January 14, 2016

Playing in Mud Puddles: Word Games

The winters in Oregon are long, filled with damp, grey days and plenty of rain. All that rain and lack of sun can make me feel sluggish and lazy. It certainly dampens my creativity! But one thing that never fails to cheer me up and gives me some inspiration is a trip to my favorite toy store, MudPuddles Toys and Books located in Sherwood, OR.

MudPuddles is a wonderful, independent toy store filled to the brim with the latest and greatest toys and books. Kate, the owner of this fabulous place, has a knack for finding toys that are appealing, fun, durable and educational. She pours her love of learning through play into her shop and is more than happy to introduce shoppers to her latest finds. It's a fabulous place and I love to explore it!

My most recent trip to MudPuddles was inspirational. As I browsed through the store, it occurred to me that I should write a post (or posts) about my new toy/game finds and how I might use them in speech and language treatment. And so, this toy/game review series, Playing in Mud Puddles was born!

I could spend all day and night telling you about all my favorite finds, but I decided that since this will be a series of posts, I will feature a specific category of toys/games in each post. I am devoting this first post to word games, because I am, admittedly, a Word Nerd, and I love them!

First, I want to tell you about two awesome games I found from an educational game company called Think Fun.  I love this company! They make quality, entertaining games that are so appealing and addicting! Their slogan is "empowering minds through play," which is totally in line with my philosophy.

The first is called Word Around and is great for kids ages 8 and up.

Each card has three words on it, one spelled out sequentially in each ring. Players race to identify the word on the ring that matches the color on the back of the previously played card. The trick is trying to figure out where the word starts, identifying it and saying it before the other players do. Can you identify the words in the picture above?

Blue ring = bottle
Red ring = regular
Black ring = asleep

I actually purchased this game and brought it along when I went to visit my mom. She is aging and starting to experience some memory issues. She loves puzzle games like Sudoku, but I feel strongly that she should challenge herself with word games as well. I wasn't sure how she would do with this one, with the time pressure of competing with another player, but she really did well! She caught on quickly (which isn't always the case for her when learning something new) and really enjoyed it. She liked it so much that I left it there with her in Ohio to play with family and friends.

IF I had Word Around here with me in Oregon (I plan to purchase another copy on my next trip), I would use this game with my upper elementary, middle school and high school students.  I would use it to target:

  • vocabulary - specifically parts of speech. I would have the student name the part of speech after identifying the word. For example, "bottle is a noun."
  • sentence formulation - have the students use the words they identify in sentences
  • synonyms, antonyms, multiple meanings - have the student choose 5 words and have them name a synonym, antonym or tell multiple meanings
  • working memory - many of my students process information at a slower rate than what is typical. I love to use competitive games like this to target processing speed.
  • word skills - I have several students who struggle with games like anagrams (i.e. changing the letters of a word around to make other words)
  • articulation carryover - I might use this for rapid rate production of carrier phrases for /r/ or /s/. At the end of the round, I would have the student say "I can read bottle" or "I see asleep" for each of the cards in his/her pile.
  • social skills - winning/losing, good sportsmanship, turn taking

The second game I found is called Pathwords Jr.

It's a word search puzzle game where kids find the words of each puzzle and cover them with brightly colored shapes to create a pattern.

There are four different levels of play, from beginner to expert.  Some of the puzzles show a list of the words to find,

and some give picture clues or hints, making the puzzles more challenging to complete. Each puzzle has a theme and is often in the shape of an item related to the theme. For example, the puzzle pictured above has music-themed clues, and is shaped like a musical note.

I purchased this game and have been happily using it with my mid-to-upper elementary and middle school students.  I've used it target

  • categories
  • inferencing
  • vocabulary
  • verbal reasoning
  • problem solving
  • spelling
The kids love this one and so do I! 

The third word game I want to tell you about is called Xoom Cubes by a company called Baxbo, who describes this game as "a thousand word games in one." Players complete challenges by creating words from their letter dice. There are two levels of challenge cards, regular and junior.

I purchased the junior deck, and here are some of the challenges:

There are letter races, category races, timed games and potluck, which is a challenge to create as many words as you can find with your dice.

I did not purchase the complete game that included the letter dice, for two reasons: first, I am on a tight budget and already knew I was buying the other two games, and secondly, I have letter tiles from Bananagrams that I figured I could use instead. I am all about repurposing what I already have! So, I combined the Xoom Cube Jr. cards with the Bananagrams tiles and it worked just fine.

Here's how I've been using them:

I spread about half of the letter tiles on a non-slip mat in the center of the table. I positioned a bell within reach of each player. I read a challenge card to the players, who then raced to complete the challenge, ringing the bell when they finished. The first player to collect 5 challenge cards was the winner!

I used this game to target the same skills that I listed above for the Think Fun games. What I like about this one though is that students have a greater opportunity to generate the words used in the game. We've had many discussions about the words they have chosen to spell ("No, LOL is not a real word, it's an acronym, so choose a different word to spell.") and what those words mean. It gives me insight into what topics are important to them as well (Star Wars, Mine Craft, music).

Moving on...

One of my favorite sections at MudPuddles is the collection of little toys in bins at the front of the store.  Something always catches my eye, and I always come away with a small treasure.  I want to feature one of these treasures each month, too.  I'm calling them Little Droplets that Make a Big Splash! These items will be inexpensive (less than $5.00) but very useful and fun.

January's Little Droplet is one that my friend, Jenny (who just happens to work at MudPuddles) cringed at when I picked it up. It was an expandable plastic tube for $1.99. She said, "Pam, you do NOT want that! It's so LOUD and ANNOYING!" But then, I showed her that this accordion-style tube is just perfect for providing auditory feedback. You just stretch the tube, bend it into a crescent, hold it up to your mouth and ear, and then say a word.  She was amazed! She promptly showed her co-workers this new way to use this toy.  I bought several to use with my articulation kids, and they are a hit!  Not only do the kids love shaping the tube into the right size for them, they are learning to use auditory feedback to help shape their production of sounds.

So there you have it.  Didn't I come away with some great finds??? I can't wait to go play in MudPuddles again soon.

Oh, by the way, I should say that the items chosen to be reviewed for this post were completely my idea, inspired by how they might work for me in my clinical setting.  No toys or games were given to me free of charge, nor was I given a promotional fee. The opinions regarding these products are expressly my own.

A BIG thanks to Kate and Jenny at MudPuddles for so graciously allowing me to hang around in their store and showing me such cool things! If you'd like information on any of the things I featured today, shoot them an email or give them a call. I know they would be happy to help! Just click here.


  1. Pathwords looks awesome. I like how the words are related and can be used to formulate sentences! The tubes remind me of "Rapper Snappers!"

  2. Great post. I LOVE games to target executive functioning skills-especially metacognition. Even just learning hot to set up the game and express how to play the game is a fantastic learning activity. I just had some great finds at Goodwill! Looking for reading your next post in this series. All of these games look fantastic.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! You're right, using games for treatment is AWESOME on so many levels!

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