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.