If you are looking for toys that are made in the USA or natural toys, Down to Earth Toys is the place. Ninety percent of the toys offered are made in the United States and all are made of natural, biodegradable, recyclable or recycled materials.
Arielle tried out the I can spell! Alphabet Puzzle by Tag Toys ($59.95)
This giant (23"L x 12" W) alphabet puzzle is made in the USA, and has won numerous awards, including Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Best of School Supplies Four Gold Stars (Best Word Puzzle Toy), KDFW-TV (Fox 4-Dallas) Toy Test-Top 20 Toys, and Manhattan Mothers & Others (Best Word Puzzle Toy).
One of the best things about this puzzle, and what really sets it apart, is the unique spelling tray that allows the child to stand up letters and build words by copying word cards provided with the puzzle.
Arielle has been interested in the alphabet since she was very young and is now an early reader. However, she's just four and writing is still a struggle. She very much enjoyed being able to spell out words without the worry that her "b" is a "d", or dealing with the complicated curves of the letter "s".
More advanced readers can spell words without the cards.
"Arielle, spell FISH"
"Now what if we change the first letter."
"And then we change it again..."
"... and add ED."
This is a great learning toy on many levels. The large letters are slightly raised, so toddlers like Linnea can work on fine motor coordination when they pick up the letters and place them in the puzzle. They are big, so there is no choking danger. Even babies can safely handle these letters.
Linnea is also learning to discriminate between the different shapes and colors. When I tell her "That is the letter B, Linnea. B is for banana and baby, " she begins to recognize the letters and their names and sounds and will eventually stop calling them all "C". These are skills that will help her get ready to read.
Although Arielle can sound out words, spelling along with the cards helps build word recognition and vocabulary. Searching for the letters reinforces alphabetical order, and she practices the spelling of both simple and complex words.
So, overall, this is a great learning toy and is definitely is much nicer than the standard ABC puzzle.
One thing to note is that the puzzle ships directly from the manufacturer, so if you are considering one for the holidays, please allow 10-14 days to receive your order.
Another nice option for early readers is the Spinny Speller ($6.95). I keep one in my diaper bag and it is great for keeping Arielle busy in waiting rooms.
And, while visiting Down to Earth Toys, check out the nice selection of American and German made art supplies. We especially love Lyra pencils and they make excellent stocking stuffers for children of all ages.
Finally, until 12/31/2008, Down to Earth Toys is offering our readers 10% off with the code "TOYS08".