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Bunk Bed Buddy holds books beside top bunk

  • May 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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Bunk Bed Buddy - shelf for your bunk bedMy son has a loft bed. It’s like a bunk bed, except there’s no bottom bunk – there’s a desk under there instead. So he always sleeps up in the clouds.

The eternal problem, when you’re way up on the top bunk, is that you can’t get at your stuff.

And by “stuff” I mean “books.”

And Kleenex, and bedside light, and drinks… and books.

So, in the “I-can’t-believe-someone-didn’t-come-up-with-this-sooner” category is: The Bunk Bed Buddy.

It’s essentially a lightweight, sturdy holder for all your stuff. It hangs up there on the wall beside where you sleep in your bunk bed.

My son loves his. He keeps a variety of books in it, and… well, mostly books. And magazines.

So now, his bed is like a little fort, with all his favourite stuff within reach.

He doesn’t have to climb all the way down the ladder when he’s finished his book—he can just grab another one from the Bunk Bed Buddy.

The Bunk Bed Buddy is manufactured by TidyBooks. It’s appropriately priced at $79.99 and it’s available through amazon.com. (No, I don’t get a commission.)

 

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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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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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uKloo: the perfect literacy game for early readers

uKloo - fun literacy game for early readersThis could be the perfect literacy game.

So simple and so brilliant.

It has all the elements you could want in a game that encourages reading: it’s fun, it offers an immediate reward for reading, it’s easy for parents to quickly learn and set up and it has lots of “reading helpers” to make sure kids are successful.

uKloo will get your kids reading. It’s as simple as that.

uKloo (“you-clue”) is essentially a treasure-hunt game. You may even have done this yourself with your kids (I’ve recommended the idea – #6) but there’s no work for you to do, other than hiding the clues.

How to play

You hide cards around the house. The child picks the first card and reads, for instance, “look in your mom’s sock drawer.” When he gets there, he’ll find another card: “Look under the mat beside the bathtub.” Under the mat will be another card… and so on, until he gets to the “reward” card.

There are lots of wonderful things about UKLOO:

The “reward” is left up to you. If you believe in offering treats you can make the reward a Hershey’s kiss or some other candy. If your kid loves Lego, maybe he’ll find a Lego character at the end of his journey. Or a book. Or a loonie. Or a card that says, “good for one trip to gramma’s.” You can use whatever you feel will motivate your child, and whatever fits with your family’s values.

Children are set up for success. The game comes with a poster (which you stick up on the fridge or a nearby wall) that helps the child work through the words on the cards. Nouns, verbs and prepositions are listed with a picture to show the child, for instance, what “under” and “behind” mean. If the child can’t figure out a word, he can check the poster for help.

The game has three levels, depending on your child’s reading level. For instance:
Level 1: Look in your shoe.
Level 2: Check in the bathtub.
Level 3: Search behind the pillow on the couch.

As your child becomes a better reader, the game grows with him. Or, siblings can play alongside each other, using different levels.

uKloo was invented by Doreen Dotto, who was having trouble getting her kid to read. That was when he was in grade two. Today, the kid is an English major in university. Just sayin’.

uKloo sells in independent toy stores for $14.99 or on the company’s imperfect website, here. Now, Doreen, how about creating a version for older kids who are reading but still love to play fun reading games and find rewards in their shoes?

Here’s a video (1:18) of the game in action. (Spoiler alert: the kid finds the reward card.)

 

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Fun new, brain-challenging jigsaw puzzle

Ji Ga Zo puzzleThey’ve finally come up with a new, addictive, fun and brain-saving type of jigsaw puzzle that kids will actually enjoy.

It’s difficult – if not downright impossible – to explain exactly how Ji Ga Zo works. You have to try it for yourself, and you’ll understand. (Which is why I asked Hasbro to send me one – I couldn’t figure it out from the literature and now I know why.)

Here’s what Ji Ga Zo (worst. product. name. ever.) is:

1) A puzzle that you create from your own photo.

2) A game in which you (or your kids) have to find pieces with specific icons on them and locate where they go using a grid (the “acorn” goes on A-15).

3) A game that teaches “orientation” since every piece can be fitted into the puzzle rightside-up, upside-down or sideways—and only one of those options is correct for each piece.

Ji Ga Zo puzzle, icon board

This is the icon board. Kids have to find the pieces that match up to these icons, and put them in place.

4) A puzzle that can be reused over and over again, with any picture you choose.

It’s a little hard to believe, isn’t it? I’ll try to explain it.

First, you choose a photo you’d like the puzzle to be. It can’t be just any photo—faces work best, and even they need to be close up and high-contrast. You put the Ji Ga Zo (how I hate that name!) in your computer and follow the very simple instructions to create an “icon board” for your specific photo.

You print out the icon board, which is a grid containing 300 one-centimetre squares. Each square contains an icon: it could be a house, a duck, an exclamation mark.

Then, you create the puzzle by finding the appropriate icons and fitting them onto your puzzle space according to the icon board… this sounds ridiculously difficult. In fact, it’s very easy—it’s just really, really hard to explain.

Ji Ga Zo (seriously, Hasbro, you couldn’t have called it Re-puzzler because it’s reusable or Griddle because it’s a puzzle with an icon grid? And these are just off the top of my head!) is very addictive and quite soothing. Harkens you back to those days when you and your mom would sit in the kitchen doing a puzzle, something we rarely take the time to do these days. And because it’s a puzzle of your child’s face, you’re more likely to want to continue making it until it’s done. And so is your kid.

The puzzle pieces are very sturdy and fit nicely together. There’s none of the wiggle-wobbling and coming apart so common to cheaper puzzles.

And you can make it easier for younger kids by sorting the puzzle pieces according to colour. Really young kids can simply help you find the pieces, which they’d find really fun. Slightly older kids can find pieces that are sorted by colour and try to find them on the grid. Older kids can do the whole thing, with or without your help.

The image itself is going to be sort of abstract. It’s not going to be a great representation of your child’s face, because it’s actually made up of shadow and light. Again, you have to see it to understand. And if you don’t have a photo you want to use, the game comes with a few including the Mona Lisa.

So here’s what I recommend. Don’t hesitate to buy Ji Ga-whatsit. It would be good for a birthday present for a party your child’s going to, or a present from gramma for your own kid. And it’s definitely got some great learning components. And it’s fun.

Once I find out from Hasbro how much it costs and where to buy it, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m thinking of offering a contest to rename this thing…

Update: Hasbro got  back to me… $24.99. Name’s staying.

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Reading Incentive: KidsCash

Try KidsCash to get your kid reading.

If you’re looking for an incentive to get your kid to read, you may want to take a look at KidsCash.

I saw this product on Breakfast Television, and I think it could be applied really well to help encourage kids to read.

You reward your child for reading by giving him “KidsCash,” printed kid-friendly coupons that look like money. You can dole out the KidsCash for each book read, or each page he reads, or for reading for a certain amount of time.

Here’s the twist: your child then spends the KidsCash to do something he really wants to do, like video-game time or TV time. Or he spends it on a toy, switching out with you for real money which he then takes to the toy store.

The KidsCash website has lots of ideas, including reward charts.

KidsCash comes in six different colours—they recommend a different colour for each child in the family—and it sells for $25 (plus tax and shipping) for a box of 250 coupons.

Related posts:
Using real money.
Create a reading reward chart.

So, I sent the KidsCash people an e-mail, asking them if I could see some samples of the cash or post a .jpg, but I haven’t heard back from them. I got tired of waiting and thought I’d post this anyway–I think I’ve got the idea. Meanwhile, my friendly little e-mail is probably sitting in their JunkMail box and they have no idea I’ve even e-mailed them. Another potential friendship scuppered by technology!

UPDATE: The nice people at KidsCash did get my message and they e-mailed me the above image of their coupon. Friendship has triumphed over technology! A happy ending.
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Dry-Erase Crayons

  • February 26, 2010 at 6:15 am
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Things that make you go “d’uh!”

This is one of those inventions that you wish you’d thought of.

Dry-erase crayons
. How good is that?
No mess, no smell, no drying out. But do they work? This is the best part – they really, really do work well.
The colours are deep and rich, and they write smoothly. Kind of like a cross between crayons and lipstick. Even on paper, which I don’t advise because they smudge, they are vibrant and smooth-writing.
Combine this product with the idea about using a plastic plate as a mini-whiteboard, and you’ve got yourself a fun literacy-building activity. That wipes right off.
The dry-erase crayons come in packs of eight, with an “E-Z Erase Mitt” (in Canada it’s an E-Zed Erase Mitt, which makes no sense but still wipes off just fine) and a built-in crayon sharpener.
I bet it won’t take long before you’re seeing them in classrooms and boardrooms. Fun! Crayola’s selling them here for $5.48 a pack. Incidentally, I just Googled “dry-erase crayons” and found out that Sargent also makes them.

Sorry if this article sounds like a commercial for Crayola. I’m not affiliated with them, I don’t get money from them – heck, I didn’t even get a free box of crayons, just two sample crayons (which everyone at the For the Love of Reading conference also got). I just happen to like this product. Still, the article is a bit gushy. I will try to curb my enthusiasm just a titch in future.

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Finger Puppet Book Bags

  • February 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm
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A little gem from the literacy conference.

It’s a knitted book bag, with finger puppets that adhere with snaps to the bag. A knitted string lets the child hang it around her neck and take it anywhere.

Each bag has a theme. For instance, the Ocean bag has a handpainted ocean scene, and it comes with a clownfish, a crab, a mermaid, an octopus, a sea turtle, a seal, a shark and a starfish.

The idea is that you put a book, or a couple of books, into the bag.
There’s a list of book suggestions for each bag. For the Ocean bag, they suggest Baby Beluga, by Raffi and Commotion in the Ocean, by Giles Andreae (and eight others).

Then, wherever your little reader goes, she carries an entire puppet show with her.

Interacting with literature is definitely a great way to get kids reading.

The bags are made in Bolivia by indigenous peoples; it’s a Fair Trade project, benefitting both countries and helping families in Bolivia earn a living wage.

You can purchase a bag, a product the owner calls 3 Bags Full, from her website.

And speaking of the owner – here she is. Her name is Sue Berlove, and boy, she is passionate about what she does. Do visit her website. For one thing, they have way better pictures of her bags than the one I’ve used here (taken myself, as if you didn’t know.)

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