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Founder and inventor of SmartFelt Toys, Yvonne Johansen, has put her life's work into supporting children of all ages with a variety of communication disorders through early intervention, public schools and Head Start programs.
As a Speech Language Pathologist, Yvonne has witnessed first hand that speech, language and the communication of thoughts and emotions are critical development areas that, when nurtured, can propel a child forward in incredible and astonishing ways.
As both a parent and a therapist, her experience has inspired her to create a line of quality toys that will offer a variety of beneficial activities.
My Little House is the first toy in that line. MLH not only helps strengthen children's language skills, it offers ample opportunities for open-ended imaginative and creative play. It helps establish early speech and language concepts and, oh by the way, it's fun!!!
A Heartfelt SmartFelt note from Yvonne:
"I decided to call this line of toys My Little, because being little is how all living things start, that first exciting phase before they begin to expand on the way to realizing their full potential.
I decided that our first play product is a house because that is a meaningful starting point for most journeys. The My Little series creates a path to exploring children's communication capabilities and acquiring skills to connect kids to others."
Over the course of my 20+ year career as a speech therapist, I have discovered that there is a real need for educational materials that not only help lay the foundation for early language skills, but also engage kids in a fun way.
If you ever see a person lugging a bag of toys from home to home or classroom to classroom, the odds are pretty good that he or she is a speech therapist. Trust me; I know from experience.
This is because to accomplish our goals, we need a variety of toys and tools.
One thing you will find in almost every therapist's bag is a felt board. They are colorful, and soft and fluffy to the touch. The felt pieces stick to the felt board, like "magic."
Kids love expressing themselves through felt boards.
MY "AHA" MOMENT!
I thought to myself, "wouldn't it be great if I could take the concept of a felt board and turn it into a three dimensional educational toy? How much fun would that be for my kids? "
And what if this one toy could accomplish the goals of several?
This was the birth of the idea for My Little House!
THE THREE SHAPES OF MY LITTLE HOUSE
My Little House is a three dimensional reversible felt house that takes three forms.
--It can be laid flat and played like a four panel felt book. Kids could sit side-by-side and match all the pieces.
But thanks to its original and clever design and with velcro seams, it quickly transforms into other uses.
--Kids can put it together so you see the outside of the house or (here's the really fun part)...
--It can be assembled showing the inside of the house. 8 different rooms with 38 outlines that correspond to matching felt pieces.
FELT CUTOUTS WITH PURPOSE
My Little House comes with 36 soft and colorful digitally printed felt pieces that stick to outlines in its 8 rooms.
I chose each one of these felt pieces for a reason; each one has a specific purpose that addresses a key early language concept. (***See Concepts page under My Little House drop down menu***)
PROOF OF CONCEPT
In its infancy, My Little House was a primitive felt house that I cobbled together with a friend. It was rough around the edges - literally - but was an instant hit with my little ones.
I began using it in my speech therapy sessions with my kids (who range from young children with speech and language challenges to autistic and other differently-abled students).
The results were pretty astounding. My kids LOVED the tactile experience and the interactivity of the toy.
My fellow clinicians wanted to borrow it, and parents wanted to know where they could buy one.
It was clear to me that I was onto something.
I knew I had to take it to the next step.
While it's fun to lay it flat and play it like a normal interactive book, kids really love putting this invertible house together.
Because it's reversible, My Little House can be constructed so you see the outside of the house, or so you see all of the rooms on the inside. And it is there that the lessons begin.
My students love matching the 36 felt pieces to the appropriate outlines within the house. They love the fact that the felt sticks. They love playing with MLH both alone and with their peers.
WHO'S THE TOY FOR?
In a word: EVERYONE!
While My Little House is a wonderful therapy tool for children with language delays, speech issues and learning challenges...it is also a great toy for typically developing 2-5 year olds. It is never too early to reinforce the concepts of language.
It is currently being used in homes, pre-schools, kindergarten classes, school districts all over the county, special needs schools like The Help Group and through Autistic organizations like Autism Live.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A THERAPIST TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THIS TOY WITH YOUR KIDS...
Every My Little House comes with an insert/pamphlet that explains the concepts that can be fortified by the toy.
The pamphlet was written by Lekotek, the prestigious company that puts out the Differently Abled Guide for Toys R Us.
And don't forget: my specific suggestions for concepts that can be addressed are on this website.
Lekotek has awarded My Little House their Able Play seal, citing it as a toy with real purpose. Autism Live has partnered with us as well. Host Shannon Penrod calls it a "must have" toy for kids with autism.
BIG NEED, BIG DEMAND!
I took an early prototype of My Little House to the CSHA (California Speech and Hearing Association) conference in Anaheim, California last spring and a more updated pre-production sample to the ASHA (American Speech and Hearing Association) conference in Philly. We then took our actual toy to the CSHA conference in Pasadena back in February, 2017.
My Little House was an enormous hit!!!
Hundreds of speech therapists, clinicians and administrators stopped by our booth and purchased "a house."
Super Duper, the pre-eminent educational toy catalogue in the business, saw therapists walking around the convention with our distinctive box and came by to check out our booth.
On the spot, they recruited us to be in their catalog. Over the last two months, they've ordered hundreds of My Little Houses as well.
One well-regarded therapist in the field calls My Little House"a brilliant, forward thinking product that should be in every speech therapist's arsenal."
THE FUTURE OF SMARTFELT TOYS
My husband, Peter, and I have started a company called SmartFelt Toys. We hope that My Little House is the first in a long line of - well - smart, felt toys.
Following closely on the heels of the success of My Little House, we have just released our second product, My Little Farm.
And there are many more My Littles to come…My Little Neighorhood, My Little Zoo, My Little Schoolhouse, My Little Hospital, My Little Firehouse, My Little Police Station, My Little Aquarium and more are all on the drawing board.
We are hoping to be able to provide variations of this unique, smart, engaging educational toy for generations to come.
My passion is to help kids, and my goal is to have millions of little fingers touch this toy.