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SAT ® and ACT® preparation is on anyone’s mind if they plan to go to college. Most of our curriculums will help prepare you for the writing, verbal, and math portions, but one section tends to stump a lot of us, and that is vocabulary. Where do they come up with some of those words? Finding a good resource that is interesting is the key. If you are blind or deafblind, the resources are very limited, as well. VocabAhead may just be the choice for you and your students with its “entertaining and effortless vocabulary building solution”.

VocabAhead’s SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, and MP3s is a simple, but handy study aid for any trying to bone up on their vocabulary. The main product of this company is a book. I will describe it first for those blind and deafblind with some residual sight for use with a CCTV. Each page covers one word. The page lists the correct spelling of the word and its part of speech. It then lists the definition along with a humorous cartoon illustrating the word’s meaning. The cartoon has two to three different sentences describing the cartoon using the word or using the word appropriately in additional example sentences. The page concludes with a short list of synonyms and antonyms for the word. There are 30 units which group words in loose categories of similarity. At the end of the unit, a review exercise is provided of matching and fill-in-the blank practice of the words in that unit. Answers are included in the back of the book. This is a great way to build visual connections to easily learn and reinforce that learning.

Visual learning is not the only style supported by this little aid. You can download the narrations of each page on MP3 files to your favorite player and listen and learn on-the-go. This is great for blind and auditory learners and those with reading difficulties and dyslexia. There are also videos to download that will allow you to take the book with you in a digital fashion on your IPod, IPhone, and IPad which for some students with special needs is a great plus. The narrations of the videos are not closed captioned, but the deaf will find it useful as the book is if they prefer apps for learning. Some autistics are learning to use the IDevices to spur their learning and reinforce their memory and attention spans. The audio files and the videos are free for download of their website. I also hope the team will add a feature. That is a pronunciation guide for the word. Some students need that visual key to help them with learning to pronounce words. Regardless, this is a perfectly priced study aid for vocabulary improvement.

I must add a caution to parents and to adults who are wary of the content they put into their minds. There are some cartoon and sentence examples that some may consider inappropriate for some readers.  One sentence for anathema describes a girl using voo-doo to put a curse on her boyfriend. A cartoon for the word carnal shows a busty woman. Each parent or adult needs to decide if the material presented is suitable for their student’s use or even their own. This reviewer would never ask you to present material for use that you feel is inappropriate. I make note of these possible things when I can to help you make an informed decision about the product.

To my great surprise, I found on their website that an IPhone/IPod app is available for this study aid. Being Deaf and Blind, I was happy to see a lite or free version available for testing. That means this review will also go on my DeafBlind Hope blog to help DeafBlind people know what can help them. To add to my excitement, I found they did a great job making the app accessible to braille output for the most part. Everything in the “Study Words” section works fine with braille. The flash cards work well too except for the tap to hint section which can be selected on a braille display, but because the hint is only an image, the braille display goes blank. This would definitely confuse a person needing the braille. They might not know what to do next or think the program closed or locked up. I suggest that they add a text hint here such as a synonym or a sentence using the word or a text description of the image that would help with the word. In the quiz section, the main page is accessible. The buttons work and even the dial a word section which is more of a graphic is accessible. You can scroll through the list to see which words will be on the list and change the list from the “don’t know yet” list and the “mastered” list for continued practice on all the words. Once you click the start quiz button and change to the first word on the test, the app loses it on accessibility. The home and back button work fine. You also can see which word you are being quizzed on next, but the multiple check boxes of possible definition answers only shows on the braille display as “btn” which means button.  You cannot read what the choice is at all. You can check with the select button on the display, but you don’t get any response as to right or wrong as you should. You only get the text “dmd btn” which is demand button. I also couldn’t figure out how to move forward in the quiz by braille display either. You do a one finger flick on the touch screen. That isn’t always easily understood by people who are totally deaf and blind, so a next button should be added. These are easy fixes for the app developers, though. I am hopeful that this will be updated soon because I am sure the developers would like to make their app fully accessible. I am going to email them with my suggestions as their app boldly asks for which is a positive point for the developers. They obviously want to get suggestions for improvement. When it is, I can tell you that the app will be worth buying even at $9.99 if you are blind or deafblind because it covers 1000 words. It is already a great app for other users including some special needs students.

 

Between the book, the audio files, the video files, and the IPhone/IPod app, VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, and MP3s should have everyone covered. To find out more, go to http://vocabahead.com. This neat study aid can also be purchased easily at Amazon.com for $12.95 in book form. A DVD version is also available for $24.99. This could be a fun way to a higher SAT® or ACT® score or just to get a little smarter.

 

I was provided a free product to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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As a child, I remember listening to Bible stories on records as I followed along in a colorful book. Those stories planted a lot of biblical truths in my heart as well as a deep love for my Savior. I also loved to listen to Children’s Bible Hour as a young child. Those stories were so good and full of good lessons. Recently, I received a set of books with CDs that brought back some of those memories. CBH Ministries developed these sets from radio scripts from the radio program, Children’s Bible Hour, which ran for over 60 years.

Seasons of Faith is a perfect name for this series as the stories are presented to teach lessons based on biblical truths for all the periods of a Christian walk from new life in Christ through to the deep struggles and times of trials. The stories are alive and meaningful regardless of decade. The books are illustrated by John White with detailed rich and colorful pictures that enhance the story. The narration is done by Uncle Charlie VanderMeer who is loved by many and his regular appearances on Christian radio are sadly missed. His voice alone is enough to make any story fun.

Learning Disabled children will enjoy the book/cd format helping them with their comprehension. The reading level is not too difficult for most children, especially with the read-along narration. Most low vision students should find the font size and type large enough and clear enough for easy reading with or without magnifiers. The books can be brailled on clear sheets and placed in blank areas and picture areas without too much difficulty. The books are light weight and easy to hold at 10 X 8.5 inches with a softcover. Paper is thick enough to be fairly difficult even with weak or unsteady muscles. An extra large book holder might prove more helpful to hold up the larger, slightly floppy pages for those who need the book raised for reading or who can’t hold books. Overall, there are many who can benefit from this series which is not easy to find.

The Series, Seasons of Faith, and other stories are available on the website for CBH Ministries at http://www.cbhministries.org. The book sets are available for a very affordable $10.00 each, and right now my readers can use the code FREESHIPAPR15 for free standard shipping from now until April 15, 2010. These could make a great gift for the Easter basket or summer time fun.

CBH Ministries provided me with a copy of each of the Seasons of Faith series, but I received no other compensation for this review. The opinion is entirely my own including accessibility suggestions which are based on my experiences using the products with my students. There is no guarantee these will work with your student, since all children are unique.

Tortoises and hares and pretzel vendors and contrabassoons and cellos are all playing together in one place? Just what could this mean? It is a delightful story adaptation brought to life with the sounds of an orchestra. This story brought back wonderful memories of the old cartoons like Bugs Bunny with the orchestra sound effects. The developers of Stories in Music™, Bonnie Ward Simon and Stephen Simon, take that idea to its fullest benefits with dramatized narration and full orchestral sound affects to enhance the story and encourage better listening skills and appreciation of music.

Each audio cd begins with the story narrated with the orchestral sound effects. The story is followed by narration telling about the story, its history, type of literary story such as a fable, and the purposes of the story type. The cd also includes the original song played separately to allow children to learn the song for singing and performance. The music is included with words once to help teach the song and another instrumental version is at the end of the cd to allow for student performance. It is a great way to get the students involved with the story and experiencing music. Another important feature of the cd is a narration explaining how the composer used music to help tell the story. Music samples of various instruments are played such as a contrabassoon with its low, droning sound and how its sound was used to create a particular sound effect or represent a character such as the tortoise with its slow movements. The story is played again after this narration encouraging the students to listen carefully for the sound effects explained. This is a delightful way to explore how music affects us and can be used in so many ways such as story narration. It also encourages active listening skills to recognize these instruments and how they are played to add to the story.

Each audio cd set has a booklet with full color pictures of orchestra instruments, information about music and music reading, and information related to the story theme. In Tortoise and the Hare, there is information and pictures explaining the difference between turtles and tortoises, and rabbits and hares. There are crossword puzzles and word jumbles and other fun things to do that reinforce the information taught in the booklet and on the cd. There is also words and music to a fun original song written and included as part of the story.

The accessibility for various special needs students here could be limited, but learning disabled, autistic spectrum disorder, and hearing blind students will certainly benefit. The little booklet is short enough to read to a hearing blind or even be brailled. Hard of Hearing, Deaf, and DeafBlind students may also benefit with a little modification and role play. Tell the story in print and ASL using a speaker large enough for the student to feel some of the subtle vibrations of the music. Role play the sound effect use such as running and walking in the Tortoise and the Hare. Simulate other effects such as crowd noise and other story action. Experience with actual orchestra instruments would be excellent allowing the student to place his hand on the instrument or near the sound hole to feel the vibrations. Allow the students to create their own sound effects with available instruments or handmade ones, too. Drums or pots could be used to beat out a running or walking pattern. These activities can reinforce the connection between story elements and music for these students.

The web site, http://www.maestroclassics.com, has additional learning activities that can be used for many students to reinforce the concepts and skills presented with these wonderful stories. Each cd set is $16.98 or 3 for $45.00 with a code. You can purchase many stories, such as Casey at Bat and The Story of Swan Lake, with more in production. Explore music with your child with these delightful stories. The blessings will last a lifetime.

Stories in Music™ authors provided a cd and booklet set to be tested for this review. The opinion expressed in this review is my own.

Looking for a delightful read? How about a good series that you can trust to give to your young students? Well, I have found it in Jim Baumgardner’s Sarah books published by Tate Publishing & Enterprises. These are the most beautifully written Christian children’s books that I have seen in a long time.

The characters are so alive that you are literally transported to another time and place. History is kept genuine without blemishing the tender hearts of your students with inappropriate material. The story is adventurous and intriguing to most any child keeping them hanging on to the very end regardless of reading ability. The knowledge gained from these stories is accurate and abundant which makes them perfect for any family especially a homeschooling family. The main character, Sarah, is orphaned in the first book, Sarah’s wish, plunging her into an unknown future. Her mother’s faith was instilled in her from an early age, and Sarah finds her courage to face the unknown by relying on God. Everything about these books is what parents are looking for to encourage their children and help them grow. Don’t worry about the character being a girl. This isn’t a “girls only” type book. The adventures are bold and varied making them perfect for the boy in your family, too.

I love the way the author said on his web site and in correspondence to the TOS Crew that he struggled with the historical accuracies of cursing and the “n word” during his writing. He looked at the prospect of keeping the story historically accurate, but also, considering whether the cursing added anything to the story. He, caring for children as a kindly father or grandfather, chose not to include cursing. More importantly, he found a terrific way of teaching history in another of the series, by teaching the use of the “n word”, but not by using it in dialogue as was often done during the time, but by developing a moment when Sarah could learn from a slave what the word meant to her and how it made her feel. This allows you, the parent, to continue that very conversation with your student teaching them a very important life lesson. I applaud the author’s efforts in teaching these values.

In addition, Mr. Baumgardner’s periodic newsletters add spice to the series with interesting and educational tidbits offered through the humor of himself and Granny, an elderly caretaker of Sarah’s, who is a bit eccentric, but a strong pillar of faith. The author uses the newsletters to teach more about history as he keeps interest in the series alive with contests and trivia questions. I thoroughly enjoy reading them and look forward to each funny installment. I know my students do, too.

As far as my special needs recommendations go, the author has beautiful print editions available, which he graciously will autograph to add even more of a special touch, with a decent size font in crisp contrast to the white pages. He also has audio book versions, as well, suitable for use by the blind, print disabled, and learning disabled student. The print versions seem to also come with a code that allows you to get a free audio download of that specific book, too, making it a very useful tool for the learning disabled student to read and listen to improve comprehension. Prices for the books and/or audio books are very affordable beginning at $9.99 for one print version and $16.99 for the separate audio book only. The author’s attention to special needs is appreciated. There isn’t anything available for the deafblind student, but it could easily be done by making the book available to http://www.bookshare.org. This organization is non-profit and provides various formats of shared books to disabled persons, schools, and organizations for disabled populations including deafblind and learning disabled through a subscription program which verifies the participants as certified disabled and protects the copyrights of authors and publishing companies. I recommend that Mr. Baumgardner and owners of Tate Publishing and Enterprising contact Bookshare.org to allow the access of their books to the deafblind. I thoroughly enjoyed the book I received and look forward to reading another, but it is not nearly as enjoyable to have to have a sighted person read the book and sign it to me. I would prefer to read it in braille for myself. I am sure the author would be gracious enough to consider this based on his voluntary attention to the disabled populations of whom he is familiar.

Children will love the series and parents will love being able to trust them. In fact, as this middle- aged woman can attest, adults will love them, too.
Check out the Sarah series at http://www.sarahbooks.com.

Reading opens new worlds for all of us, but many times we can’t seem to get our children hooked. We try to find things to help them read better and enjoy it more. Sometimes it just takes finding something they like. Hank the Cowdog series of books and audio books written by John Erikson and published by Maverick Books might just be the hook you are looking for. This little dog and all his misadventures will slide and woof his way into your child’s heart with quite possibly the love of reading right along with him.

Hank is a dog if you hadn’t quite guessed it. He is a cowdog to be exact. Hank lives on a ranch and has taken up the position of head dog. If you ask his owners, you might think that Hank has a little over inflated sense of self, but read Hank’s stories, and you find he is a valuable pup. He gets himself into lots of trouble, but he always saves the day. Any child can learn to love reading in these lovable stories. The audio tapes and cds bring the stories to life with good quality and the songs are delightful adding more charm. Regardless to reading ability, your child will find a way to enjoy this world of Hank’s. There is also a website with a virtual world to explore that provides a memory game, math skills fun and practice, and silly fun with a Hank the Cowdog theme. That is just another plus. The books, audio tapes/cds come in packages from large to small beginning at $19.99 with individual paperbacks for $4.24 and hardbacks for $12.49.

The Hank the Cowdog Tornado game is a cute game similar to Parcheesi in play with a tornado spinner instead of dice and Hank the Cowdog characters for game pieces.  It is a game suitable for play by most children. It can be tactilely made easily with a few different shaped and textured bumps and the use of a brailled six-sided dice, so the blind and DeafBlind can play, too. That is a game that I can always back. Game play teaches so many skills for children of all ages and abilities.

Bring the world of Hank the Cowdog to your child. Reading can be full of giggles and gasps. Check it out at http://www.hankthecowdog.com.

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