Post Tagged with: "gift ideas"

uKloo: Riddle Edition — another great uKloo literacy game

Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docx

uKloo is a terrific literacy game. Incredibly–wonderfully–they somehow managed to top it.

Toronto game-maker Doreen Dotto recently launched uKloo, Riddle Edition.

The premise of uKloo is simple—it’s a treasure hunt. You (the parent) hide cards around the house that kids find and which lead them to the next clue.

For instance, the first clue is “look in your shoes.” The child goes to her shoes and finds the next card, which says “look on the kitchen table,” and so on.

It’s a brilliant strategy to get kids reading because it gives the child a fun reason to read (they want to find the next clue) as well as an instant reward (they find out where the next clue is hidden, and ultimately a grand prize). Fun + reason to read = reading.

Dotto has taken this simple equation and made it even more fun. And she’s added problem-solving to the skills the child will acquire without even knowing they’re learning.

With the Riddle Edition, kids find a card and have to solve a fun riddle to figure out where the next card is hidden.

Depending on the age of the child, the riddles are very easy or quite challenging.

For instance, a level one riddle: “When your hair is full of dirt, get it clean with just a squirt.”uKloo Riddle-cards

A level three riddle: “Not of shell, of turtle or snail, but made of cloth to hike a trail.”

Did you get those? The answers are at the bottom of this post if you want to double-check.

The wonderful thing about uKloo is the way Dotto has adapted it for various reading levels. If the child can’t figure out a clue, she can get a hint: “Lather up for shiny locks!”

If she still can’t quite get it, she can hold a special booklet (in which the answers are written backwards) up to a mirror and find the answer reflected there.

Three levels of clues, a hint and a fun solution give kids the success that is so important for new or struggling readers.

And with different levels, brothers and sisters of different ages or reading abilities can play together. It’s also great for playdates.

As with the original uKloo game, the Riddle Edition ends with a surprise that the parent provides. It could be a chocolate or small toy, or—as Dotto found out from one parent—it could be the announcement that the child is going to have a new baby sister.

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo Riddle Edition includes blank cards so parents can write their own riddles (Dotto provides tips on writing riddles) and it includes Surprise cards so that instead of a toy or candy the grand prize could be “a trip to the ice cream store” or “pillow fight with daddy.”

If uKloo is one of the most perfect literacy games, uKloo Riddle Edition takes it one step further. Both are must-get games for any parent who wants to get their kids reading.

uKloo retails for $15.95 and uKloo Riddle Edition for $18.95. Both are available at independent toy stores. You can also purchase them from the uKloo website, here.

You can also check out the new uKloo Early Reader App, currently free (that may change) in the iTunes App Store.

Read my review of uKloo here.

Oh, and I’m sure you figured out that answers are: Shampoo and Backpack.

Lastly, Doreen was on Dragon’s Den. Guess what happened? Check it out:

 

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beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game for ages 8 and up

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

If your kids could use a little brush-up on their spelling, beezi might be the game that does it.

My son and I took the game for a test drive. He figures he’s a better speller than his mother (who is a writer by trade, a-hem).

We really enjoyed beezi. For off, it was easy to figure out how to play it–a huge plus. I hate having to read through two pages of directions to figure out a game before you can even play it.

And it was fast-playing. Another plus.

Essentially, beezi takes you around a board; you select cards and spell words. The harder the word, the further you go on the board. Special spaces on the board let you roll again, skip a turn or advance.

The game includes spelling challenges at different levels. That’s good because it means that your eight-year-old can play with your 10-year-old at the same time. And it makes it extra flexible for playdates.

There’s also a Teens and Parents edition, which we will definitely have to get (we were given this one by beezi, for review). We did find that the younger game was a bit too easy for my 12-year-old. Although, he did not—I stress, did not—win against his mother.

Because kids write down their answer, rather than just spell it out loud, the game can definitely help kids improve their spelling. The game provides a real incentive to sound words out and try to get them right. It also gives adults a chance to explain why certain words are spelled the way they are.

Some kids are shy or embarrassed about not being able to spell very well. Even my son, who’s a pretty good speller, didn’t like to admit it when he couldn’t spell certain words, and I can see that. So you may want to keep that in mind when you’re playing. Usually, I was able to explain that “everyone gets that one wrong,” or “that spelling rule is tricky” and then roll the dice and keep the game moving.

The game is themed around bees, a riff on “spelling bees.” The bee theme continues with the die, which features six types of bees (from honey bee - the easiest words to spell, to killer bee - the most challenging). My son likes “Shaggy Fuzzyfoot” the best; Shaggy’s a wildcard. And the object of the game is to reach the “beehive” in the middle of the board.

The illustrations are quirky and modern, and the dice is one of those big, chunky ones that are such fun to roll.

Bonus: The next time I go to a restaurant or a long car ride with my son, I’m going to bring along the card deck. It will be a terrific quiz-me activity, even without the game board. beezi would also be a good game to take to the cottage, because everyone can play it, using different level card packs.

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game sells for $29.99 and is available at toy stores and Chapters/Indigo. You can also purchase it from the beezi website ($10 to $15 shipping within Canada).

(If you’re in Toronto, buy it from my friend Sam at her Playful Minds toy store. Tell her I sent ya.)

On the beezi website, click on Take the Beezi challenge for a fun online spelling challenge.

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Phrazzle Me! is a great game for English learners

Phrazzle Me!If you’re teaching English as a second language (ESL) or if you’re wanting to push your students’ English to a more sophisticated level, here’s a well-thought-out game.

Phrazzle Me! is essentially 200 blocks of wood with words imprinted on them.

The simplest way to play the game is to take seven blocks (each block has four words to choose from) and make a sentence. The next person builds on your sentence, going up and down or across. You get a point for every block you use.

If a phrase doesn’t make sense (“The table barked”) you lose a point.

But Phrazzle Me! (“phrase” + “puzzle”) can go beyond just game-play. If you’re teaching ESL, you can take the game in lots of different directions.

For one thing, the words are colour-coded. For instance, green is “to be” and gerunds “-ing words.” Red is “to have” and past participles.

Now, people who already speak English will probably stop right there. Because in North America, most people don’t know their gerund from their modal–that’s just not the way we normally like to learn languages.

But in most of the rest of the world, teachers and students are very familiar with past participles and auxiliary verbs, and are quite comfortable learning that way.

So for them especially, Phrazzle Me! can be a tremendous teaching tool.

For instance, the teacher can take just the question words, the auxiliary verbs and the subjects and then tell the students to make questions using this format:

Question + auxiliary + subject + verb.

“Where are they flying?” Boom, that’s a great question with every word in the right order.

You can easily change the rules. If you’re working on gerunds, make them worth double the points. If you’re working on past tense, make that key to the game. Let students take more or fewer blocks.

Phrazzle Me! is elegantly designed and sturdy. There’s no board; players set up the game on any flat surface. And it includes a draw-string bag that holds the pieces afterwards.

The game can be played without a moderator, but it works much better when a teacher is involved who decides if phrases are correct or not. It’s designed to provoke discussion and a long-term understanding of English.

We played Phrazzle Me! with our family and found that it can be quite challenging. It just goes to show how complex and difficult the English language is, even for native speakers.

The game is available through phrazzleme.com. There is also a Toronto-based distributor; contact them at dr.montecinos@gmail.com.

At $100 UPDATE: $79.99 a game (which includes shipping) it’s not in the same pricing ballpark as most just-for-fun games. But this is the kind of game an ESL teacher would buy and use throughout her career because it will last forever.

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Rory’s Story Cubes – simple, elegant literacy fun

Rory Story CubesHere is a simple, elegant, wonderful game that’s great for:

• Story-building
• Fostering imagination
• Putting events in sequence
• Inspiration for writing a story
• Staving off boredom while you’re waiting at a restaurant
• General all-round silliness.

There are nine dice. Each one has six simple pictures. For instance, a happy face, a magic wand, a tree.

You use the nine images to build a story.

For instance:

I was happy when I found a magical tree.

or,

The magician used a tree to make his wand. It was a happiness wand.

or,

I “wand-ered” over to a tree, where I stopped and smiled at my own pun.

The great thing is that there are no wrong answers. And all kinds of possibilities.

Rorys Story Cubes box

Rory's Story Cubes come in a compact, efficient little magnetic box.

You can use as many or as few dice as you want. You can ignore some. You can make the images mean just what you want—even if that wouldn’t be someone else’s interpretation of the picture.

And you can get as silly as you want.

Rory’s Story Cubes are portable and stored in an elegant little magnetic-closure case. We bring them to restaurants and roll them while we’re waiting for the food to come.

Rorys Story Cubes app

The app sells for $1.99.

If you’ve got a few kids in your group—even if they’re very diverse in terms of age or interests—it’s a great way to keep them occupied. And laughing.

There’s a great back-story to this game. Rory originally invented his cube game for companies to foster creativity and teamwork. He has since come up with a number of different versions, including a version with just “action” pictures (verbs), one that’s about voyages, and a smart phone app.

Rory’s story cubes sell for about $15 and they’re available at most toy stores or online at the Rory’s Story Cubes website.

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Big on literacy… big on gross

Gross-abulary, bacteria cardGROSS-ABULARY is very up-front about what it is.

It’s a literacy game that’s gross.

And we all know that kids—okay, especially boys—love gross.

If your kid is “one of those,” then GROSS-ABULARY will be right up his alley.

It’s a game about building gross sentences, using starter concepts like belch, armpit and flu for inspiration.

You take a card with a caption like bacteria and your job is to build a sentence around the word before the three-minute timer runs out.

You’re given a pile of words and word endings (suffixes) to choose from. And your sentence can be as silly, serious, gross or normal as you’d like. The longer the sentence, the better, since you get a point for every word you use.

The winner of each round gets to answer a multiple-choice trivia question on the back of his card:

How many more bacteria are on an office desk than in a toilet, 20 times, 200 times or 400 times? A: 400 times—I think it’s time to clean your desk.

Gross.

If the player answers the question correctly, he wins that card; the player with the most cards wins the game.

My son and I were a bit worried that GROSS-ABULARY would be a bit too gross. But as you play it, you find that the sentences don’t have to be gross–unless you want them to be.GROSS-ABULARY

To add to the literacy angle, my son and I read each other’s sentences out after every round. That also added to the surprise factor, since I could shock my kid a bit with some very ridiculous sentences that unfolded for him as he read them out.

So if you’ve got a kid who loves gross more than reading, GROSS-ABULARY is definitely your game. He’ll be so caught up in the gross, he won’t even realize that he’s building his literacy skills.

GROSS-ABULARY (ages 6+, 2-10 players) sells for $24.99 and is available at Chapters/Indigo and Mastermind stores.

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Plucky picture-book heroine defies discrimination

In The Bag! by Monica Kulling/David Parkins“In The Bag!” by Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins

Here is a lovely, empowering book you should read with your kid for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a terrific book, a good story with wonderful illustrations. Second, it’s empowering for girls. It teaches a young generation—that sometimes can’t believe that women were ever discriminated against in North America—about women’s struggle for equality. Third, it’s a biography–a great way to introduce the genre.

In The Bag! tells the real-life story of American Margaret Knight who, in the mid-1800s, became an inventor.

Kids will enjoy reading about how she invented something we all take for granted: a flat-bottomed paper bag. (Before that, we learn, “bags” were simply scrunched-up cones of paper.) While Knight starts out simply trying to solve a problem, kids will be amazed when she comes up against the “how can a woman be an inventor?!” mindset of the day.

It’s a book that can open up a really interesting dialogue with your kid. Or, at the very least, get him thinking about paper bags a little differently.

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Why your kid needs a bookshelf

My bookshelfMy bookshelf and my books have been held captive in my attic for eight years.

Last week I hired a professional organizer. Long-story short, my bookshelf is now where it belongs – in my home-office, with all of my favourite books on it.

There’s the Pelican Shakespeare, with the tissue paper leaves; The Tragedies, The Comedies, The Histories and The Romances. This is the Shakespeare that I used to lie in bed with, cram for my mid-terms with, enjoy with a glass of white wine in the days before I was sophisticated enough for red wine.

Timothy Findley, himself, signed that copy of You Went Away. I stood in line, he signed it, I slammed it shut and I scurried away with my autographed copy, like a squirrel with a treasured nut. Later, I opened it to read my sage’s inscription at my leisure, and share it with my friend. To our amazement, and then hilarity, we could not decipher what on earth he had written. “Cordially free”? I looked at her. We peered at the handwriting again. Cordially free? For years, my girlfriend and I would happily greet each other with, “cordially free!” It was only yesterday that I opened it again, 17 years later, and there – clear as a bell - it says “with cordial feelings.”

There is the copy of Marshall McLuhan’s Counter-Blast. Inside the front cover is a plate: Awarded to Joyce Grant of Woburn Collegiate Institute for Outstanding Achievement in CREATIVE WRITING; Dated this 20th day of February, 1981. A fittingly formal kick-off to what will prove to be a lifelong career in writing (albeit, not every word of which will turn out to be either creative or outstanding).

The first-edition Gone With The Wind from my first husband — now himself, gone with the wind.

My Norton Anthologies, from which I’d proudly slogged through The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost – until someone years later pointed out that both were “abridged,” and doused any hope I had of bragging that I’d read either of them all the way through.

Every book on my shelf tells a story.

I pass my fingers over the embossing on the covers. I open the older books and riffle the pages to smell the memories. The sight of my bookshelf, back where it belongs, by my side in the room where I write each day, almost makes me cry.

And that is why your kid needs a bookshelf of his own.

 

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Squishy literacy fun with Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster Letter LunchI’m a big believer that if you want kids to understand words and letters, they’ve gotta get their hands dirty.

If there’s something to feel, touch, throw, squish and otherwise interact with — kids are going to get the message on a whole different level.

(It’s called kinesthetic learning, but I prefer “squishing.”)

Play-Doh has created a new toy that lets kids create, and then squish, letters. And in-between maybe spell a few words.

Cookie Monster’s Letter Lunch is a back-to-basics Play-Doh toy. You push the playdough into the moulds, and create letters and healthy foods.

Then you can “feed” Cookie. His mouth has a flap that goes down when you put, say, playdough broccoli on it. (My kid, who is 10 and far too old for this toy, loves the fact that after you feed Cookie, the playdough falls through his body and out his, er, back. OK, derriere. But 10-year-olds can find something rude in anything.)

The kit comes with a sturdy Cookie Monster, dozens of moulds the right size for tiny hands, four tiny cans of Play-Doh and one of those Play-Doh spaghetti-maker thingies. They’re fun.Cookie Monster Letter Lunch

If you’ve got a Play-Doh type of kid (if you’ve got one you know it – they spend hours!) this is a decent toy. Very simple and sturdy. And kids can squish every letter they make. And then feed everything to Cookie, who is never too full to eat a kid’s creations.

When you open the kit, make sure you keep the box intact so you can put all the parts back in there. The box has a handle, which is a good touch.

Disclosure: I asked Hasbro to send me this toy because it looked like it had some merit in terms of literacy; I think it does.

 

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Scrabble – Alphabet Scoop game

Scrabble Soup gameCaution: Don’t eat actual soup while you’re playing this game. (We did – it was an issue. I’ll tell you at the end.)

Scrabble – Alphabet Scoop is a fun new game that you can play with kids who are at different levels of literacy and of different ages.

It’s basically a plastic soup bowl, with Scrabble letters dumped inside.

Everyone gets a card which has five words on it. The words are progressively harder, from 1 to 5.

Each person picks a word from their list. Then all at once, everyone starts scooping letters trying to find the letters that will form their word.

Adults use more difficult words while beginners use a short, easy word. (Or, in our household, daddy uses a more difficult word until he keeps winning anyway and mommy has to take him out of the game altogether.)

When someone scoops all of the letters that form their word, that round ends and they win. You win five times to win the game.

What I like about this game is that it has some great elements that you could use to create lots of different versions of it. For instance, toddlers would enjoy just pulling out letters and naming them, or perhaps making their sound. You could “race” your toddler to be the first one to guess the sound their letters make. Bigger kids might have to make up a silly sentence using all five words on their card.

All of the stuff goes into the pot when you’re done playing, for storage. The lid doesn’t fit tightly so a couple of rubber bands might not go amiss here.Letter ends up in real soup

We thought (well, I thought) it would be fun to actually eat soup while playing the Scrabble Alphabet Scoop game. Almost immediately my son lost one of his letters in the (real) soup. That’s a D you see covered with mushroom soup there. Hilarity ensued, as my son realized the irony – oh, the irony! – of the situation and ran off to the kitchen to clean the D.

Disclosure: Hasbro provided this review set of Alphabet Scoop. Well, after I asked ‘em for it because I thought it looked good.
Game recommended for two to four players, ages 6+ - it retails for $19.99.

 

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How a pencil can help your child become a writer

Palomino Blackwing pencils in a boxI have a theory that a really great pencil might get your kid to do more writing.

Now, hear me out. (And let me assure you right now this isn’t an ad and I’m not being paid by anyone.)

I’m not just talking about a pretty pencil. It’s not some “normal” pencil with a fancy topper. It’s not sparkly and it doesn’t write in three colours. I’m talking about a pencil that is so special, so outrageously beautiful to use that it makes you want to keep writing and never stop.

To understand the Blackwing Palomino you have to go back a few years, to the 1990s when Eberhard-Faber stopped making them. (Those original Blackwings have sold on eBay for up to $40 each.) The Blackwing came back last year, produced by Cal Cedar. They did extensive research to figure out how to reproduce, as closely as possible, the pencil that Eberhard-Faber used to make.

I purchased a box from pencils.com after reading this review on boingboing.net.

Now here’s my review… and the reason why the Blackwing is the only pencil I will ever use… and the reason I never let my Blackwings out of my sight… and the reason I think that giving one to your kid will actually help his schoolwork.

The first thing you’ll notice is the cool, white, square-topped flat eraser. It is armoured in a shiny golden ferrule. You can pull up the eraser to extend it as you use it – or you can replace it altogether. The pencil itself is matte black, accented with a band of gold just below the eraser.

Then there’s the feel of the pencil in your hand. It’s soft and smooth, almost warm to the touch. You want to caress its perfect octagonal sides. You do.

But the best thing about the Blackwing is the way it writes. As the graphite glides along the surface of your page it lays down a fine, soft, black trail. If you’ve ever written with a stick in hard moist sand on a fine beach, you’ll know something about how this feels. There is a satisfying friction as the lead glides over the page, tracking its lines along your paper.

It is a soft, warm, smooth writing experience. Easy to erase, and to write and to smudge. It is an artist’s experience, but it is just as much a writer’s experience, or a mathematician’s. Or a kid’s.

On pencils.com you can also buy one of the finest (cheap) pencil sharpeners you will ever use, and this I recommend for the Blackwing. It uses a two-step process; one hole cuts away the wood from the lead and the second one sharpens the lead itself. And there will be a great deal of sharpening with the Blackwing. The smooth, lazy writing experience comes at a price–you will have to sharpen often and well because the graphite is so soft.Two-holed pencil sharpener, called KUM

But it will be worth it.

A non-disclosure: I don’t work for Blackwing, nor did I get anything from pencils.com other than a box of Blackwing 602 pencils, which are not the ones I have reviewed above. (The 602 is also a superb pencil; it is grey matte with a black eraser. It lays down less graphite and doesn’t need as much sharpening and for that reason some people say that the Blackwing is for artists and the 602 is for writers. But I am a writer, and I heartily disagree. Take back my 602s and replace them with more Blackwings, I say.)

In a media release from Blackwing, I see that they’re coming out with a line of premium notebooks in September. If they’re one iota as satisfying as the Blackwings that are meant to write on them, I’ll be rushing to get one.

Palomino Blackwing 602

Palomino Blackwing 602

 

 

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