunteers race to stack them up. The winner and the mom-to-be then have a stack off.

Read a Story Competition
Have 2 volunteers compete for best story reading. Use Frog's Friend and Baby Bear's Bedtime.

Scavenger Hunt
Arrange toys from the Discovery Toys catalog on a large tray and have the mom try to memorize them. Then hunt through the catalog for info about each toy that you can remember.

More Baby Shower Ideas

Someone you know is about to become a Grandma. Well, as we all know, this is practically as exciting to most women as becoming a mother. All her friends are so excited for her, constantly asking her when is the big day? Is it a boy or a girl? When will you get to go see him/her? etc. Since her most important job is to play with and spoil her grandchildren, why not help her get all the right toys, books and games to do just that. Get her friends together and let them throw her a Grandma Shower. Find a local DT rep (I can help you with that), tell her your idea, plan a special day for the event, and VOILA! -- lots of new toys are presented to Grandma for the new arrival. Now, Grandma can either keep all of these toys at her own home for baby's visits, or she can choose to share these with the baby at its own home. Either way, Grandma is introducing the baby, its mother, and ALL of her friends to DT products and our philosophy. What could be more fun?


Do your friends live far away? In the military? "Long-distance baby showers" are good for college friends and/or family members who all live too far apart to get together for a shower. It also eliminates the hassle of each person standing on line at the Post Office to mail their gift.

Your Discovery Toys consultant (ask me if you don't have one) "registers" the expectant mom by sharing a catalog with her, just like you would sign up for a registry in a store. Then invite people, and share the registry list and catalogs with all the long-distance "guests". Your consultant will take everyone's orders and will ask each guest to mail her a card for the new mom, to be included with each gift which she will gift wrap. All the gifts will be hand delivered to the new mom if the consultant lives close enough. When she writes her thank-yous, she can include a snapshot of her opening the gifts.

Tough Times call for Fun & Games

"So, how's business?" I'm asked this question virtually every day, either by customers or friends. I'm happy to report, "Business is fine, despite the recession." Direct selling services usually survive tough economic times. We can provide a level of customer service that is unparalleled in retail because we're like the mom & pop store of yesteryear, small and friendly. Plus, our products are irresistible to new grandparents who want to hold that grandbaby and see them react to a rattle or soft toy. Moms still want to sit on the floor and help their preschooler assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Dads know how important it is to help their 5 year old build with a construction toy.

For those who are temporarily out of work, opportunities like ours are a godsend. There's a low start up cost (usually $125), and voila, you're in business. We'll even train and coach you.
Watch the video of the Chairman of Discovery Toys, Jeremy Hobbs, being interviewed on the ABC News affiliate in Denver. He talks about how Discovery Toys has revamped its compensation plan to give consultants more cash right up front, where they need it. Anyone concerned about separating scams from legitimate companies, can research our 30 year old company online and check the website of the Direct Selling Association, which has a tough code of ethics for its member companies.

And, by the way, playing games is a great way to take your mind off the stresses of the uncertainty of today's economy. Play on!

September 23, 2009

Color blindness

Being able to distinguish the color purple from the color blue is one way to determine if your child is color blind. The classic Discovery Toy, Hammer Away is in the form of a toy tug boat. It has 4 colored balls for a child to bang on, while they explore cause and effect, hand-eye coordination and object permanence. A byproduct of matching the color of the ball to the color of the ring around the opening is that you'll quickly see if your child is matching purple to purple or purple to blue.

September 17, 2009

Autism journey of Leslie & Joe

Leslie St. Jean had joined Discovery Toys as a consultant several years back. One year at the Discovery Toys convention she shared her story with us, which she gave me permission to share with you. I wanted you to hear it in her own words: Discovery Toys helped her child!

"Our Journey with autism began on June 24, 2004. My husband and I spent our 9 year wedding anniversary in a neurologist’s office looking for answers.

This is what we shared with the doctor:

'Our 2-year-old son Joseph is as cute as a button and a joy to be around, but we cannot overlook his odd behaviors. For example, when we call his name, he does NOT look at us. He does not seem to hear us. We had his hearing tested and the results were “normal”. Why does he walk on his toes? Why is he not aware of the world around him? For example, he does not acknowledge a new person walking into the room. Joe cannot play with toys appropriately no matter how many times we show him. Whether it is a ball, car, shape sorter or book, he does the same thing, spin them. When I sit down next to him to read a book, he immediately stands up and walks away. Why doesn’t he talk? Why does he not seem to understand me? He cannot follow any direction. Even simple ones like “Where’s Mommy?” Why does he jump up and down and flap his hands when he is excited? Why does he cover his ears to certain noises? Why does he make high pitched screams when he is “playing”? If kids are playing on the left side of the room, Joe moves to the right side of the room. Why does he laugh uncontrollably at nothing?'

The answer to all these questions and behaviors was AUTISM.

Autism impacts 1 in 166 children. 4 out 5 children diagnosed are boys. There is no known cause or cure for autism. It is, in my opinion, a silent epidemic. Maybe Discovery Toys can help, not just by supporting parents of children with autism like me, and children with autism like our Joe with wonderful products, tips and testimonials, but by helping us to feel able to talk about it. That’s why the foundation, Autism Speaks, must have selected its name, to bring autism out into the open.

From the moment DISCOVERY TOYS® products began arriving at my door, the door to my son’s mind began to open. But these products mean more to my family than most would ever understand.

Did Joe immediately begin to use the products like they were meant to be used? No, not even close, but at least he was interested. And interest goes a LONG way for children on the Spectrum. Because he was interested in the products, he was motivated to learn how to use them. A BIG positive!

Whenever I meet a parent who has child on the Spectrum I recommend the following products, BUSY BUGS, ROLL & PLAY and IT’S A MATCH!

BUSY BUGS was the first DISCOVERY TOY® product I opened from my Rocket Start Kit. Every child with autism has their little quirks or “stims”. Joe’s is picking up items that are the same and dropping them one by one. It actually is very impressive. Even his Occupational Therapist (OT ) has marveled at how many objects Joe can fit into his cute little hands. As I opened up the box for the first time, he screamed in excitement. His hands literally dove into the box as he picked up bugs and began running around the house dropping them. I brought him back to the table, this time only giving him 6 red bugs and the all red square card. With my hand over his, (known in the autism world as “full manual guidance”, or “hand-over-hand”), I showed him how to match the red bug to the red square. For 3 months I worked with Joe on this skill and one day he just did it; independently. He can now independently complete up to card 3!

In my opinion, ROLL & PLAY is the best “floor time” therapeutic product for children on the Spectrum. Most young children with autism are unable to talk and have audio processing issues. This means they are unable to decipher or decode what we are saying. However, many are successful at understanding and interpreting a picture. For this reason, many children on the Spectrum begin communicating through PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). When my son was younger and wanted a drink, he was unable to verbally express his need in the form of the spoken word, “drink”, “cup” or “juice”. Instead he removed a wallet sized picture of a sippy cup from our refrigerator door and handed it to me. He was “exchanging” a picture for the item. He was communicating through pictures. ROLL & PLAY is “PECS in a box”. We have used ROLL & PLAY to teach Joe the parts of the body, gross motor skills imitation and how to follow directions, (“find something yellow”). Gross Motor Imitation is a prerequisite to expressive language (spoken words). This is also a game Joe’s big sister Renee (age 5) can play with him. Imagine having a brother very close to your age (they are 17 months apart) who has no idea how to “play”. With this product it is bridging that gap and providing a means for my children to interact!

I recommend to EVERY FAMILY of autism IT’S A MATCH! When Joseph was completely non-verbal and we had no idea what he was capable of in an academic sense. Well, through IT’S A MATCH! we found out he knows his letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and animals. It also reinforces matching, which is a HUGE educational program for children on the Spectrum. From that moment on, we changed the programs in Joe’s therapy, we kicked it up a notch and that has made all the difference. He has progressed more in the last 18 months than I thought was possible. Joe not only can identify his letters, numbers, shapes, colors and animals through matching, but he can SAY THEM!

SPLASH ROCKET has become Joe’s favorite DISCOVERY TOY® product. Therefore, it has become Joe’s “most preferred reinforcer”. What is a reinforcer? A reinforcer is the reward that Joe earns for doing what is asked. Most of this summer you could find me in my back yard with flashcards and a SPLASH ROCKET. I would show Joe a flashcard, if he was able to identity the object and say the word, (“expressive label”), I would blast off the rocket. It is his reward for doing something he finds very difficult to do. Through the efforts of Joe’s dedicated teachers and SPLASH ROCKET as a reinforcer, he is able to identify and verbally express close to 200 words!

I share my stories today to give you an opportunity to learn how autism can affect a child and how important it is to support the child and their FAMILY. [If you sell Discovery Toys] you are making a difference! You are providing these families with affordable educational products, potential reinforcers, and fantastic therapeutic tools.

Are you providing the families with a cure? No. But we are showing them that we care and we want to make a difference in their lives. And this means more to the Autism Community than you will ever know!

So how is Joe today, 2 years after his diagnosis? Well, he is a different kid. He is a child that all the preschool girls and teachers fight over. He is a quiet cute, kid with the “all teeth showing” smile. He is no longer considered to be non-verbal. My son has words, however, he is still considered non-conversational. He is just starting to put 2 words together. My favorite is “Luv Ya.” His favorite is “Sit Down!” And why is he asking me to “sit down”? …to play. And what do we play with… DISCOVERY TOY® products. Because playing with Joe everyday is the best investment I have ever made in my son’s life."

Today, Leslie is the Director of Finance of Huge Possibilities, Inc. a 501(c)(3) charity that helps teach parents and caregivers of children with autism about the huge possibilities for their child who's been diagnosed on the spectrum. Visit their site to donate.

How to make a smarter child

With educational toys, of course! All kidding aside, information enters the brain through the five senses, making the use of multi-sensory toys beneficial to hardy brain development. Products like a bright- colored, textured ball that squeaks and has a scent (Tangiball) or building blocks that double as rattles (EZ Blocks) help to wire the brain's neurons and dendrites, the pathways in the brain. This is particularly true during the earliest months and years of a child's life when the changes in the brain are most dramatic.

There are windows of opportunity for certain skills to be cultivated (e.g. learning a second language without a foreign accent needs to take place before a child turns 9). A child who is in a body cast when the window of opportunity is open for learning to walk, may eventually walk, but will not likely have a natural gait.

My advice: expose a child to as many different situations and stimuli as possible, and read to them every day.

September 11, 2009

Early Language and Intercultural Acquisition Studies (ELIAS)

What a hoot to find out they named an early language acquisition study after my husband's family!

Science Daily reports findings from a European study (which we at Discovery Toys already seemed to know) that children as young as preschool age can learn a second language through immersion teaching.

It was because of a Discovery Toys seminar that I attended at one of our conventions, that my husband and I chose to send our child as a 3 1/2 year old to just such an immersion program.
You can read about Monsieur Thibaut's method and his schools in the NY Times article.

Please refer to my post on second language from March 2009 for more.

September 10, 2009

Agassi Prep serves up lessons

With the US Open Grand Slam Tennis Tournament in town, New Yorkers are engulfed in tennis for a fortnight. I happened to catch Andre Agassi on t.v. and heard him speak about the goals and vision of his highly acclaimed Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy (K-12). I was impressed to see a short clip of the children taking their pledge to be respectful. Respect, character, motivation and self-discipline are deemed important at the school. These traits are enhanced while the children are taught skills and knowledge necessary to be prepared for college. Can you imagine longer school days and a longer academic year? Small classroom sizes? A culture of discipline and respect? Teacher accountability for student performance? Required parental and community involvement? It sounds ideal to me. Perhaps if his model works well enough, the rest of the country will take note. Wishing you luck, Andre!

Fall 2009 Discovery Toys Product Introductions

Many new Fall products are now available.
Click on >>> Shop Products >>> New! Fall 2009

Look for
Baby Grooves (musical instruments for infants)
Try-Angle, a durable plastic activity center for sensory & motor development
Match Up Ride and Go! or Match Up Hide and Seek! magnetic puzzle books
Caterpillar Shape Sorter Wooden puzzle
Busy Farm and Busy Pets, companions to Busy Bugs
Jam Session, music for preschool
Motor Works Truck and Motor Works Train, add ons to Motor Works
A to Z Jr.
Word Flip

several new board games and books

September 04, 2009

Tracking your child's development

Keeping a written journal of your child's milestones and health information can be useful. It's a good idea to track as much information about your child as you can. You'll find it's not only practical when school wants a medical form filled out in conjunction with an overnight class trip or sports club, but also for checking which vaccines your child has already had. One day the sad news came home from school that a student had died of bacterial meningitis. A quick glance at my son's records calmed me when I saw he had received the Menactra vaccine to guard against this.

Paula Parker in her article on keeping a medical journal for your child, gives a step-by-step list of what to keep and what to record. I cataloged all those "firsts"....first tooth, first word, first haircut..., and all the "favorites" ...favorite food, favorite toy (Measure Up Cups), favorite t.v. show... on an adorable calendar. I also have a graph of how his height and weight progressed. These records, combined with the teeth he's lost, a lock of hair, his hand and footprints, his first shoes will all serve as a keepsake for my son to reflect back on when he has a child of his own! (I was horrified when my own mother showed me some of the records she had kept about my earliest days. The recipe the pediatrician had given her for baby formula, back in the time when breastfeeding was out of fashion, included Karo syrup and evaporated milk!! Yuck!)

It's never too late to get started.

September 03, 2009

"Women as the guardians of children...

possess great power. They are the molders of their children's personalities and the arbiters of their development."
-- Ann Oakley, born 1944, English sociologist

Moms everywhere know that we are our children's first and most important teachers, even while in utero, according to an article about fetal memory,

"A team of medical researchers in the Netherlands combined sonogram technology with sound and vibration stimulation to discover that 30-week-old fetuses demonstrate short-term memory. By 34 weeks, these babies in utero are able to store and retrieve that information up to four weeks later, according to the study published in the medical journal Child Development."

So, moms, be selective with the music you listen to, the words you speak, the foods you eat, the examples you set. Your baby is absorbing it all.

September 01, 2009

Need suggestions for special child

I received a note from someone seeking advice as the home school teacher of an 11-year-old boy. He writes,

He was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder that makes him a fairly unique case. He's not mentally retarded, but he's very far behind in his language development because he was unable to hear until about age 8 (he hears fine now with hearing aids). He's at a mid-fourth-grade math level, but a mid-first-grade reading level because he started learning to read just last year. He has somewhat short stature, a somewhat large head, large eyes and a small nose---other 11-year-olds might describe him as funny-looking, but I wouldn't say he's desperately so. His voice is very nasal and he has an odd speech impediment, but he's talkative and can be understood relatively easily.

He's outgoing, kind, humorous, well-behaved, and well-adjusted.

Since he's home-schooled, I want to find opportunities for him to socialize. I suspect that groups of non-disabled 11-year-olds would tend to disinclude or bully him because of the way he looks and sounds, so I'm most interested to find groups or activities for kids with special needs. (Or, if there were a "mainstream" venue for socialization that could assure he'd be meaningfully included, I'd be interested in that too.) Sports and music come to mind as good activities for him, but I'd be open to other ideas.

If you have any general ideas, please comment. Specific ideas for lower Manhattan are especially welcome.

Creative/ Imagination Toys: Pyramid, part 4

Today we're talking about the fourth layer of our healthy play pyramid: Creative/ Imagination Toys, toys that will encourage dramatic play and social as well as emotional development.

Our new game, Friendship Island, helps a child think about how we make friends, become good friends, and resolve disagreements.

Fashion Friends allows your child to learn about sequencing and construction through over 200 combinations of shoes, accessories, hairstyles and outfits for four 5" dolls.

With Shapes & Laces you and your child can build a story around the 45 colorful shapes as you string them onto coordinating laces. "One day while roaming through the strawberry patch, I saw a beautiful orange butterfly."
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