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Game playing is a wonderful way to bring a family together. It is even better during the tough economic times. As a family, we are always looking for new games, but that can be difficult in my family due to special needs issues. Recently, I was sent a product called Wits and Wagers Family from North Star Games. My husband was excited. He had played the game with the same name, but not a family version, years ago from another company that no longer exists. He was very happy someone had decided to publish it again. As per our tradition, I got the game out after Thanksgiving Dinner. We would just see how it went.

With overfull bellies, we got the game out to play rather than sleep the afternoon away. My children and a girlfriend who are grown and just out of college or in college groaned when their Dad said he had played it years ago. The idea of playing something he liked long ago didn’t sound very promising to them. With that, we opened the box and as promised, explained the game play in just a couple of minutes. My husband explained it to me by fingerspelling the steps as I needed to do something. First, a question is chosen and read aloud. My husband fingerspelled it to me. We each had little dry erase boards to write our answer on to and place face down when done. Our first question was how many different colors of Froot Loops are there? Everyone tried to imagine their morning cereals from breakfasts past and wrote down a number and placed their card face down. When everyone was finished, the cards were turned face up and placed in numerical order. We each then got to decide if we wanted to stick with our answer or try to help our chances by backing another’s answer. You each have two little meeples or wooden people shapes. One is larger than the other at about ¾ of an inch high and each set of meeples is a different color than matches an answer board. The large meeple is worth two points and the smaller one is worth one point. You place your meeples on any of the answers you think might be correct. You can place them all on your answer board if you are really certain you are correct, or you can place them on one or two others to help your chances of gaining points. The answer to our question was six. I had written 4 as a guess, but I knew there had to be more. Other answers given were 5, 6, and 8. I decided to put a large meeple on 5 and the small one on 8. If your card answer is right, you get one point. If your meeples are on a correct answer, you get one or two points for a possible high of 4 points if all of your meeples are on the right answer. I totally missed that one. My younger son’s girlfriend, Rachel, got that one right as I had watched her count imaginary Froot Loops. The only question I got right for the game was how many feet are in a mile. My two sons missed that one. I guess I didn’t teach that fact very well, did I? Rachel won despite not getting too many questions right as did none of us. That is the beauty of the game. Even those of us who have gotten foggy in our brains have a chance to win by mooching off the right answers of others. We all laughed at our silly and far-fetched answers and even enjoyed our temporary status of victors with appropriate trash talk. The game proved to be a hit.

Well-made and durable, the quick play of about twenty minutes is also perfect for most families regardless of ages involved. North Star Games states that it is best suited for those 8 and over and with three to ten players. As most of us know in homeschooling families, you often have younger children around. “The questions are varied and range from easy to hard making the game fun and easy for young and old people”, Rachel said. If you need a few easier questions though for a much younger child, you can let all of the family help you write up a few more to mix in. Brendan felt that “some of the questions could become outdated”, but you could also add a few more timely questions to replace them if you want. Brian thought it was really fun and “worked well for all ages” to play despite differences in abilities, but he agreed with his brother about some of the questions becoming outdated. Most though will stand the test of time and popularity. My husband really liked that it was the game he played and enjoyed so long ago, but also had a good playing and scoring format for families that might not feel the connection to wagering was a good example.

I liked the game setup and durability of the materials. The questions can be redone in braille, large print, or signed for family members with sensory impairments quite easily because the questions are short and simply stated. Scoring is simple even for the youngest members. North Star games can easily add additional question packets to be purchased separately to address issues of outdated questions or for providing special play topics, too. The game is easily modified for any family and their specific needs and a perfect fit at $19.99. There is the more adult party version available, too, if your family needs more of a challenge.

Check http://www.northstargames.com for more information about Wits and Wagers Family or any of their other games.

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

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Measurement is a necessary skill that we use in our daily lives. Many children struggle to learn the concepts length, weight, distance, etc. The ruler is one of the first tools we teach when beginning to develop measurement skills. A student might grasp the idea of a foot and 12 inches as the same because it is something they can see and touch with our standard ruler. Try to break that down to smaller increments, and you quickly lose many of the students. Master Innovations has designed a system of rulers to help better teach that task with their Master Ruler.
The Master Ruler is designed as one rule with several parts that lay over each other, but transparent to see the addition of smaller increments within the large increment at the base. The ruler comes in Standard English and Metric increments available separately. The idea is to show that the smaller increments are still measuring the exact same amount of space, but breaking the space up into different size parts or increments. We have all seen similar techniques used with fractions and fraction pies. The white base ruler simply has 12 red lines dividing the space into 12 equal parts each 1 inch. A second, but transparent ruler is laid over the base ruler that has 24 blue lines dividing it into ½ inch increments. Each line that matches an inch marker below is a little heavier. The red line of the base ruler marking each inch is a little longer than the blue lines to help reinforce the concept that the space is equal regardless of the number of increments. There are three additional transparent rulers that can be place on top of the rulers below to correspond with ¼ inch, 1/8 inch, and 1/16 inch increments each with a different color-coding. The lines of each of the rulers are sized so that all of the increments can be seen clearly even through the last layer of 1/16 inch increments. The white base ruler also has a conversion chart on the back for many of the mostly commonly used facts that every student needs to know as second nature. Having them handy will help them to memorize these facts easily. The metrics ruler is essentially the same, but uses metric increments. With practice using The Master Ruler, the student can begin to visualize the concepts of basic measurements and use them successfully.
Many special needs students will find the system great for helping them understand the concepts. The color-coding is great for may learning disabled and ADD/ADHD students as well as the overlay system to emphasize the fact that the unit space or distance is the same, but the number of sections it is broken down into is what changes. Of course, it fits very well for students are more kinesthetic or hands-on learners. The system of color-coding and overlay also works with low vision students, too, without too much difficulty. There are some tactile paint and bumps that can help some, too, but as is, the totally blind might have too much difficulty. A workbook available separately has activities that will help you introduce the use of the rulers, too. However, though many of the pictures used for measuring are fine, there are some that are blurry and would definitely be difficult for a low vision student to use. The company will probably address this issue in future versions. Overall, though, the system is very beneficial for most special needs issues.
The products are also very durable as well as affordable at $9.95 each. The workbook, full of activities, is $15.95, and a teacher’s ruler that is suitable for demonstrations and overhead use, too. You can also purchase a Starter Set for $41.25 for a $4.55 savings. Master Innovations also has other affordable systems available great for learning other math concepts with their Master Clocks, Master, Angles, and Master Fractions. Go to http://www.themasterruler.com for more information.

Though I received a free product to write this review, I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed 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.

History, by the definition of http://www.dictionary.com, is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. An old history text I had in school and can’t remember defined history as the story of man. There should only be one story, but that isn’t the way it is. As a Christian, I know that man’s story is only possible because of God, so really history should be defined as His story. Secular historians as guided by the great deceiver, Satan, have sought to remove the creator of history from the story. Church history took God’s story and corrupted it over and over again for the power derived for one group or another. There are as many church histories as there are denominations and religions.  How do we know what is truth and what is not? The answer is simple. The truth is the Bible. God has filled His word with His spirit and keeps it from corruption through His spirit stirring in Man’s heart. How can we teach our children the Truth and guard their hearts from the corruption of the world? We can try to teach them only the Word of God and keep them away from all dissenting forces while they are with us. When they leave, we can only pray that their hearts and faith are strong enough to withstand any attempt to sway. Often, we know that plan fails. To me, a better way is to teach our children the Truth, but expose them gently and carefully along the way to what the world teaches as we lay it beside the Bible for comparison. When viewed by the light and truth of the Bible, all other things will either confirm or deny God, the creator and Jesus, the son and Savior, and the Spirit who acts upon the hearts of man throughout time.

The Amazing Bible Timeline that I was given free to review here is a tool that seeks to give parents the ability to instill not only the Truth in their children, but also that strength of heart and faith to withstand the attempts to sway and corrupt. The originators of this timeline researched all the many histories of our time and past and placed all those together side by side in the chronological order of time along with the history as present by God through the Bible. They have made it as thorough and accurate as humanly possible. The company continues to update it as more is learned about history and as God and man continue to write history. The material is presented simply as an expanded time line incorporating the many time lines of the Bible and other world histories without emphasis to one religion, denomination, or secular historian. This gives the parent the full control to use the tool to teach their child how the Bible teaches and what man has sought to confirm or deny of that truth. Using the method of presentation given for the use of the chart, it is easy to see how God has influenced the world as His creation despite men and Satan’s efforts to purge the evidence of Divine influence.

The 37” X 45” chart is multicolor-coded and lay out is circular and wide to be as useful as possible despite the overwhelming amount of information provided. The print is small and difficult to read at times, but a magnifier helps. In addition, the company provides Adobe Reader .pdf format files on their web site free after purchase for download. With those files, it is easy to zoom into one particular area to study the contents more closely. Use the chart on the wall or a table along with the computer files either on the computer or printed out for particulars areas you wish to highlight at a particular time to see the specific events within the bigger picture of history as a whole. In this way, it is easy to see how the control of the Romans and culture of Roman society affected the Jews as they rejected the Messiah because they were hoping at the moment for an earthly king to rid them of their captors. Or, you can see how God influenced man as He worked to purge our country from the sin of slavery, and directed the forces that prevented Hitler from ruling the world.

As far as accessibility goes, the company providing .pdf files is a great help for the Learning Disabled and low vision students who might want to use the time line. The blind and deafblind will not get any true use of the product due to lack of braille access. The company must use graphic files, and there is no way to present graphic information in braille except as a verbal or written description which may or may not facilitate comprehension. Parents and teachers will have to find other ways to present the material to them.  One suggestion would be to take the information and provide it in small chunks of time with a tactile and braille-labeled timeline. If you provide all the material across the circular bands for a time period of a 1000 years or smaller increments, the students could gain the knowledge the same way by seeing the variations of history for just that period for comparison and study. Even though accessibility is an issue for some here, this product should not be discounted. The knowledge gained by students or parents in preparation to teach students can be invaluable.

In addition, the company, Bible Charts and Maps, LLC provides a document presenting tips for using the timeline for Bible Study and history teaching. They also have interactive maps for the Holy Land and a genealogy of Jesus Christ in various file formats to use, as well. The Amazing Bible Timeline chart is $29.97 plus shipping and handling including the digital version and the interactive Holy Land maps for free. Go to http://www.BibleTimeline.net for more information and to purchase. Use this tool wisely and as intended, and you have a resource to help build your child’s faith on the truth of Jesus Christ.

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.

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.

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