Erika Cardamone - Speech Therapist, Play Enthusiast, Bringing a new angle to toys and games

by Erika Cardamone | 28 Mar 2023

Biographies and Interviews

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

My work is play! I’m a speech-language pathologist so helping people connect and communicate is what drives me. I’ve worked with children for my entire career and continue to bring toys and games with me wherever I go. I remember being in graduate school on the subway in New York City with a giant bag of toys on my shoulder. Someone would gently bump into me and my bag would start mooing or making revving car noises.

It was Sherry Artemenko, a fellow speech-language pathologist and founder of the PAL Award, that made me realize I was a toy expert because I had thousands of hours playing. Moreover, I use toys and games as my tools to help children develop strong communication skills, and parents to connect with their kids in ways they hadn’t before to strengthen their language skills.


What are you working on now?

I’m on the hunt for toys and games to represent the Spring 2023 PAL Awards. PAL stands for Play Advances Language and we’re specifically looking for children’s products that by their content, quality, and character, engender play that advances language skills. Toys and games that create connection between caregivers and children where play becomes an avenue of connection, trust, and loads of fun.

Sherry and I are also working together on consulting projects with toy companies to help think about how to bring and talk about the educational value of their products, through their product life cycle.

Oh! And still spending 3 days a week with direct client care where I get to be a speech-language pathologist carrying lots of toys and games into other people’s homes and schools. Very much still that toy lady with a bag of toys on my shoulder (I just have a car now).


What has kept you motivated to stay in the toy industry?

The power of play and the impact that the toy industry has on children and families, is what motivates me. Toys and games are tools. Powerful ones. Being in this industry affords me the opportunity to unlock important skills like storytelling, confidence, problem solving and learning through exploration. As a speech-language pathologist, I get so charged explaining the benefits of language development in children. Studies show that kids with the highest IQs at age 3, had the largest vocabularies at ages 1-2. So theres huge value in curating rich pretend play that sparks storytelling skills, which have been shown to be predictive of reading and other academic success. These tools - every doll, train set, marble run, craft, board game - creates opportunity for language and interaction. It strengthens bonds between children and caregivers and makes happier and smarter kids.

Sometimes I see what companies don’t even see in their toys and games. It’s a different way to play that reinforces storytelling, or an educational skill that you can teach through a game. Having a different lens and sharing that with companies has been really fun  — and I want to do more of that. 


What excites you?

Change. Most of the time. But I really think there’s a new big change coming to the toy industry that really excites me. I’m talking about M.E.S.H., which is ThinkFun’s super important initiative that’s looking at the Mental Emotional and Social Health of our kids. It’s about giving our kids the skills they need to be resilient. Many of these skills are the bedrock of speech and language development. Foundational skills such as problem solving, collaboration, role play, and especially storytelling. I’m excited to educate more people about how it’s possible to develop and strengthen these skills through play.


What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

The Tupperware Shape-O.  If you’re a child of the 70s/80s, chances are you had it. A plastic red and blue shape sorter with bright yellow blocks. I remember timing myself to see how fast I could fit the shapes in, balancing the blocks carefully on top of one another, pretending it was monster shape eater, quizzing my cousins on “hard” geometric names, and even used it as a musical instrument in some family performances. One toy, multiple ways to play — it’s been my favorite thing for nearly 4 decades.


Who is the person you most admire?

My dad. He leads with kindness always — to family, friends, neighbors, or strangers. He offers help with no judgments and never expects anything in return. He’s 100% good inside.


Do you have any kiddos?

Four of them! One boy and three girls. They’re fantastic toy testers and teach me new ways to play all the time.

Four toy testers on a summer night


Tell us about your hobbies?

Hobbies?! Ha! I’m a working mom, so my hobbies include chauffeuring my tiny humans around in all my free time. Other than that, I’m a wannabe runner and love a good meal!

kids playtolearn slp interview

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