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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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Penmanship is an important skill for an educated person; although, it is often dismissed as trivial if the student has the slightest problem learning to write. A person’s writing, though, is useless if no one can read it. The Presidential Penmanship program delivers a solid skills development method and beneficial quotes and scripture references to write on the mind and heart.

Presidential Penmanship uses the Getty and Dubay Italic style. I personally do not like the Italic style at all, so if you are in that mindset Presidential Penmanship isn’t for you. However, Italic has many supporters especially in the homeschooling world. If you fall in this group of supporters, Presidential Penmanship could be a good fit for you. The levels available are first through sixth, Junior High, and Senior High. Each level uses quotes from Presidents with older levels also using scripture references for copy samples. As the student practices good handwriting skills, good, quality sayings and scriptures to live by are written on the mind and heart. Grade 1 level provides lessons that begin with the quote written in quality penmanship for example. Some students, especially some special needs, may find it good practice to first use this example for finger tracing getting a feel for the flowing motion before attempting to write. The Grade 1 level then provides a sample written with block script that allows a student to write on the sample within the lines. This is followed by another sample written normally, but slightly lighter in gray scale allowing the student to continue practice by writing on top of the gray lines. Finally, to end the lesson for the week, there are blank lines for the student to try writing the quote on their own.  Grade 1 lines and spaces are bigger and bolder with a thin guide line inside the writing space for help with letter heights. Grade 2 uses a similar method for the lessons without using the block letters at first, and the writing space begins to get smaller. Grade 3 begins Italic cursive which doesn’t use a separate set of letters as other cursive styles do, so the student can easily transition to cursive from print. The remaining levels use the same basic lesson format that just enhances the skill development to normal cursive writing as the student’s physical abilities mature, as well. Older student copy longer quotes and copy scripture references. The lessons in the program begin as daily practice for a week and transition to practicing about three times per week, and there are enough lessons for a regular school year. The teacher can adjust the schedules for the best interests of the student. Presidential Penmanship gives the student ample help in developing good handwriting skills as their hearts and minds are strengthened in scripture and history.

Presidential Penmanship is available on CD containing all the levels of the program for $39.99. If you prefer the Italic style of handwriting, Presidential Penmanship is an affordable curriculum than can fit your children’s needs like a glove. Check it out at http://www.zeezok.com.

Zeezok Publishing provided me with a free copy of Presidential Penmanship for the purposes of this review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the opinion is entirely my own.

Piano instruction can be very beneficial to any child. It can also be fun and rewarding for all. One of the best times to begin instruction is the Pre-school years. Students are naturally curious and love to move their bodies to music. Capture those moments to begin teaching skills that are fun, but transferrable to many other things in life. One of the best of the few programs available at this age is Kinderbach. I received a free three month subscription both last year and this year to review this product. You can find my post from January 6, 2009 here at https://wynfield.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/piano-instruction-for-preschoolers/  to get a full review of what I thought then. As I was requested to take another look at the program, I decided to do two things: first, check with my parents who had chosen to use the product after reading my blog last year to get their first hand experiences, and secondly, try to program with another DeafBlind student who loves the feel of music. You may be wondering why I would want to bother working with music with a child who can’t see and hear. Well, this child can see a little, and with special systems can hear a little, but regardless of the degree of vision and hearing loss, this child is able to feel music. With fun activities, I wanted to see if he could get any benefit with the program.

 First, I checked with the several families that I know who are using Kinderbach with their families. The students range from two to eight with various ability levels. One has an older child of nine who is autistic. The mother found that her daughter enjoyed joining in with the preschooler in the family. The mother was delighted because it was the only time the autistic child would interact with other members of the family except mother and occasionally, father. Another parent noted that an older child of twelve who took formal piano lessons outside of the home who was often nearby when she worked with the six year old in the family with Kinderbach would be tapping his foot or pencil in time with the beat bugs. The mother asked if he like the Kinderbach DVD to which he responded, “Nah, that’s baby stuff.” However, the piano teacher asked a few weeks later about the beat bugs and what did it mean because the son’s understanding of notes and rhythm seemed to have improved and was showing in his performances of music he had previously struggled with. The mother chuckled, and said, “Why, Kinderbach!” All of the parents seemed to enjoy the program. A few were pleasantly surprised that their young children were actually playing music on their own. One parent stated that it was the easiest part of her day. “We began with doing music just one day a week, but it is now done every day. We have so much fun.”

With all the glowing reports from the other parents, you wonder just what would happen with a DeafBlind child. You can’t help, but be realistically pessimistic. There are obvious problems with the program in regards to a deaf or deafblind child. The child has to be able to access the program in some way to get any benefit, of course. In this case, we plug the child’s FM system (a device that sends the sound source directly to the child’s hearing aids through radio transmission) which allows him to get some amount of speech, music, and/or noise from the monitor. The parent also sits the child very close to the monitor allowing the child to see better with his telescope glasses. The parent also has to sign in the child’s hands the dialogue for the program and the songs. I provided a stuffed donkey to represent Dodi who is the primary character for representing the keyboard in the program. We make the Dodi’s house cutout for him too and sign “Dodi’s House” to the child. It is important for us to introduce the props and basic idea of “we are going to find out where Dodi, the donkey, lives today.” As we present the program, we allow the child to indicate if and when we continue. Of course, it is the actual music that gets this child interested. He bounces whenever music is played, and often touches the speakers to see if he can feel even more of the vibrations. In time with lots of patient signing, we were able to get the child to understand that he could play the white key outside of Dodi’s home and make music that sounded like the DVD. We played the DVD initial lessons just a few times over a few days. After a weekend, the child continued his daily routine without coming to see me. We weren’t sure if there had been any impact until the child the next week began signing “Dodi Music” over and over. The parent had to come borrow my DVD and small keyboard. He asks for “Dodi Music” every day now. The two haven’t gotten very far in the lessons, but the child is fascinated with making his own music. Fortunately, we can plug the keyboard into his FM system, too, but he still likes to touch the keyboard to feel even more vibrations from the keyboard itself. Kinderbach is not designed for the deaf or deafblind, nor should they be expected to be. It was just nice to have this type of program available that we could work with, since neither I nor the parent are necessarily music inclined. Using Kinderbach, we have been able to expose this child to something not necessarily within his realm of possibilities. For a deafblind child, the mere exposure is the ability to mark a milestone for understanding of the world around him.

 The vendor may be surprised with this review using such a unique tactic, but I feel it shows that Kinderbach is a good quality program for delivering music foundations in a delightful way to the young child at a time when learning those skills can also be beneficial in other aspects of the child’s developmental growth. There are now six levels to the program at a maximum cost of $40.95 per DVD level with combination packages of DVD and CD of activity pages increasing savings, and an online version for as low as $7.99 per month with annual prepaid subscription of $95.88 or $19.99 per month. You can try the online version for $5.95 for one day to see if it is a good fit for your family. Check out http://www.kinderbach.com to bring a little music into your family’s life.

 The vendor did provide a free product subscription for a specified time in return for a review, but the opinion expressed in this view is entirely my own.

Recently, I received from The Old SchoolHouse Magazine as part of the Crew a request to do a review for MathScore. As with other products, I received the chance to use it for free, but I will review it based on my own opinion. MathScore is an online math assessment and practice program. It provides thousands of randomly chosen problems to assess your student’s math level and practice their weak concepts. Math levels covered include first through Algebra I. This site could provide a much needed assessment tool for schools and homeschoolers.

 The program, developed by graduates of MIT, is designed to accurately assess and prescribe practice regardless of math curriculum or method taught to the student. Students have access to a basic Core assessment test which then lists the results and any necessary topics that need to be further taught. The system has worksheets and mini lessons for each topic covered. The student can access as many worksheets as needed to practice the skills taught in the mini lessons. The student can then be reassessed for the topic after practice. Student gets detailed results of their assessments and practice answers. Parents have a separate log in that allows them to get detailed results and teaching suggestions including details of their students’ use of the program. Each time the student logs in, the program keeps detailed records of total log in time, time spent actually working, number of problems done, percentage correct, and percentage of attention span. I had several students at different levels try out the program. I even tested each student with the television on nearby, too. Of course, I never allow TV watching in school, but I wanted to test this attention span percentage. The program very simply, but accurately gave me a report to let me know just how distracted my students were while doing the lesson and worksheets. I also received emails letting me know when my students worked and how much was accomplished. This could be a useful tool for a busy parent to monitor their children’s working time without having to actually sit by them the entire time. If they don’t work you know it. When they do work, you can tell just how much effort was put into the work and how successful they were doing it. I particularly liked the Copy sections of the program which helps the student learn to type their answers more accurately and more quickly. This is a much needed skill for most students. The program wasn’t designed originally to be a teaching program in the sense of a full curriculum, but the site information states that many homeschoolers do use it that way because of the presence of the mini-lessons. I personally don’t recommend that blindly, but it could be used as a tool to decide when the student needs additional and more teacher-focused instruction.

In regards to special needs and/or accessibility, most parents and students will find the program easy enough to use. Children with reading difficulties will find there isn’t a lot of difficult text to read, but if there is a problem reading a text to speech reader such as Text Aloud or any free program should help there. Hearing blind using a screen reader will find it useless as will braille readers because the site uses frames, and the main text frame isn’t provided for the sc reenreader to use. This is a major reason why accessibility rules of the ADA and FCC require web sites to maintain a text only or accessible version for alternate use. Flash, Java, JavaScript, frames, etc. are not seen by screenreaders and braille displays; thus, it makes these types of pages inaccessible to the hearing blind and deafblind user. On MathScore, some of the links are available and can be followed, but the main part of the program or details on the page sent to by a link is in the main frame inaccessible to the reader because it is not actually on that webpage, but accessed from a separate file. Therefore, I can’t recommend this program to many of my readers at all. Although useful to some, a web site needs to be accessible by all, or it is discriminatory. A reorganization of the interface could easily eliminate these issues and broaden the market of the program.

The MathScore program, though not a good solution for all students, is affordable. The cost for one student is $14.95 per month, but can be as low as $9.95 per month with a time commitment. Additional students can be added for increasing discounts to as low as $3.95. Check it out for yourself at http://www.mathscore.com.

Looking for a Keyboarding class that isn’t a game? Even more importantly, are you wanting a Christian Keyboarding class? Well, you aren’t going to find many of either. The game programs are fine for some students as a complete curriculum, and fine for even more as a supplemental course, but many times the student concentrates too much on the game aspects. There have been many teachers who have used the game programs and discovered their student loved the program, but wasn’t really learning how to properly keyboard. Hence the search for a more traditional program begins. You can find them, but you won’t find any that are Christian-based. That was the dilemma for one Keyboarding teacher at a Christian school. Like many teachers before her, Leanne Beitel set about writing her own. The result was Keyboarding for the Christian School, a great blend of tradition and scripture.

Using many of the traditional methods of teaching typing, but with scripture as practice exercises, Leanne Beitel created a course that most teachers can be happy with using every day. There are two separate programs depending on the age student: Keyboarding for the Christian School, grades 6-12 and Keyboarding for the Christian School, Elementary Version. Both versions have simple, but thorough lessons covering the important topics of keyboarding such as the touch typing technique, alphabetic keys, numerals and symbols, number keypad, centering, and enumerated lists. The Elementary version then provides timed writing practicing. The older version continues with topics such as the tab key, the footnotes styles of MLA and APA, cover pages, works cited and bibliography pages, letters, envelopes, and proofreader’s marks before it begins also with timed writing practice exercises. Most of the scriptures used are good life affirming ones from the Psalms. Typing these scriptures for practice will write them on the minds and hearts of your students to be used by the Holy Spirit throughout their lives to guide them and help them to praise the Lord. The other writings used in the older versions will teach your students as they type Biblical truths and better discipleship. The programs are easy to follow regardless of age group. The elementary version is very similar to the older version, but written with a little simpler language and uses colorful charts to guide the student for finger placement and correct key finding. If you start your student in elementary grades with this program, you can use the older version to review the basic skills if needed or skip straight to the additional topics that an older and more advanced student needs. I personally love the way the author included coverage of the number keypad and introduction to the formatting and reference citing styles of MLA and APA. The keypad skills I learned in school are seldom taught now, but those skills have aided me in my personal life from quickly using calculators and adding machines for bills and taxes and even in the grocery store to some degree with ATM and cash register use. As a blind person, it has been as invaluable as the touch typing skills I have acquired. I was able to even apply this skill to some degree in reverse to use a telephone .With report writing, many students might learn a little about giving credit in later years of high school, but never hear the acronyms for the two most accepted formats in the literary and psychological fields. Their knowledge of how to give credit and type it correctly is weak. Then, in college, depending on their class, they are expected to know which format to use having heard of neither. These courses are very well-designed and will prove beneficial to many homeschool and private school settings.

As far as accessibility, the .pdf format is a drawback for blind and deafblind students, but the author left the security open. With additional software, you can convert this to a more usable format for screenreaders or braille displays. Of course, this is never a perfect conversion which makes .pdf formats less than desirable for accessibility purposes. Hearing blind would benefit from an audio version of the programs, but keyboard shortcuts are needed in the step implementation first. However, keyboard shortcuts would be beneficial for all students since it makes many steps quicker and simpler. Many of the keyboard shortcuts are standard for basic word processing steps so this wouldn’t be too difficult to provide. DeafBlind students would need a .txt or rtf version of the program once keyboard shortcuts are added. An audio version would also help students who are LD or auditory learners for use in conjunction with the text. With just a few simple modifications, the programs could have a much broader audience and be even more useful for the students to use.
Keyboarding for Christian Schools is an excellent program for homeschool and private Christian school use. The programs are also quite affordable for homeschool and Christian school use. The homeschool price for e-books of both versions is just $22.00. A Christian School can get an unlimited license version for $159.95. You can find more options and additional products at https://www.christiankeyboarding.com/Home_Page.php. The lifelong benefits of good keyboarding skills and scripture knowledge gained from this program can be so rewarding.

Music is the melody of life some say. For me, it is that and more. I was born with normal hearing or possibly a mild hearing loss, but it was progressive. I was wearing aids by school age and unable to understand speech by my teen years. Until I became totally deaf a few years later, music became increasingly the only thing that I could easily make sense of and enjoy sound-wise. I was singing before I talked I was told. I mostly wanted to sing what I called at two as “Jesus music”. I loved the way music made me feel even if I couldn’t understand the words or even hear the all of the intricate chords. I wanted to play an instrument to create that music myself. I tried piano and did ok, but my hands were small while I still had enough hearing to learn easily. Guitar was another attempt, but hearing was deteriorating and difficult to pick up on my own. Teachers were unsure of how to teach me. As a young mother, totally deaf, I found Jean Welles’ Worship Guitar Class, Vol. 1. Though I am sure she never thought of her program as a way to teach a deaf girl to play,  it worked. I could play and feel the music to express my love for my Savior.

Her program now available on DVD is as much visual as it is auditory. Jean uses close-up camera angles and large diagrams to show guitar strings, tabs, finger placement, and picking and strumming patterns. Verbally, she gives full explanation of these aspects in clear and precise manner. I used her diagrams and close-ups of finger placement to learn chords. Then I watched carefully and repeated her actions in the close-ups of the different strumming patterns. Jean then follows up the chord instructions with a song that uses the chords just taught. Jean plays the song through using the techniques she has just gone over with a camera angle that lets you see easily as she puts it all together for you. Each song builds on the chords and strumming techniques used before and more chords are added throughout the first volume giving you a good background of guitar chords and strumming patterns when completed. The next section includes a practice section that gives you exercises for improving technique and exercises for improving chord changes and picking skills. The last part Jean plays the songs taught on the DVD allowing you to play along. Jean Welles’ method of instruction is clear, and her easy-going spirit and love for the Lord shine through it all motivating you to learn this method of worship.

I can’t promise anyone that this is the best program for them, but I know that the method allowed me to learn when I could hear almost no sound. Now that I am blind and deaf, vibrations are felt more intensely. Having learned how to make my own music, I can still enjoy worshipping my Savior through music which gives me such joy. With a tactual interpreter helping me to know the flow of the music and my sense of feeling vibrations, I often sing praises along with my hearing/sighted friends. I continue to play guitar in my worship time and with my family. My only true audience though is my Lord, Jesus Christ. Will every deaf person want to learn music? No, but music instruction for children has been shown to raise intelligence scores and musical experience in general gives acquisition to many skills and concepts that are applicable to the world of math and real life concepts. Music instruction for anyone can provide benefits even if the continued love of playing is never developed. I introduce my deafblind students to music as a way to explore the world around them. To me, it is worth the effort.

Jean Welles’ Guitar Worship Class DVDs are available at http://www.worshipguitarclass.com/. Each volume is available for $29.95 for each volume or $99.80 for the four volumes. Each set comes with a lesson book with much of the music information and the songs for additional practice.

I received Jean Welles’ Worship Guitar Class Volume 1 DVD and lesson book to test for this review. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Two things I hate more than anything are math and exercise. No, I am not 500 lbs. I just don’t like exercise that is boring. I prefer to backpack and rock climb. Yes, I am a teacher, and I teach math and do a very good job at it. I have always struggled with math because I am dyslexic and learning disabled. I taught myself how to do math, and now God uses me to help children who need it. I don’t have to like math or exercise to know it is good for me. Being honest with my students helps them to learn that, too. I am also honest when I say that I groaned when I found out that the product I received free to review for the TOS Crew was an exercise DVD that incorporated math. And no, the vendor doesn’t control what I say about their product. However, I am fair, as well as, honest. This isn’t about me, but about helping my parents find products suitable for their students. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that once again I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

The DVD, Gymathtics, created by Carrie Scheiner and her family through Suncheine World, LLC. Is well-produced and developed. Ms. Scheiner uses the premise that learning is enhanced by making as many connections in the brain as possible. Information from even seemingly different topics can be joined together and taught through activities to increase the connections leading to even stronger learning connections. In this case, math concepts are connected with physical exercise movements. Many students will find this odd, but this odd difference lends to its interest and fun. The program provides a warm-up section that has your body making lines, circles, and polygons that stretch your muscles preparing them for the more strenuous exercises to come. Your student will practice various ways to count as they do aerobic exercises, and then the intensity increases with pattern power as your student will do various pattern movement activities that strengthen the muscles and heart. On the screen there are diagrams with math information about polygons, circles, different kinds of visual patterns, and skip counting methods. Most are self-explanatory. During her exercise instruction, Ms. Scheiner also gives more math information verbally. The DVD finishes with the “Well-being Wind Down” section where she leads in relaxing stretches cooling down the body from the aerobic activity while explaining healthy lifestyle choices. These choices are placed on the screen as text at the end of the exercise program. The multisensory concept of math and exercise together is unique, but many students will find it delightful.

Being multisensory, many special needs students will be able to access it and benefit from its information such as those with autism, learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit and attention deficit with hyperactivity, especially. Deaf students will be able to get a lot of detail from the math concepts as well as being able to follow the exercise steps pretty well visually. Ms. Scheiner often demonstrates the moves before the exercise begins. She could do this every time to be more beneficial. A Deaf student might benefit more from the math concepts if more of what Ms. Scheiner relates verbally is added to the diagrams on the screen or more diagrams were used during the exercise segments. Blind students will be able to access the music and dialogue of the DVD. Ms. Scheiner, trying not to overdo the verbal content for probably time purposes and interest of the student, may at times not give enough instruction of the movement of the exercise for a totally blind or mostly blind student to easily do the exercise. A little more specific instruction could probably be done to allow for more accessibility by a blind student. Math concepts could really use more verbal information added to allow for more benefit of the blind student, as well. Ms. Scheiner does a good job without probably even trying to provide accessibility. I am pretty certain that she could do an excellent job when aware that her DVD’s could be used by an even wider audience with just a little more thought and planning of verbal script and diagramming. You may think that there is no hope for the DeafBlind student. Well, I participated right along with my student helpers for this review. I, of course, could not get any information directly being DeafBlind. My students tactually explained to me the moves and the math concepts. I didn’t always do them perfectly, but it allowed us to giggle a lot. My readers know that I like lots of giggling during my lessons. Giggling equals fun, and fun equals better learning and longer remembering.

Gymathtics is a unique, but great way to get your students moving and possibly learning some math. They may not even realize they are” doing math”. This is their first DVD, $24.99,  but more are available and others being developed. Their website at http://www.exploramania.com has these DVD’s and other products like exercise mats and balls using math.  Check them out, and you may soon be giggling over doing polygons and parallelograms.

We recently talked about World History, so now let’s jump right into American History with the American Heritage: An Adventure in Liberty CD. As publishing companies and secular historians try to rewrite our country’s history to fit their own agenda, it is a breath of fresh air to see this curriculum hit the field.

The American Heritage Education Foundation, Inc. makes the social studies/civic K-12 lesson plan resource CD available to free to educators. The foundation’s mission is dedicated to the understanding and teaching of our nation’s factual and philosophical heritage to promote constructive citizenship and freedom, unity, progress, and responsibility among our students and citizens. This resource planner implements that mission in a wonderful and beneficial way. The lessons are well written and hold a child’s attention. The activities provided stimulate continued interest and encourage interesting discussions. The program has three levels on elementary, middle school, and high school level. The elementary level is also provided in Spanish. The file format is Adobe Reader .pdf, and they provide a version of Acrobat Reader for installation if you do not have it on your computer. The Acrobat Reader is free and current versions can be downloaded from the Adobe Acrobat Reader web site for future use as updates become available. The material, itself, is written clearly and simple enough that the same basic lesson information is the same across the levels with the activities being a little more involved and covering more in-depth analysis in the higher levels. This makes it ideal for a classroom setting with students having various ability levels and learning needs and for a homeschool setting where there may be several students, but in different grade levels. Instruction can be simultaneous in either setting with modifications made when necessary and activities tailored for ability and grade levels. More importantly, the information is historically accurate and places the emphasis on the key facts that this country was founded by Christian men who planned the government to allow for freedom of religion, but acknowledging that there is a sovereign God who must be our guide in government matters. All of these factors make this a great choice for your lesson plan resource.

As far as accessibility which is very important to most of my readers, the .pdf format is as discussed here before not very accessible for some of my readers who are DeafBlind as I am. Adobe has removed their features that allowed braille access and locked their program down to use only their built-in text-to-speech program which doesn’t allow for braille access. The authors do have all security measures allowed including copying for accessibility which allows you to copy the text to Word which allows for some braille text access. The majority of the document is text in this case, so that is a great help for DeafBlind users. You will be able to get use of the product with a little bit of manipulation of the text. I appreciate the authors allowing that copy ability. The lack of alternate text tags for the images will present a small problem for all blind and deafblind users. The authors didn’t set up the file for accessibility at all within the Adobe format, so this can present problems even for the built-in reader. It is a simple problem to correct by labeling alternate text tags for the images and specifying language for all the text along with a few other simple corrections. I certainly hope they will do so to make it easier for text-to-speech reading to be correct and ease the transition to Word for braille use. Overall, the authors are commended for making the effort toward some accessibility.

The American Heritage Education Foundation also provides additional resources to further enhance their An Adventure in Liberty program on their website at http://www.americanheritage.org . Check them out for information on how to order the CD resource, as well. Wynfield Christian Academy will definitely be adding it to their curriculum resources for American History and Civics instruction. I don’t think anyone can go wrong with trying this program for instilling a God-based and historically accurate foundation for our American Heritage into our children. Our next generation really needs this kind of background to help keep America on a straight path as a God-fearing nation.

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.

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.

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