Monday, November 18, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Write Room

I found Write Room, by Hog Bay Software, for free on Apps gone Free. Normally $4.99, I couldn't not try it.

Write Room is a super cool app that is easily modifiable to those with visual impairments, visual attention, or to those who just prefer working in a different font and background.

When comparing Write Room to Notes, issued standard on iPhone and iPad, there are notable differences. The background in Write Words is very customizable, as is the font. You are able to adjust size, color, and style all within the app.

It is set up with limited distractions visually. Similarly to Notes on the iPhones, there are no lines.  However, it takes just a quick tap on the title line to pull up options to print, email or rename.  Also, it has a word count and sync option within that feature.

Like Notes, you are able to create new documents and folders. You can send your documents via email or to your wireless printer.  Unlike Notes, you are unable to send it as a text message, which I hope is an option in their upgrade attempts.

This entire blog was type written using Write Room with yellow font on black background. I loved the high contrast. Maybe because my eyes are getting older or I just have this personal preference, the option to easily access a high contrast typing app is wonderful.

I think I am a convert from using Notes to using Write Room as my go to quick note taker. Take a chance and try it as well, while it is free.  Who knows, you just might like it as well.  And if you like working on it, there are versions for other Mac products, too.

As of this post, Write Room is still free while they work on updates, so download it now.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dication by Nuance
"Welcome to happy hour review on Dragon dictation by Nuance. For giggles I am actually going to dictate part of the blog  on Dragon dictation app. Just to see how well it comes out. I am going to leave in all of the hum all of the errors to see how accurate this app really is. 

One of the things I've noticed is that next week is pretty accurate when I was playing with last time however OT often comes out it's own cheese oh well.

One of the very interesting ways to use this app is to practice articulation.  It forces the speaker to speak slowly and clearly. It's quite funny to try this with the dysarthric five year old. The stories that he was trying to tell came out horribly wrong and it did get a laugh.

Unfortunately what I have noticed is that the app frequently freezes one after I am mailing the intended notes to myself so that I can for the type it in my blog. The other thing I don't like is that it doesn't have a save feature. When I first started using it I would talk at length and close out.  and when I went to go send it to myself again it wasn't there so if you do not e-mail or text it or posted immediately after your completed with your dictation then it's not going to save it for you and you've lost your entire conversation with yourself.

I have to say though for a free app it's incredibly accurate. Comparing it to Dragon dictation for the computer which is generally a multi hundred dollar program it is a phenomenal find and peace assisted technology that can be incorporated into classroom use as long as the person has a quiet carrier to dictate."

As you can see, Dragon Dictation Free is pretty useful if you don't already have Siri, which I do not.  And as long as you are in a quiet area to speak, the notes are often spot on.  You do have to remember to state "period" or other sentence markers, or you will end up editing post dictation.  Also, you must be aware of the length of the time you are speaking.  After a few minutes of speaking, the app needs to process the information into text, which may result in the loss of train of thought.  For someone with dysgraphia or the average person with an older iPhone, this speech to text app can mean improved written output on the go.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Inclusive Tech Apps Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Inclusive Tech 'Appy Hour Review.  This group of apps addresses slightly different tasks and skill development compared to the previous song based counting apps.  These apps are best for children with exceptional needs who are using cause and effect efficiently and you want to help them make more choices within their play or work on timing for switch activation.  Overall, if you find one app you like, chances are you will find others that help excite and engage the learners into persevering with the task.

Little Lost Penguin*
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: Available in a single switch or touch based mode, you must help the Little Lost Penguin cross six obstacles and feed him along the way. Honestly, I purchased and tried the app without knowing much about it.  I learned by trial and error what was expected (like the kids would have to do).  This app addresses problem solving skills because the player needs to figure out and wait to jump at just the right time.
Visuals: Of course the penguin is cute.  The visual are more complex than the previous cause and effect apps, but it is made to engage different skills for different learners.
Auditory: Gentle waves in the background, and swoopy jumping sounds accompany the penguin and help bring attention back to the task.
Engagement Factor: I swear it was inspired by Happy Feet.   Most of my students are not ready for this app quite yet but I am hoping as they grow, this app will support their needs.
Overall: This is a cute beginner app to bring the students to a new level of skill development, when they are ready. I give it 4 out of 5 Coffee Cups.

Treasure Island*:
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: This app can be used as touch based, single switch, and two switch modes. Goal of the game is to find the treasure by scanning and selecting a square on the map.
Visuals: The map is presented as a grid of 9 squares. Once you touched a spot, a dark blue foot stamps on that section of the map.  I don't feel it is contrasting enough and wish I could modify the stamp in a different color at times. However, the benefit of the blue stamp is that is not overly distracting that the students do not perseverate on it.  You have to weigh your needs.
Auditory:Hopefully you children don't scare easily, sometimes the creepy skeletons will say boo and laugh at them. But generally the sound effects that accompany the squares are not too scary.
Engagement Factor: I have boys, work with a lot of boys, it was nice to have a pirate game! Once you find the treasure you get a song and dance from the pirate himself.  The map and location of the treasure changes slightly in each game so students can't memorize location.
Overall: This app can be used to develop step scanning skills. Scan, scan, scan, select. And its fun to go on a treasure hunt.  I give it 4 out of 5 Coffee Cups for the Arrgggghhhhh factor.

Ease of Use: This is a simple cause and effect app that can be play with touch base, single or two switch mode.  The tired old man is trying to sleep, and silly musicians keep interrupting him. Depending on the switch you activate, you will either open the door to disrupt the old man's sleep, or the old man will pop up and say "Shhhh!". 
Visuals: Simple black background helps to decrease visual stimuli.  Bright, clear, and animated images are  to watch.
Auditory: If left alone, the musicians will play their instruments for about 15 seconds. But you can interrupt them by selecting the tired old man and he will tell them to SHHH!  There is no other extraneous noises, which is good to limit distractions.
Engagement Factor: The children really get a kick out of waking up the old man.  I swear that is an innate desire of most children.
Overall: Shhh! is fun and great way to explore the use of two switch mode.  5 out of 5 cups.

Big Trucks:
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: This is a simple cause and effect app that can be play with touch base, single or two switch mode.  Interaction strictly makes the trucks make sounds and move on and off the screen. 
Visuals: Simple black background helps to decrease visual stimuli.  Bright clear truck images that have animation are pleasurable to watch.
Auditory: Each truck has a unique sound to go along its activation.
Engagement Factor:  Using the two switch activation, a child can build choice making.
Overall: This is a decent app for those with significant and complex needs.  It happened to flow with the preschool curriculum discussing stories like Goodnight, Construction Site. The students did appear to get less engaged after about 3-5 minutes, since they prefer the song based apps as previously reviewed.    I give it 3 out of 5 Coffee Cups.
Aunty Maggie's Recipe
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use:This is a simple cause and effect app that can be play with touch base, single or two switch mode.
Visuals: You get to chose 1 kid from a field of 4 that you want to make into a monster. Touch the brightly colored potions to add as many as you want to the cauldron.  Then touch the goblet to have the child drink it.  The child turns into a colorful monster and does a dance.  After the dance the child returns to normal to start the process again.  There is a quick X to return to the field of 4 child select screen in case the player wants to change it up.
Auditory: The setting is a spooky house, so the crickets are chirping in the background, which after a while, I wanted the option to shut it off.  But when you select the potions or the cup, it has a pleasant and reinforcing sound that indicates the player made a choice.
Engagement Factor: I really like this game. My five year old (and even the 8 y.o.) really likes this game. This game is fun to develop choice making, reasoning skills, hypotheses in an engaging monstrous way. You can build on language skills by asking what color? What do you think is going to happen? How many potions do you want to use? Do you like or dislike your monster?
Overall:  You really can have a lot of fun differentiating to the goals specific to your child.  5 of 5 Coffee Cups.
The one thing I wish I could have access to is a quick exit to the app's home screen.  In most of the apps, you have to exit the app completely then reenter into the app.  I have talked with the developers but they have tried diligently to limit the visual distractions which is why they don't provide the quick out.  But they understood my concerns.  So whether or not you like or dislike an app, I urge you to share your feedback with the developers via app store reviews, emails, or blogs.  It takes feedback to make things the best for the intended users.

*apps with this star means I purchased it independently.  The others I received a code to download it for free.  My thoughts, as odd as they are at times, are my own and are not influenced by the company.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In a pinch, Silly Putty is a great substitute...

I have been an occupational therapist for over 10 years and I have used a lot of therapeutic putty in days.  Theraputty is a resistive dough that is used to increase hand strength and overall function.  There are many brands like Cando and FEI.   But when used in conjunction with play based activities, the students get a work out without really knowing it.

Therapeutic putty will range in price and quality.  And for the most part, it is a staple in most areas of practice.  But as a parent and therapist, it's nice to have quick and easy options to share with others or take on the go.  That is why I always keep around Silly Putty.

Silly Putty now comes in a variety of colors and has the resistance level similar to that of firm therapeutic putty.  It's well know little egg case makes it perfect to throw in the pocket book or diaper bag to keep little hands busy while you are waiting for appointments or food to be delivered.

But you can diversify its use and support your child's education by adding random things.  I have found alphabet beads at Five Below that you can use to sort, spell, match, pattern, identify letter sounds, whatever your child needs to work on.
Put a twist on a favorite game like Hi Ho Cherry O! by hiding the cherries in the Silly Putty, spin the wheel and take them in and out of the putty as you count your way to 10 cherries out of the tree.
There are a bunch of ways you can add to an activity with this 70 year old classic.  Taking a minute to step outside of the box can bring new life to activities and increase engagement with you, your child or your clients.  And for a whopping $1 at most stores, it doesn't break the bank.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In my family of loomers, apparently I am the hooker....

I swear learning how to make friendship bracelets is a right of passage.  It used to be gimp or thread, now its the rubber band loom.

I giggle because I find it insanely therapeutic (oxymoron, yes).  I first figured it out at my nephew's party because they were having a hard time with the kit loom maker, that giant plastic maze.  But last week, I met an 8 year old girl who showed me how to do it with her two fingers in the shape of a V or peace sign.  When I was doing it that way, my fingers were getting tired quickly as well as I only have 2 hands to help my boys do it.  Then it dawned on me, chopsticks.
Starting of with the same figure 8 and adding the looms 1-2 at a time depending on if you want a fishtail or not, the chopstick provides an easy and stable workspace for loomers.  After teaching my own children (8 and 5), I thought it would be a great activity for some of my students.
So here I am with five 2nd graders with a variety of abilities, chopsticks and loom.  And you know what, it was wonderful.  This activity is engaging because their peers are making them.  It addresses fine motor strength and coordination, patterns, spatial awareness, bilateral hand coordination, and the list goes on and on.  The students were so proud of themselves for getting the few rows completed and are eager to continue.  They were helping each other and socializing.  It was probably one of the most satisfying group activities I had lead in a long time.

And now of course, I have created looming monsters.  The only thing they have difficulty with is placing on that annoying plastic hook.  Hence, why in family, I am the hooker.  Great.

You can find the loom kits at Michaels, but don't forget to check Five Below (their refill packs were 3 for $5), Job Lot and Target for the refills.  And the chopsticks- order out or check out specialty toy shops like BrainWaves in Narragansett, RI for the kits and cool dinosaur chopsticks like the ones pictured above.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Inclusive Tech Switch Accessible Apps Part 1

Once I find an app I like, I tend to try the company's other apps to see how they may be beneficial to the children with whom I work.   Inclusive Technologies, based in the UK, has been a great find for my clientele.

The maker of Splat the Clowns has a plethora of switch accessible apps, so I figured I will do a compilation review of the ones that I have purchased, as well as the ones that I had received a code from the company to test drive.  Disclaimer, my thoughts, as odd as they are, are my own regardless of how I attained them :)

But because Inclusive Tech makes quite a few apps, most of which I love and use on a daily basis, I decided to do a 2 (or more) part 'Appy Hour to provide quick and concise reviews of their ease of use, visual, auditory, engagement factor, and overall thought.  And because I work some of the most amazing children with a variety of abilities and disabilities including Autism, Down's Syndrome, Developmental Delay, Cerebral Palsy, Visual Impairment, and Spina Bifida, I have had a chance to differentiate the use of these apps with really great results.  So here we go...

Five Swimming Sharks*
Ease of Use: Either in touch base mode or with switch interface, this app is very easy to use.  After setting up the Bluetooth switch interface, just enter the app, Switch Settings, click enable switch then x out. Easy peasey lemon squeezey.  This is single and 2 switch capable.  It has the song and 3 additional counting activities to the number 5.  I only wish that the third counting activity, counting in sets, had an easy exit besides exiting the app completely with the iPad's home button.
Visuals: Clear, bold colors accompany the words and numbers associated with the song and 3 counting games making it really good for early readers.  Not overly complicated for children with visual impairments.
Auditory:  I know the song is set to a tune from my childhood, but I cannot figure it out! Either way, it is consistent verse allows for easy learning.  Students and staff were shocked initially at the duck-eating shark but soon realized the humor in it.  And the british singer is pleasant to listen to.
Engagement Factor: The students are enamored with the cause and effect.  I have watched as my students learn wait, my turn, targeting, and counting.  I have printed and laminated the pictures of all of the apps so they can make choices, and they often will deliberately choose this one.
Overall: 5 out of 5 Coffee Cups.  This app can support early math and literacy concepts easily in the classroom and at home.   Click here for a youtube video posted by TecAssistive so you can have the song stuck in your head too.

Five Little Aliens:*
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use:  This was the second app I had purchased and got my hooked onto Inclusive Tech, honestly.  This is a single switch capable app with a song and two additional counting activities.  Same set up as above.
Visuals: How can you not love the cute little green men?  Clear simple animation accompanied with the words and numbers and a not-complicated background makes it easy to watch.
Auditory: I can never get these songs out of the my head. Neither can the teachers or the students. It is an easy tune to recall with consistent verse and the same lovely british singer.
Engagement Factor: When I see children with the most severe and impaired motor coordination hit that switch over and over to continue the song or count along, I know they are learning, playing and showing others they are as well.
Overall: Overflowing 5 out of 5 Coffee Cups.  Everything about this app I adore, and so do the kids.

Five Little Rock Stars*:
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: Can be used with and without a switch.  See above, as I have noticed Inclusive Tech is consistent with their switch enabling process. This is a single switch capable app.  It has the song and 2 additional counting activities to the number 5.
Visuals: The background is duller than the animated rock stars so it helps to keep the attention without being overly distracting.  The songs and activities are accompanied by the words on bottom of the screen, and the number is on top.  Between each activation, this makes it easy to reinforce number recognition, early reading skills, and counting.
Auditory:  The tune is catchy. The song has a longer verse as compared to the other interactive song apps and I do wish it was shorter, but my students love it still.
Engagement Factor: I crack up that this is becoming some of my students' favorite song.  Some of my students with significant oral apraxia can clearly say "rock star" when requesting this app.
Overall: Simialr to Five Little Aliens and Five Swimming Sharks, Rock Stars provides a song and additional counting games for numbers 1 -5.  If the kids love it and they are learning, its a 4 5/6th out of 5 Coffee Cups.

I find it incredibly important to be in touch with the app developers because as a therapist and parent, I am one of the many on the front lines.  If there are things I like, love, or dislike greatly, I tell them, either in an email or a review.  I had reached out to Inclusive Tech to share some of my thoughts and the person to whom I was connected was thoughtful and thorough with his response.  I hope to see some of my suggestions in future apps or versions.  But whether or not that happens, IT appears to be a company with the children in mind and I look forward to seeing more of their developments.

Oh, and if anyone can tell me the names of the songs that these are based to I will thank you forever, it has been driving me nuts!

*indicates that I purchased this app

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Think Fun-Analysis: Rush Hour, an oldie but still a goodie

Game On!

Recently, Think Fun revamped the look of their classic traffic jam game, Rush Hour.  Now in it's sleek and gray scale version, Rush Hour may be found on any Mensa-hopeful's shelf to help exercise your brain.
The basis of the game is to get the red car out of the traffic jam in the fewest moves possible.  Graded from beginner to expert, the single player must first set up the puzzle board with the black, gray and red cars.  Then moving one car at a time, spaces open up to eventually slide the red car out of the garage.  This may seem simple to you, but it is not.  This game uses many skills.  First, the ability to match the cars to the picture calls for significant spatial skills.  Then, problem solving, strategizing, and persistence must be harnessed in order to move the cars out of the way.  Let alone, the fine motor to manipulate the cars (though they could easily be moved with a mouth stick once set up).
My eight year old was able to persist independently to challenge 18 (out of 80) parking scenarios.  Then as the complexity increased, frustration emerged and he decided to hold off till another day.  The following day, he discovered the fail safe solving instructions in the back to which he referred as the "clues" and completed number 80.  I laughed and said he cheated, to which he replied "No I didn't, I just followed the directions."  Ya, got me there kid.
I didn't get much farther than him during some quiet time I had.   Mensa member, I am not.  But it was the pleasure of the pursuit.  The a-ha moment of getting the car out.  Apparently I need to work on my spatial skills.

I know many of my OT friends have been using Rush Hour for years.  It is a fun yet intellectual game rated for kids 8 and up.  Rush Hour is available at many stores from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and specialty toy shops around the way, as well as straight off the Think Fun website.   For $14.99, this is a wonderful game to keep a child or adult occupied on a rainy afternoon.  Because of the pieces, it doesn't travel too well.  However, there is an app for that.  Rush Hour Free and the full version  Rush Hour (for $2.99) are available on the App Store so you can play any time, any where.  My kids or I will play in the car, at a restaurant, doctor's offices etc.  There is even a mini Rush Hour Holiday version for .99 cents with presents and a penguin.  Really cute.

For a game that has been around since 1996, Rush Hour continues to provide edutainment to the young and young at heart.  Hmm...I wonder if there has ever been a clinical study on the benefits of this game on the aging brain....

Though I received Rush Hour for gratis in return for my review, my thoughts are my own, as out of the box they may be.

Monday, October 28, 2013

'Appy hour review : Wet Dry Try

I love the multi modal design of Handwriting Without Tears techniques. It's language is simple and consistent. Big line, little lines, big curve little curve, magic c letters. Etc. And wet dry try is one of my staples in my therapeutic pocket.

So when HWT announced they had developed an app, I was excited... until I saw it.  For $4.99 originally and for capital letters only, Wet Dry Try was way too expensive and limited.  I immediately reached out to the developers and said, this app is way too expensive for the few things it offers. And I refused to purchase it. Especially since there wasn't even a lite version!  They said thanks for the input.  Then a few months later, version two came out with a few more features including lower case and numbers.  I said to myself, since I am such a loyal HWT user, I will invest the now increased price of $6.99 to purchase the app. I was so disappointed.
The Wet Dry Try app is just a glorified chalkboard. I suppose it is fine for when a you are on the go, and don't have that chalkboard handy.  But there is no feedback, tactile, visual, or auditory that keeps anyone interested.  You get a rotating star. A rotating star?  I mean, where is the playful engagement? Desire to continue?
You go through the motions of Wet Dry Try with an imaginary sponge, an imaginary paper towel and an imaginary piece of chalk.  Maybe if I could come up with a stylus sponge to give the same tripod position of the fingers, and another to simulate the chalk feeling with the resistance I'd be a little more into it.  I suppose I am just purist, that if you are gonna do wet dry try, do wet dry try. It's multisensory for a reason.

Yes you can  customize to students, practice capitals, lower case and numbers, and get progress reports. But there are soooooo many other apps free or at least cheaper than the wet dry try app. I wanted to like it. But I have used it only a handful of times because frankly it did not hold my students' attention. Or mine. So if u have 7.00 on your App Store card, save it.  Or better yet, buy a real chalkboard, a sponge and some chalk. You will get way more use out it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

'Appy Hour: Splat the Clowns by Inclusive Technology

Given the nature and severity of the disabilities of many of the children with whom I work, I am continuously on the look out for engaging and accessible games.  So when I came across Inclusive Technology and the variety of cost friendly apps, I couldn't help but add them to my repertoire.
I need to state, not all apps are switch accessible.  But those that are switch accessible, can also be used with the standard touch interface.  Not to be too technical, but in order to use switch access, one must have access to a Blue tooth switch interface, like the Pretorian APPlicator.  It is the one that I currently use with my students.
Splat the Clowns was the first Inclusive Tech app I had purchased, for $2.99.  The idea is to press a switch or touch the screen to splat the clown face when it gets to the circle in the center of the screen.  Splat five clowns and the reward song comes on.  This app is great for building cause and effect play, targeting, timing, and visual tracking.  You can easily incorporate language concepts like wait, in, go, or turn taking social pragmatics if doing this as part of a group.  It's black background, simplistic and uncomplicated, make it a wonderful app for those with visual impairments, like cortical visual impairment, low vision, etc.  I have used this app with a students from preschoolers through 5th graders with a variety of abilities, from able bodied peers to those with the most challenging impairments; the result is still the same: Engaged and Happy Players.  Splat the clowns is a wonderful addition to the cause and effect play folder on any iPad.

Check out Splat the Clowns at the App Store.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Having Too Much Fun Adapting....Multi Purpose Foil Tape

After my husband educated me to the benefits of MultiPurpose Foil Tape found in the venting sections at your local hardware stores, I was in awe.  For under $8, I have found my new favorite tool for my AT Tool box.

First, I adapted a slip on keyboard aid for one of my students who is having success using it with the computer, and I wanted him to carryover use with his iPad.
Above is my oldest, trying it out for me on Writing Wizard App by  L'Escapadou.  And below on Splat the Clowns by Inclusive Tech.
Then I wanted to try to see how versatile the foil is. So I looked around the house, found an empty twistable crayon, 3 pompoms to shove in the hole, then wrapped in in the foil.  
Voila, instant stylus.

I am also lucky too that my boys love to try out my designs and I have a very intuitive hubby.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Appy Hour: Writing Wizard

'Appy Hour is going to include reviews of educational, special needs, and just for fun apps.  Many of these apps I find by subscribing to a variety of app developers such as Grasshopper Apps that does a Free The App option, by checking Bridging Apps a great website that has a search engine based on skills, and Apps Gone Free, an app that provides daily "free" apps for short periods of time.

Today's review was discovered on Apps Gone Free a few weeks ago: Writing Wizard by L'Escapadou.  Normally $2.99, I found it for free via AGF.  And it is now on my go-to list of apps for handwriting support.
This app is worth every penny with a cherry on top.  Having tried apps including Handwriting Without Tears (for $6.99 mind you and that will come in a later review), I have been very leery with writing apps for their customizability, visuals, and overall usability.  But Writing Wizard has met these criteria, hands down.

First,  this app is quite customizable.   Not only do you have the option in handwriting formats including D'Nealian, Zaner-Bloser and Handwriting without Tears, but you have access to capitals, letters, numbers and words.  You also have the option to create reports of tracing history to examine accuracy of motor planning over time.

Under section "For Parents", after you answer a quick math question to unlock parental control~ a cute feature~ it describes how to add words to the "My Words" list.  This can be incredibly helpful for spelling practice, reading practice, or name writing.  It also provides instructions how to use their "5 Star" Mode during which the practice becomes more challenging; and when the child meet the criteria they get a start.

Visuals and Audio.  This app is really appealing. First the child is given a demonstration as well as the name of the letter and its letter sound.  As the child traces within the given parameter, cool pictures like tiger heads, flowers, and cupcakes act as the line.  After the letter is completed, a cool and kinda trippy thing will happen, reinforcing the letter building.  This app does not have over powering backgrounds or background sounds, which I find incredibly useful in the therapeutic and educational setting.

Lastly, overall usability.  I have used this app with children pre-K to 5th grade with a variety of special needs including Downs Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, and ADHD.  This is a kid and adult friendly app.  My students with and without disabilities, and my own children, enjoy exploring the letters.  They find it highly motivating and engaging.  And when paired with paper/pencil tasks, I have noticed improvement with behavior, completion, attention and visual motor skills.

I have to say, it was also very refreshing for the app developers to state to use a stylus.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  Using a stylus is incredibly important to build the dexterity for writing and coloring with tools.  We don't write with our finger tips on paper, so please get a stylus to promote good habits.

When compared to other writing apps out there, this is by far one of my favorites.  I would recommend it to teachers, therapists and parents as another way in addition to paper/pencil task, to engage their early learners in another writing skill development.  Kudos, L'Escapadou!

Click here for the YouTube video by L'Escapadou.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Think Fun-Alysis: Brainteaser Kit, Perfect for the Classroom or the Pocketbook

I love when I have the opportunity to review Think Fun games.  I was recently sent The A-Ha Brainteaser Kit for gratis for my humble opinion.  (That does not impact my review, I generally love Think Fun).

Originally, A-Ha Brainteasers were developed as separate entities.  But in the infinite wisdom of the marketing team over at the Think Fun Think Tank, they shrunk 8 popular challenges down into a kit for the classroom.  Geared towards grades 2-8, each mini challenge comes with its own object card and 3 hint cards.  Theory is, create a math and logic station for students to build skills in object manipulation, visual spatial construction, persistence,  and problem solving.

Now, I can attest that I have only solved 3 of the 8 puzzles.  My 3rd grader on the other hand solved more.   He took to them very quickly.  He is a visual kid, so this is right up his alley.
I had taken the mini 3x4" zip-close bags that held each investigation in my pocket book when we went to the restaurant.  I know, by now, busy kids are quite kids.  So Boog dug through my purse, found Starburst and finished it in 10-15 minutes.  Then of course, he wanted more.  So out came Four-Ts. Then, Pack it in and The missing T as well.  This went on throughout the entire dinner.  It motivated him to finish his food and tackle another puzzle, like the 4 Piece Pyramid.

Double Square, well that is another story.  We still have yet to solve it.   Try as we might, our brains just don't have it yet.  Other than that and the Fifth Chair, he has happily persevered.  Even my Kindergartner took a stab at Straight Arrow, with the help of his Papa.

New for 2013, this BrainTeaser kit is $24.99.  But separately, each A-Ha Brainteaser in its larger counterpart is $4.99 each.  So by purchasing the games' mini-mes, you save $15.  I love the fact that they are small enough to travel or work at desktops.  Children could either work in teams or alone.  Each puzzle is differentiated by how many clues you need to complete them.  And if you need to modify it more, then you could create your own hints or copy the solution for them to match it up.

There are multitudes of clientele that this kit could work for.  Students with and without disabilities could work on these challenges.  But think outside of the box, and possibly add this to your therapeutic tool box for adults with traumatic brain injury.

It is so important to instill creative problem solving.  In a world of instant gratification, it's games like Brainteaser Kit that help teach perseverance to that A-Ha moment.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kiwi Crate, the busy mom's answer to arts and crafts

I love Kiwi Crate.  Flat out, this has been one of the best investments in a monthly subscriptions I have ever done.  Way better than Highlights or Ranger Rick.  It takes the thinking and preparation out of arts and crafts time.  For me, I have to be on my toes of creativity at work everyday, and some (or many) times I just don't have the where-with-all or energy to come up with things to do with the boys.

So well over a year ago, I came across Kiwi Crate in some magazine, I think it may have been Family Circle.  On the whim, I explored the website and ordered a single month activity box.  From the moment that little green box came in, the boys and I have been hooked.
Each month, a box filled with materials and instructions for two activities arrives at our doorstep.  The boys spot it and scream, "THE KIWI CRATE IS HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  Once inside, I am guaranteed at least and hour (if not two) of engaged, happy kids.  Yes, I am there too.  It is a time that I can just play with them during the hands on crafts and not have to worry about instructing on each step.  Kiwi Crate provides the how-to with easy to read steps and picture supports.  My oldest, now 8, can easily read the guide to the youngest, 5 and they can generally do quite a bit independently.
There is a mess-o-meter that helps prepare me for how much of one there will be. But it is never too much for us to handle.  And I am always surprised at the amount of left over materials that I do have to keep for a later date.
A monthly subscription ranges from $16.95 to $19.95 a month, plus either a full extra cost for a sibling (or just 9.95 for extra materials per month).  I'm not saying it is cheap, but for the time that it would take me to go to Michael's or AC Moore, come up with an idea and materials list, organize it, and execute it, I would be close to that cost and more importantly my wits end.  Like I said, its an investment, but one well worth it.

I have recommended it to friends and parents of my students to help increase playful engagement, without the thinking factor.  Sometimes we forget just how to play with our kids between school, soccer, bed, and bath.  Plus there is the added bonus of it being an educational product.  It addresses sensory, fine motor, hand eye coordination, math, language, science but most importantly, persistence.

I laugh to myself because it took me nearly 18 months to write a review, not because I didn't want to but because there was so much I could say about it.  So after the boys finished their October crate this morning, and are currently playing with their Glow Creatures, I figured I would take this moment to scream at the top of the mountain: "THE KIWI CRATE IS HERE!!!"

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sugru, Where does it fit into my Assistive Technology Tool Box?

Sugru.  What is it you ask?  Well, I first heard about Sugru on Indata Project's weekly podcast, Assistive Technology Update (March 18, 2013 episode).  So on whim, I contacted Sugru and asked for a sample to try and figure out how I could incorporate it into assistive tech I use with my students.  This turned out to be much harder than I thought.

Sugru is a self-setting silicone rubber.  It comes in small packages, in a variety of colors.  According to its manufacturer, Sugru is resilient in heat and cold, waterproof, durable, and flexible.  It can be manipulated for 30 minutes, before curing begins.  In 24 hours, you have a durable product with a variety of purposes.  But how will it be helpful to me, as an OT?
Of course, I sat on it for a while. And thought.  But it was only until my husband came home with a broken ear piece from his headset did the first application take place.  Using a pliable wire, he created a mirror match to the other ear piece, covered it in Sugru; and voila, in 24 hours he had a working headset again.  It has now been nearly a month with reports of comfort and success.
However, not all projects were successful.  Thinking that some children need specialized pencil grip I figured I would make one for myself.  I kneaded the Sugru, formed it over my stylus.  Twenty four hours later, I had a VERY adhered grip.  It was firm but comfortable.  But I realized soon, that it can be punctured with a fingernail.  I am a picker.  I can't help it.  So once I found something to pick, I had every millimeter of this blue rubber in bits and pieces on the floor.  And I'm not a sensory kid.  I would be very concerned about a child accidentally destroying and eating it.  Granted, it states "Sugru should not be used by children." But even for adults with physical disabilities, with children around I would take caution.  It looks so inviting like play doh, but it is a silicon rubber.  Just be careful.
Of course, you can mold it and adhere little buttons to things, like a computer mouse, or modify handles of brushes to make a more comfy grip.  But for $10, for 15 grams of material, I am not sure if it is an affordable option; and it has a relatively short shelf life prior to using (6-18 months).

Sugru is an interesting material with the potential for a variety of applications, I am just not sure where it fits in my tool box...

Sugru can be purchased at in a variety of packages from $10 and up.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Therapy Fun (and Function): Discovery Putty

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Fun and Function founder, Aviva Weiss.  Aviva is an OT by trade, mom of many, and now a successful entrepraneur.  Fun and Function is a great resource for therapists, teachers and consumers for sensory activities and materials.  She also made it clear, that as a company, she is always looking to the consumers of the Fun and Function products to provide insight to use and feedback.  So after she sent me a free package of Discovery Putty for taking the time to speak with her, I only thought it appropriate to provide a review.

I have now been using Discovery PuttyAnimal Rescue daily, within my school based therapy sessions.  The putty is brown, and looks like melted Tootsie Rolls.  I had to stop myself (and some of my students) from putting it in the mouth because it looks so good.  But after I found self control, I am finding it to be a very useful product.  The putty itself is a firm, therapeutic putty.  Contained with it, is a set of 15 small (choking hazard size) plastic animals.  So under close supervision do I use this product.
I have been able to engage students preschool through 5th grade, easily.  There is something about searching for things in a firm, smooth, but sticky substance.  I have incorporated basic math and language concepts into the activities to support the child's IEP goals.
For example, using a number board 1-15, the students must develop 1 to 1 correspondence, counting left to right how many they found, how many are left, etc.  With a visual aid, Boardmaker pictures, the children can "tell me" what they found, by either pointing only to the picture or creating a sentence "Look, I found a___."  I have also photocopied the animals so the students have to work on visual matching skills.  And I have made a letter sound board for students to identify first, middle or end sounds to the items they find. There is quite a variety that can be done with a container of therapy putty and a bunch of chotchkies.

For $12.99, it doesn't break the bank. However, I found it disappointing that there was only another Discovery Putty Grab the Goodies with food items, which would not fit my students' needs because of mouthing tendencies.  I did contact Ms. Weiss and hope that maybe we will see more varieties of theme based add-ons to the putty in the future.  I know I have been putty beads and paper clips into my therapeutic putty for years, but now there is a simple grab and go product that can easily be added to your tool box.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

ThinkFun-Alysis: Word-A-Round, Good Game for Wordies

I received a free copy of Word-A-Round from ThinkFun! to review.  That does not influence my thoughts about this game.

Word-A-Round by ThinkFun was so much fun, for me.  It's a fast paced card game that I could challenge myself, even playing it independently.  My husband would laugh at me as I sounded out variations like: "Ricsly, Slyric," then screamed out LYRICS!   It is rated for 10 and up and unless your child has a phenomenal vocabulary and can read at least the 5th grade level, I wouldn't necessarily open it up to younger people.  However, my 8 year old son wanted to add that he "was able to figure out the words in a single try", so you never know.

But I do need to comment that this game is a dyslexic's nightmare. I'm not being fresh about the dyslexia thing either.  I played with someone who reported they had been diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, and they struggled with the layout of the game.  Word-A-Round comes with 100 cards, each card has three rings of color: Red, Blue and Black.  As you move along through the game, you have to identify the word in the designated color.  Though they are not scrambled, the letters of the words are evenly spaced within the ring which makes it difficult (the point of the game) to "unravel the [300] word(s)".   So those with print disabilities might not like this game.

Yet, I suppose it could provide a therapeutic use for teachers and occupational therapists in the older elementary, middle, high school setting.  Students could copy the letters down, then re-write the arrangement until they discover the word.  Throw in a dictionary, and discover the definition.  Or as my 8 year old was doing, sound out the word until it is correct.

For $12.99, it isn't badly priced.  If you have game nights, it's a nice addition. It easily travels in its little box.  All in all, Word-A-Round is a challenging mental exercise.  You can build vocabulary and reading speed, contained in about 16 square inches.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hans Down, Spot It! Party is another fun version...

So a few months ago, I entered a contest for Blue Orange Games to name the Spot It! mascot.  Figuring no way would I win, I entered a name, the first one that popped in my head when I looked at the little one-eyed hand.  Unexpectedly, I get a facebook notification that I was indeed the winner.  Because of me and the thousands that voted, my kids can say their mom named Hans, the Spot It! mascot.

Not only was the fact I am now the coolest mom ever according to my kids, but I got prizes, too.  I received a $100 Amazon gift card in addition to Blue Orange's new game Spot It! Party.  Though I won this gift, it does not influence my opinion.

Spot It! Party is the original game with a few extra pieces.  It comes with a tangible Hans (for your children to fight over, invite to dinner, watch tv with), 55 playing cards,  the rules, and 8 card holders.  Rated 10 and up for 2 to 8 players, I continue to find it easy to play with my 5 and 8 year old boys.  I bring the cards to the soccer field and a variety of children aged 4 and up will play happily, independently and competitively.  The added tangible Hans brings the element of Snatching the hand when you are the first to find it and call it out.  However, Hans is a social dude; he gets around throughout the round as competitors (me and my husband included) fight for his attention by spotting him on additional cards.

As a family, we had a blast playing the Tower.  It is the simplest way to play, racing against the other players to match and call out a picture on the card, resulting in hopefully the biggest pile.  The Race (game number 5) is meant to be played with the card holders, but hasn't been as big of a hit as the Tower.  When asked what do you like about the game, my 5 year old answered, "Hans, and I like everything about it."

Therapeutically, Spot It! whatever version you choose, is a great game for the tool box.  Speech Pathologists can use it to target instantaneous speech, turn taking, pragmatics and articulation. Occupational therapists will love it for challenging skills in form constancy, visual scanning, visual memory, and hand eye coordination.

Though I was a little disappointed that the cards didn't come in a tin, like the other standard Spot It! card decks (the cards are continuously floating around the box) I still really enjoyed it.  The tangible Hans did add another fun element.  Plus I do love Hans.  I can't NOT love him, since I did have a hand at naming him...

Spot It! Party is available from Blue Orange Games for $19.99. Look for other versions of the Spot It! family for $12.99 and up.  Just in time for Halloween, there is a Spot It! Halloween that I just ordered through amazon along with the Educator Pack which includes Spot It! Jr., Spot It! Numbers, Spot It! ABCs and Spot It! Basic English.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

ThinkFun-Alysis: Laser Maze

Can I tell you how much I love getting the email from Think Fun asking if I would like to review another game... I was blessed again to try out one of Think Fun's latest game, Laser Maze.  I will disclose that I did receive the game for free but it does not influence my thoughts about the game.

Rated for a single player aged 8 and up, Laser Maze is a challenge for persistence and sequential problem solving.  Its smoke and mirrors without the smoke.  Using mirrored pieces on the grid board according to graded challenge cards, the player must figure out where to put the other pieces so that they reflect the laser light beam its target.
My nearly eight year old analytical boy gave it the high thumbs up because he really liked the "split mirrors".  However, I did notice that it did not hold his attention for long though due to frustration tolerance.  He only got up to the third beginner-rated card (out of the 60 combo cards of beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert) before he just shot the laser light around at different things in his room.  The other down side was the the battery to the laser light did not last long. After only three openings of the game, the light was dead.  So now I have to go get new watch batteries which will probably be at least a third of the of cost of the game, priced on Think Fun at $29.99.

It is a good quiet time game for when you need to divide the children if they are beating each other up.  Or great for an only child.  However, compared to the other ThinkFun games I found it to be moderately engaging. For the price I would be more apt to purchase Math Dice, Swish, AND Zingo To Go combined, or Cartoon It to get more bang for the buck.  Overall, if you know someone who likes independent play, problem solving and lasers, then it might be up their alley. But if you are looking for more interactive play, try some of Think Fun's other games.

Monday, February 25, 2013

BlueOrange ya glad you found Spot It?

I am a sucker for good games.  A while ago a friend introduced me to Spot It! by BlueOrange.  If you like HyperSwipe by ThinkFun, you might like this card game in a can too!

Spot It! is a super easy and portable set of cards with multiple pictures on each.  There are many versions to play, but we are into the "Tower".  In this version, you want to end with the most amount of cards. So the center pile is face up and you each start with one.  You then have to quickly call out a picture that matches one of your own to the top card on the Tower Pile.  And so on, and so on.

It addresses form constancy, the ability to see a shape and recognize it even if it is smaller, bigger, or even upside down.  It also can build on vocabulary, articulation, turn taking (or not), visual scanning and attention.  Then throw in basic counting, more or less than concepts, and you have a secretly educational game.

I love it.  We can play it as a family.  It is super quick.  We have pulled it out after supper, before breakfast, and between errands.  Though targeted for 7 and up, Mudge who is now 5, has been able to play.  He might not be as quick but he can make quite the pile.  And the fact it is small and in a tin makes me even happier since the room of games is quite full.

There are 13 versions of Spot It! like sports, jr., travel, alphabet, and more.  You can find it on or at great little stores like BrainWaves in Narragansett, RI for around $10 and up depending on where you find it and which kind you pick up.  Try it out, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

ThinkFun-Analysis: The Math Dice Family

Yes, I am a gamer.

I love games.  I love educational games.  And unless I need quiet time, I really don't like the electronic ones.  They are like kid crack. Of course, if it is old school Mario on the 80s Nintendo (yes, we still have one), then that is a different story.

But I recently purchased some great games, including Math Dice and Math Dice Jr.
Boog is a mathematician.  He is great with numbers. He loves mental math so it is right up his alley.  Roll the dodecahedron dice, the ones with 12 sides and multiply the numbers.  Then roll the other three standard dice and come up with equations that match.  In any way, shape or form. Add, subtract, multiply, divide, exponents, etc...
This can be awesome for game nights for dorky adults, me included as well as homework enhancers, classroom stations or events.  I was even blessed with receiving the Math Dice Tournament Kit from ThinkFun for free to try out.  It has enough dice sets and games for 16-18 students. One of my 4th grade teachers said it reminded him of a game called 24 that he learned as a kid when he grew up in China.

But I couldn't leave out Mudge. So I picked up the Math Dice Jr. too.  And even though he is a new 5 year old, he picked up on the basic adding and subtraction, with some assistance.   It was fun and they wanted to play multiple rounds, which is a testament to the game.  I did ask ThinkFun if they have or will have a classroom tournament kit for the Jr. version too, because this would be a great center addition! Still waiting to hear....

Math Dice is rated for 8 and up.
Math Dice Jr. is rated 6 and up.
Math Dice Tournament kit is targeted 5th grade and up.

There are different ways you can adapt it.  First, use paper and pencil. Take turns. Teach calculator skills. Use teams.  Keep score.  Or Don't.  You know your kids, your students, and yourself.  Grade and challenge the games based on your ability, versus your age.  It is a great way to keep your mind multiplying its neural pathways :)