Beanie Babies in
Remember that Beanie Baby craze back in the 90s? Did you obsess over your collection, organizing and playing endlessly with those cuddly stuffed animals? Did you know ALL their names? Whether or not you had a few or a few hundred, you can’t deny these little guys are just adorable. It seems that boys and girls of all ages really connect and engage with these toys. Beanie Babies have proven to be a valuable learning tool here in the Clubhouse — a means to encourage and expand symbolic play, a way to target speech articulation skills, an avenue for rehearsing social skills, and an excellent manner to address receptive and expressive language skills. Motivation is always the key factor in a successful learning environment, and Beanie Babies have proven themselves to be inherently motivating!
The Beanie Baby names are a perfect jumping off point for a fun, educational speech-language activity. Majestic the Seahorse, Eucalyptus the Koala Bear, Pouch the Kangaroo, Stinky the Skunk, to name a few favorites. Children love to engage in conversation about the origins of Beanie Baby names — how they were chosen and why. I often introduce the animals by having my student venture a guess at the name, before providing clues to help them guess. What do you think this bulldog might be called? Look at his skin. It’s not smooth at all. It’s really — (wrinkly!) Guess what, his name is Wrinkles! Questions, answers, and creative thoughts abound! Can you guess where Majestic lives? What do you think Eucalyptus would like to eat for lunch today? Do you think we could see a dragon in real life? You’re right, we saw dragons in the book we read yesterday! Those dragons really do love tacos, don’t they?! (Side note: run to the library and check out Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri.)
Making associations, illustrating similarities and differences, and building connections through our own descriptions and conversation provide important language models for children. Igloo the Polar Bear is white, and so is an igloo! An igloo is made out of —(ice). Who else do you think lives near Igloo and his friends? Yeah, Frigid the Penguin! Conversations about these friendly animals inevitably stoke the imagination and lead to loads of questions and many pretend play scenarios.
A popular activity among Communication Clubhouse clients is creating a “mock school” environment for the Beanie Babies. Our friends are set up appropriately in classroom rows with name-tags (written or transcribed by the student) and are taught words, read to, and posed questions. Arranging the classroom often involves quantitative concepts, spatial awareness, and simple math computation. Let’s put Chip in between Fetch and Wrinkles. Sarge wants to be near Fetch but far from Prickles. Let’s make two even rows: there are ten friends, how should we arrange them? Once our school is set up, we’re ready to rock and roll!
An important component of this “mock school” activity is that it allows children to take the voice of the characters, rather than answering my questions themselves. Through voicing the character’s response, the child is given an opportunity to venture a guess with less pressure. Children appear more confident in offering a guess when they are speaking through one of the Beanie Babies. For example, a Kindergartner, acting as my co-teacher to the Beanie Babies, was asked, “Does Pouch remember this word that we taught her last week?” (we hold up a card with the sight word “that”). The student can either shout out the word enthusiastically, attempt to decode it, or shyly respond with, “Pouch doesn’t remember.” This tactic is used instead of directly asking a child, “Do you know this word?” Beanie Babies act as a “middle man” creating a sense of comfort and security for children. That’s okay Pouch, this word says “that.” We’ll teach it to you!
Word play is an important tool in speech-language therapy and early childhood education. Rhyming, listening for the first sound/last sound in a word, counting syllables, adding, deleting, and manipulating sounds are all important components of a pre-reading program (aka phonological awareness). We are constantly engaging in word play here in the Clubhouse, and the Beanie Babies sure provide so much material for us! Every Beanie Baby comes with an official personalized poem attached on a ubiquitous heart-shaped tag, recognized even by the under 4 set. These poems give us information about the character, helping us learn about its likes/dislikes, behaviors, habitats, and backgrounds. Take a look at this Beanie Baby poem below.
Speedy ran marathons in the past,
Such a shame, always last,
Now Speedy is a big star,
After he bought a racing car!
Before reading the poem, we talked about why a turtle might be named Speedy, since we know that turtles move slowly! With an older student, we might talk about the concept of irony.
These given poems are a great segue into our own rhyming activities. We will brainstorm all the words that rhyme with the animal’s name and then put together a unique sentence. What rhymes with Chip? Flip, dip, hip, rip, ship, slip, skip, nip….
Chip hurt his lip when he did a flip. Oops! Did he slip?
Rehearsing our pals’ names is an excellent means of addressing articulation goals. The later developing difficult sounds like CH and J are found in abundance within the collection: Fetch, Majestic, Banjo, Sarge, Scorch, and Pouch, to name a few! Many of the names have an “s” in the final position, like Wrinkles and Prickles.
As mentioned earlier, writing their names is also a marvelous way to work on spelling and dictation skills. We can make comparisons that get us thinking about spelling rules, like final –y (Baldy and Nibbly) and the suffix –er (Topper and Whisper). What’s most exciting is the organic nature of infusing learning into play, whereby the ideas are often sparked between teacher and student together in the moment.
We frequently use the computer to create collages with our favorite friends. From finding the images to organizing them and adding text, incorporating technology can really be lots of fun for kids and adults alike. Designing posters about particular favorites, delving into research to find out more about particular animals, and making connections to books are other ways we expand this play.
Next time you find your child playing with Beanie Baby friends or for that matter, any stuffed animals or dolls, see how you can join in and use them to work on speech and language skills. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you can create!