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There was a time before I lost my sight that I did a lot of work with graphics programs and web design programs. I have used almost all of the big brand ones over the years. Some of those programs are accessible to screen readers, but when a braille display became necessary, I put away my software tools, and now let my husband and son do all of that work. When I was asked to review Great Software Tools’ Graphics-Toolbox, I really didn’t think I was going to be of much help. I wanted to at least try though to support my crew mates. The program is totally inaccessible to me, since I am DeafBlind. The designer was kind enough to send me a .txt document of the manual, since their manual was in an inaccessible format, as well. There are helpful videos available on their website, but not to someone who is deaf and blind. I gave it a try in learning the manual and then trying to teach a student to use the program which is my greatest interest now anyway.

I chose a low vision student, a learning disabled student who loves computers, and a regular education student who shows little interest in computers. I worked with each individually. I guided each of the students through the basic functions of the program. There is a learning curve to this program, and it is steeper than a free program available off the internet or a children’s type drawing program. With time and effort, each student learned to draw shapes, fill in colors, import graphics, manipulate parts of an image, etc. The low vision student was able to zoom in on the parts of the graphic he was working on and found that he could see it well enough to do what he wanted to do. His precision may not be as good as a sighted student, but he could satisfy his tastes. The learning disabled student didn’t struggle much because his instructions were verbal either from me or a text to speech output of the manual. He also is very familiar with computers and a few inexpensive graphics programs and specialized programs with a simple drawing format. Regular education student only struggled a bit more as she had to familiarize herself with the mouse and how it functions in a drawing program and a few other basic skills. They each were able to complete the simple task I devised that had them draw a simple drawing of shapes, color palette choices, and importing of a graphic and cutting a part of it out and placing it in another drawing. They were each asked to then use the program as they choose to design their own project for pretty much any purpose. One designed a logo for his web page. One did graphics manipulation to place his picture in another picture and printing it out for a scrapbook page for a book he keeps. He also designed some various shaped cut-outs to arrange around this page emphasizing his theme which was nautical. There were fish and shell shapes and a wave type design. The last made a detailed and attention-getting flyer announcing a baseball team tryout for the homeschool association. Once they understood the basics, the students were using tools of this software they either wouldn’t have had at all in a lot of programs, or were doing them with almost professional quality because of the high level of precision. All were pleased with their final projects.

The $149.00 price might prevent some from even glancing at it, but it is worth every penny of the price based on the tools and high quality provided here. It is perfect for business or home use, but I recommend it for the skills that a student can learn that can’t be found anywhere else for this price. Try the 30-day trial to see if it is a fit for your family. Go to http://www.greatsoftwaretools.com to find out more.

Great Software Tools provided me a 30 day trial period of this program to do my review. I received no other compensation, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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It seems today with television and video games so popular that it is almost impossible to get them outdoors for exercise, play, or learning. As parents, we are always on the lookout for ideas and resources to motivate our children to get out and enjoy the beautiful world God made for us. Nature Friend magazine is just the ticket.

These magazines just lying on the coffee table or school desk beckons you to pick it up with each gorgeous full-color cover page and back cover. My students love to grab it at break time and pour through the pages of full color pictures of animals and insects and scenery. Each basic magazine has a crossword puzzle or word search and an art activity including a drawing activity. Drawing skills are wonderful to have to allow your students to document their outdoor studies with sketches as well as journaling. There is also a wonderful nature photo with a fitting scripture for students to learn for the month. In addition, the entire issue is written from a biblical perspective and appropriate scriptures throughout reinforce the concept that God is the creator, and the whole earth is his handiwork depicting His nature to us. You also have a fun scavenger hunt to let your students improve their observational skills hunting for the drawings of a plant, or an insect, or animal track hidden in the pictures throughout that issue. Some are easy, but others really make their eyes work.

The optional, but inexpensive study guide extends these activities for fun and learning even more adding several more pages of pictures and stories, and fun. There are research activities, photography tips, word searches, crossword puzzles, etc. All of these activities help to reinforce the information found in the stories and articles on different animals and insects. Learning different ways to get good photos of nature is so informative and fun. Students will love getting outdoors to try getting the best angles. There are also writing activities for students to try. Journaling about nature observations can be fun, and is a learning tool used by naturalists.

Your students can also mail in submissions of the activities they have done to Nature Friend that just might be included in a future issue. They can send mail asking questions or telling how they love the magazine. They can also write their own articles or stories about nature and send it to them. Each issue has lots of art work, articles, photos, etc. done by the young readers of the magazine. That will certainly motivate your young naturalists.

Nature Friend will be useful for many special needs students, as well. The font is a comfortable size for learning disabled students and many low vision students. The reading level is easy to comprehend while challenging the student with its content. My students love to read the articles and sign or fingerspell their favorite things to me. Your students don’t have to sign, but let them tell you what they like, too.

Nature Friend is available by subscription for $36 for 12 issues in the U. S. while Canada and Mexico subscriptions are $49 and International is $62 for 12 issues. The study guide can be added for just $2.00 per issue for 12 issues and is highly recommended by this author. Nature Friend is well worth this price with all the fun packed into each issue. To find out how to subscribe to Nature Friend magazine, go to http://www.naturefriendmagazine.com. This just might be the magazine that gets your students off the video games and into God’s creation.

That is exactly the kind of questions I was asking myself when I first received the opportunity to review the site, PuppetTools. I have never been artistic in any way. My hands just can’t seem to make pretty things whether in paints, papier mache’, clay, even paper bags, socks, and construction paper with glue. In addition to that, why would I want to do it in a classroom? Ok, once in a while I could see letting young students do it for fun for seasonal art activities or even enrich a concept such as a lesson in history. I might be able to see even older students doing it to enrich speaking and drama skills as they provide learning and fun for younger students. This web site seemed to be suggesting more and even paying a subscription fee to learn how to make puppets. Doesn’t seem like the great start of a review the company was looking for does it? Boy was I wrong!
This site isn’t really about puppets. Well, it is, but it is more than just puppets. The site is presenting an idea, a philosophy. It could be a revolutionary idea, too, if enough people can “get it”. Many of us homeschoolers are already “getting it”, or we are least close. We saw that something was missing from regular education. Students are not learning like they should to put it simply. Why? We could debate forever on that subject and not get anywhere. Everyone has an opinion, but few seem to have a workable solution. Puppets might not be the total answer, but I think they might be on to something. Many parents are already beginning to put this answer into their homeschools because they want one thing. They want their children to love learning. That is the first step to making good life-long learners. Fun! Put fun back into the curriculum, and you will keep those children learning right past the stages they do in regular education. We all have watched our preschoolers go from begging to learn to do all kinds of “grown up” things to children who are bored stiff, and we have to push, bribe, and punish to get them to learn. What happened? Somehow, adults missed the boat when they began formal education. They forgot that learning can be fun, and anything learned while having fun is remembered long after the lesson stops. This site does an excellent job of presenting this “new” concept.
On the PuppetTools site, you will find many articles and video clips presenting this “new” concept of “Fun.” It will be hard to not become a recruit after reviewing these articles. Then the author presents how puppets can be your first step in bringing fun back into your curriculum. He has detailed descriptions, written and film clips, on how to make simple, but delightful puppets. He gives you patterns to make hundreds of puppets, and gives you the tips and confidence needed to design your own for your own needs. He gives you detailed information on how to implement these into your curriculum for any age group, including teenagers, and for any subject. There are also sections separated by educator, teacher, and parent. Each section has many different areas with film clips and documents giving you information, tips, sample puppets, basic puppet making skills, etc. The organization of the sites is well-designed to allow you to easily find all of the material provided. The pictures and film clips of the puppets in use and puppet making are extremely useful and are of good quality and resolution. The articles are all in .pdf format, so you will need to have the Adobe Reader on your computer which is a free download. This makes it very easy to access the information without worrying about Word versions and other technical concerns. This site is overflowing with detailed information to make your puppet making and fun making a breeze.
The site is subscription-based as mentioned before, but the price is very low. There is a $20.00 trial membership for 60 days to try it out first. Then the other membership is for groups such as scouts, public schools, private schools, homeschool associations, day care centers, etc. The groups pay one fee of $99.00 per year for all of their members to use. This really decreases the price per family when share in this manner. New tools and puppet samples and puppet making tips are added all the time, so purchasing year after year is still warranted and beneficial for all users beginning and expert. I am considering do the group for my school group of homeschoolers helping them to bring these ideas to their families. Why don’t you join me in helping the author spread the word about making learning fun? Check out www.puppetools.com. You only have one thing to lose- boredom!

Do your students love to doodle? Do they show an artistic bent? Yes? No? It doesn’t matter with Crayola Art Studio. It is so easy and fun that your children will love making beautiful creations. The interface is so simple that most children can do some fun things with it on their own, but it isn’t just a simple drawing program like Windows Paint. Your student will be able to do some very complex creations with all the tools provided.

The tools are simple to use with actual pictures that look pretty much like the tool you would pick up from the table knowing exactly what it will do on paper. Click on the tool you want, and then click and hold on the drawing screen, and color will flow from your brush, marker, pencil, or whatever tool you use. The program does a beautiful job simulating most drawing and paint utensils including watercolor. There are stamp tools that can be easily placed and resized are cute and adorable from just about every category possible. You can choose to make squares, circles, or ray bursts, squiggly lines, straight lines, or whatever your mind can dream. My favorite is the symmetry tool. You can make faces that are the same on each side, draw identical pictures on top and bottom, left and right, or all at the same time. You don’t have to repeat your drawings, and it is perfect every time. Now that is what I call cool! The price is cool, too, at $24.95.

Turn your kids on to Crayola Art Studio. Let their imaginations run wild. This is a paint program that can keep up with any child.

To find out more, go to <www.core-learning.com. You will find a lot more great products on their web site in almost every conceivable subject.

Most homeschoolers seem to understand the importance of music. They obviously believe the many studies showing that music instruction raises intelligence scores and impacts life and academic scores, especially math. How can I say this? Go to any homeschool talent show or graduation, and you will see many students playing various instruments. Some of the students actually learn to play several instruments. If homeschooling parents picked up on music, how come they missed it with art?

Most homeschooling moms avoid art as much as possible. They often feel overwhelmed with so many other subjects that they feel they can’t add anything else, or they just use art to fill time or as crafts for gifts and seasonal activities. If they do happen to be tuned in enough to know the importance of art on young students’ minds, they feel serious instruction is beyond their expertise. Community or college art classes, though wonderful, are often beyond their budgets.

Now there is an answer to their dilemma with Spears Art Studio. With curriculum levels of K-8 and high school from a Biblical world view, serious art instruction becomes doable. Do not fear. It can still be fun for your students. To begin, the creator, Diane Spears, an artist with an Ed.D in Christian Education, provides an article with plenty of documentation, information, and explanation for the importance of serious art instruction. Ms. Spears did a good job making the case. I knew of much of the information and documentation and agree with her list of conclusions.

 In terms of lesson plans, the detail is thorough and easy to follow regardless of the instructional level. She gives tips and background information that is very useful to the teacher for preparation in presenting the material to one child, multiple children, and multiple ages within each curriculum. The materials needed are listed clearly, so you can plan ahead. Some items might seem difficult to find or may even be unknown. I emailed around and found a local college willing to provide me with what I needed. A local craft store owner and a large chain store manager were willing to order them at cost plus tax. All places may not be willing to give a discount, but it certainly makes the job of gathering materials easier.

I tried several of the activities from both levels of curriculum, K-8 and high school, with some of my students from a young first grader to older high school students. Being DeafBlind and lacking any artistic ability, I was afraid it would be a disaster. The students loved it though. They read the instructions and guided my hands as we all made trees and sky and grass from one activity. We made multiple prints using the glass method, too. I was amazed at how well it worked. Younger students will need guidance, but I found that we could all work together with the instructions and materials to learn together. The ability with these lessons to make such sophisticated results really encouraged my students building such confidence in themselves. They were eager to do more.

Art is important and can be so much more than arts and crafts. Using Spears Art Studio found at http://www.spearsartstudio.com is the perfect way to use art to impact your students’ minds and give them ways to fully express themselves, all while having loads of fun.

 

 

 

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