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I recently was sent a box of delightful, little animal figures. Schleich, a German company, makes figures of many different kinds. They are great for toys or teaching materials to enhance a child’s mind about just about any subject from medieval castles to farm life to Indians on the Western Frontier to the boundaries of your imaginary world of unicorns and Smurfs.
These figures are a very realistic and durable. I love the textures and fine details of the artwork that was put into each animal. The animals are all natural colors as found in true life. Ripples of muscles, strands of mane, and scales of armor are all intricately molded into the hard, but rubbery material. These figures are not the cheap plastic that you see so often in toys. The designers even took the time and effort to disguise the seam made when the two halves of the models were put together. Details are so intricate that you can easily see them in motion like the croc snapping his jaws down on his prey or the elephant swishing those huge, smooth ears to throw off the biting flies. The colors are so vibrant that the cat’s green and yellow eyes almost seem to glow that eerie glow when the light hits them. The catalog or web site you can find pictures of the over 500 products they sale. The medieval and fantasy figures are among my favorites. The elves are painted so beautifully that they seem more like an artist’s rendering from a magazine that a toy figure. I only found it strange that they all had wings. I know of no fantasy game, magazine, or book that has winged elves. They were beautiful, but I wish they had a few without wings. In addition to the figures, there are also background elements for more interactive play for many of the sets. The company also states that more will be coming out soon in their effort to make their products have even more educational value.
I commend the company for taking the extra effort to create such fine products. No matter if your children are sighted or blind they will enjoy seeing, touching, and creating their own worlds with these figures. You can see more of their beautifully crafted products at http://www.schleich-s.com. The products are also sold at stores like Toys-R-Us and Target with prices ranging from about $2.50-$5.99.

Homeschool in the Woods is a wonderful company operated by husband and wife team, Ed and Amy Pak. They create and publish hands-on activity packs. I received the newest one in their history series, The New Testament. This packet is definitely a product of their belief that hands-on activities are the best way to cement a child’s learning in the mind.
This packet over the New Testament provides fifteen hands-on activities to create a book that a child can hold and follow the course of history from the birth of Christ to His ascension. A child will reveal for himself the Old Testament prophesies fulfilled in the New Testament. This child will then explore the beginnings of the Church that helps us to know how the Church was intended to be and how it needs to be again. There are also two additional activities that take the student beyond the lessons of this packet to teach research and application of scripture verses. You and your child will have no problem creating this wonderful book because the step-by-step instructions are provided along with all the masters to print out and cut out and color photos of the finished products to guide your experience. By putting these activities together and creating this book, the child will have a resource to return to again and again to learn about the wonders of the New Testament.
We enjoyed all of the activities. The children were of different ages and abilities. Many of my students have physical disabilities or learning disabilities. I was able to find an activity for every child and of every age regardless of their issues. For me, this allowed us to work together to put together this book for them to use in the classroom. A homeschool family with multiple children can use the same method, or purchase as set for each student to complete with the parent or alone depending on ability. Sticky fingers are a fun part of it, of course. One child with autism and cerebral palsy wound up with much of the book glued to her, but she was proud of the part she played as she continuously pointed out to everyone exactly which section she did. She adamantly repeated her simplified version of who the twelve disciples were and what they did. I think the newspaper was a big hit with everyone, but the older children were able to fully engage themselves here as they completed the sections and even added some of their own creation. Finally there was lots of glee when we added their face pictures to the soldier in the Armor of God activity. One eight year old child discovered the enlarging capabilities of the school copier and created a paper suit of armor for his small body using his sister’s thin hair bands to tie the parts to his arms and legs after gluing them to poster board. He remembers easily the name of each piece and the verse that goes with it. I was thrilled with it, but I do need to buy more copier paper now. Fortunately, my motto has always been, “Go with the flow.”
If you would like to try this activity pack, New Testament, by Homeschool in the Woods or find other products by this couple, go to http://homeschoolinthewoods.com.

Splish! Splash! Let the flood waters rise because we are on the ark with Noah. On One 2 Believe’s playset, Noah’s Ark, we are having fun learning about God’s promises.
After loving the Nativity playset from this company, I couldn’t wait to show my 8 year old DeafBlind student the new set that arrived at my door. This set was made with the same durable materials and had the same delightful, l textured features and colors. The ark comes apart to store the animals and Noah neatly inside when not in play. The little, colorful storybook provided helps to tie the love of reading the story to the imagination of acting out the story with the palm-sized characters. The best part of this set is one unbeatable additive to the mix: Just add water!
Floating on the sea of bath or the blue lagoon of a water play table, you have the makings of some fun adventures in Bible Land. My little boy flapped his arms in excitement as we signed, “toy, new” and then “boat”. He carefully took each piece out of the “cargo hold” of the ark and felt each piece. He signed the name of each piece as he recognized the ones he knew with a big smile across his lips and a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes. With an unknown figure, wrinkles would appear across his furrowed brow, the facial marker of the ASL sign “what” as his right index finger moved down his left palm signaling that sign. He often gets so excited that he forgets that I can’t see either and signs with a flash before I can place my hands on his to understand his side of the conversation. I can’t help, but smile at his desire for learning like a sponge soaking up water. I taught him each sign for each animal letting him touch my hands to read them. He carefully copied each sign sometimes holding a wayward finger in place. Then with help from my aid, we reenacted the story of the Great Flood in the play table designed for sand and water. We signed every part of the story while placing the ark and each character and animal in place. We signed how Noah is told by God to build that big boat. We signed how others laughed and made fun as Noah told them the flood was coming. We marched those animals and Noah up that gangplank signing that God was going to save them from the rising water. His eyes grew big as we poured water from a large pitcher over his hands while signing “water, rising”. We placed one hand gently on the ark as it began to rise and float with saying, pouring “rain”. Those shining eyes popped wide and the mouth opened and gasped. We signed, “, people, animals, God, save, finish which in ASL means God saved the people and the animals. Now he has a toy he can play with in the water at bath time or wherever, but he also has a vivid memory to remind him of the meaning for the signs “promises, God, keep and “me, God, save”.
My student needs the play to help him understand the world around him and the stories that will help him grow into a man with God’s integrity. All children can use this kind of play. That is why I love the interactive playsets from One 2 Believe. The Tales of Glory playsets like the Nativity written about at Christmas and Noah’s Ark are at great prices between $24.99 and $29.99. You can find these and more great toys from http://www.one2believe.com.

Have you got the Spelling blues? Many parents and students dread spelling. That usually is because there is so much drill involved. Well, I have found a new tool to put in the arsenal. SpellQuizzer! It is a great way to bone up on those spelling words each week.
SpellQuizzer uses little sound byte recordings to help your student practice the spelling words from any subject. The teacher can also set it up to do the tests at the end of the week with the typical say the word, use it in a sentence, and repeat the word. Now spelling can be done almost independently by any age student if needed. The sound recording is actually a really good length. You can pack a lot of words in that little byte. Downloading the program and installing it was quick and easy. There is also a great update button to get free updates when they are available. The most recent one even lengthened the length of your recordings’ maximum. You can edit your spelling lists and randomize how they are given to the student, too.
I set up different activity files for my different students. There was a testing file and a regular quiz file for each set of words. I was able to name these files in a way the student could identify his file for practice or test time. I also set up a couple of different quizzing features, too. Each one quizzed the spelling, but I also recorded using the definition of the word in the recording or a sentence to help the student review both spelling and vocabulary during his practice time. No, the quizzer doesn’t grade the sentence or vocabulary in quiz mode, but for practice the repetition helps them remember any kind of fact or definition you might want to use. You could have the student write the sentence or definition on paper for later grading if you like to incorporate that in your weekly tests, though. I also let my older students create their own spelling lists including recording the words, sentences, and/or definitions, too, to give further practice while creating the lists for later drill. For some students, this could be a regular way to help them learn their spelling and vocabulary for all of their subjects. They practice and get graded on spelling while recording their own definitions after looking them up in the dictionary or practice using them in sentences correctly.
This is a neat little program and can be purchased and downloaded for a small price of $29.98. You will also find free spelling lists you can download and import into your SpellQuizzer. One I downloaded was U. S. States and Mottos. The spelling of the state’s name was graded, but the recording also pronounced the name, gave a state fact, and stated the motto. The text that can be written for the student to see as a reminder phrase was a fact or the motto. You can create lists using similar features including a statement for the student to see on the screen. These features give you flexibility in what your lists can teach.
SpellQuizzer is a great tool to use to help your students learn to spell words and learn in all their subjects. The software is a small package, but it can pack a lot of teaching for your student. Their web site is http://www.spellquizzer.com.

There are two important things that I want students to learn when I teach them. First, I want them to learn to love reading and learning. Second, I want them to learn how to learn, so they will continue it for their entire lives. From those two things, everything else from the alphabet and numbers to concepts of gravity and democracy will fall into place. Curriculums should be written from that stand point. The Five in a Row curriculum series by Jane Claire Lambert does that.
Using good books to weave a plan of learning and fun is the design of the Five in a Row series. The books are carefully chosen to present, as the Lamberts explain, “close family relationships, personal triumphs, and persevering in times of trial”. Activities and discussions are laid out to present how to read and critique books which blends into learning about many subjects through the adventures of the characters.
The method is the most important factor of this curriculum. It is imperative that a parent read each book to the students each day of the week. I love this time of closeness. The students do, too. The modeling I do while reading is important for the children. They get to hear how to glean meaning from the words by the inflection in my voice and the pauses for commas and the stops for periods. They hear my enthusiasm in my voice. They feel the love for the words and the life within those words. Also, hearing the story each day and then doing activities and discussing different aspects of the story or how it relates to another subject like math or science reviews those aspects as many as four times.
The layout is simplified to allow even beginning homeschoolers the ability to succeed in the unit study format of Five in a Row. There are five main subjects used in the units to allow activities to be used in a five-day format. Teachers can choose from many different activities in each subject or even do them all and choose when during the week to do the lessons. Sample lesson plans are provided to help the teacher organize, but it isn’t necessary. Many teachers just check off in the book the activities they wish to do with their students. All of the books used in the series can be found free at the public library making this an easily affordable curriculum to use at any age level. I need braille to read to my students, but I have plenty of time to get the National Library to send me via download the braille text for each book. I often purchase the book and print the braille on overlay plastic to glue with clear glue to the page. I can read the story in braille as my students read the print and look at pictures. This keeps me actively involved with my students’ learning.
There are many levels to the Five in a Row curriculum covering ages 4-8. Each level can still be used for a family of multiple students in that age level easily. The authors even suggest hints for using activities with younger and/or older children. The appendix has the copy sheets for the activities in the book as well as that sample lesson plan. Story disks which are round circles with story pictures on them which can be cut out, colored, and laminated are used in many activities such as geography where they place the story disk on areas of the map such as the water areas found around the island of Nantucket where a story you read takes place. That is a wonderful way to remember about lakes and oceans and other geographical features. You can purchase a set of these on their website if you prefer things pre-done, too.
A teacher will find the series quite complete for ages 4-5 or 6. When you feel your students are ready to introduce phonics or formal math lessons, the authors help you integrate the subjects easily into your day while still seeing the benefits of the unit study series.
The authors have other series for ages 2 thru high school. I have personally used most of them and found them to be very fulfilling and intriguing. There are also additional unit studies for all levels that can be purchased inexpensively on their web site. Check them out at http://www.fiveinarow.com. Unit studies are a great way to teach a lifelong love for learning. Five in a Row and all the other age levels from this author are an easy and wonderful way to accomplish this important goal.

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