Reviews for Educational

Cahootie Puts New Spin on Paper Fortune Teller Game

Cahootie

$5.99 each at Amazon.com

I remember making paper fortune tellers when I was young. For a couple of years it seemed to be the preferred activity among my friends. Many spare moments were spent paired up with someone happy to share their latest pyramid-shaped origami creation, and spread their words of wisdom. Now there’s a new spin on this old favorite and it’s called Cahootie. Cahootie enhances this experience by assigning a theme to each fortune teller, and by encouraging positive open-ended conversation with friends and family to naturally occur with each activity. Each Cahootie is pre-made — nicely designed using sturdy coated cardboard and adorned with vibrant illustrations and strategically placed words related to the assigned theme. My Cahootie is appropriately called “My Fab Family,” and encourages discussion among peers and family members about family activities and relationships. Each Cahootie comes with reusable stickers containing questions, such as, “what is your favorite family activity,” that kids can stick on to their fortune teller. There are also a few assignments, such as, “call your favorite uncle, and tell him why he’s so special to you.” The intended goals are to form positive connections, promote self-esteem and self-discovery — extremely important during the “tween” years. Cahootie’s physical design and the way one plays the game (spelling out the words your partner chooses by moving the Cahootie this way and that, opening the secret flaps, etc.), certainly resemble the game we all played. But the meaningful conversation-starter component is all new. Instead of discovering playful fortunes, your grandchild has the potential to discover so much more.

 

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Bananagrams: Portable Word Game That’s Faster and More Free-Form Than Scrabble

Bananagrams

$11.75 at Amazon.com

We recently picked up Bananagrams and are wondering why we didn’t join in on the fun sooner! I’ve never been a big Scrabble fan, partly because of the game’s slow pace. But this variation on the classic word game is a “bunch” of fun! Although Bananagrams doesn’t claim to be a form of Scrabble, it does contain some of the essential elements of the game — forming words using letter tiles and arranging them in crossword fashion. From there it takes off… fast! All players play independently at the same time, and that’s what keeps the pace going. No board is necessary — a table or floor space is all you need. Each player starts out choosing 21 tiles/letters (the “bunch”) and can immediately begin forming words and arranging them (and constantly re-arranging them if necessary), until his/her letters are used up. If you can’t use a letter, then you must say “Dump,” and discard that letter, taking 3 letters in return. But the game doesn’t end there. Once a player’s original 21 tiles are used, he/she must say “Peel,” and take a tile from the “bunch” of leftover tiles. At that time, all other players must also take a tile. This continues until there are fewer tiles in the “bunch” than there are players. The fact that the game is so portable — simply a bunch of small letter tiles in a canvas banana shaped bag — makes it easy to bring anywhere. And the fast, free-form style enables children to participate. Our kids are practicing their spelling, and at the same time, we’re all enjoying a fun game together. Invented by a family spanning three generations, it’s no wonder that Bananagrams is such a fantastic intergenerational activity!

 

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Sabu & Me: 7-Year-Old Author’s Children’s Book About Her Dog

Sabu & Me

$11.95 at Amazon.com

Sabu & Me has great appeal as a children’s book because its author is a child. 7-year-old Maura Lane tells of her relationship with her dog Sabu — from the day Maura arrived home from the hospital until now — in very simple terms and style. Since Sabu was a rescue dog, Maura has decided to donate profits from the book sales to PAWS Chicago, an organization dedicated to helping homeless pets. Kids and their parents will appreciate Maura’s expression of unconditional love for Sabu. Kids and family members who have dogs (or who have had dogs in the past) will identify with the story of how Sabu has always been there for Maura. Regardless of whether or not they have pets themselves, young children seem to universally enjoy stories about them. As we all know, animals, especially dogs, are adored — simply for being themselves. Sabu & Me’s one-sentence per page format allows for the book to either be read to a very young child, or for early readers to read it themselves. It begins with “When I arrived home from the hospital Sabu sniffed me,” and goes on to explain how from that point on, Sabu was right by Maura’s side as she learned to crawl, talk and walk, and how he has hugged her goodbye as she leaves for school, kept her company when she is sick, and snuggled with her at bedtime. The cheerful full-page illustrations by Hazel Mitchell nicely complement the story. Sabu and Me is an everyday kind of story that is easy to relate to and touches one’s heart.

 

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SET — Incredible Pattern Recognition & Visual Perception Card Game for All Ages

SET

$8.20 at Amazon.com

SET has become a family obsession. It’s a superb game, and we all love it. What’s so unique is that it can be challenging for adults, but young children can easily learn how to play and be just as good at it (if not better at it!) as family members of any age. For instance, our 5-year-old daughter is without a doubt, the SET champion of our family, usually putting us all to shame. The card game’s design and rules are simple and elegant, allowing you to exercise your pattern matching and visual perception skills in a serious way, while also having loads of fun! The deck has 81 cards, and you can lay out either 12 or 15 cards at a time. The object is to find sets of 3 cards that have patterns made up of things that are either all the same, or all different. There are 3 colors (red, green and purple), 3 types of shading (outlined, striped or solid), 3 shapes (ovals, diamonds and squiggles), and either 1, 2 or 3 shapes on each card — all of these attributes combining to make possible sets. These rules may sound complicated, but once you start playing you catch on quickly. What makes the game even more fun is that everyone plays against each other (and you can have many playing at the same time). Whoever finds a set first yells “set,” and play stops until that person takes the cards making up the set. Then three new cards are laid down, and so on, until all cards are laid down and there are no more remaining sets. If someone yells “set” but it is not actually a set (this happens often, at least for the adults), a point/card is deducted. And whoever has the most cards in the end wins. What makes this game even better is its portability. Take it on trips, to visits with friends and family — anywhere! It’s a fantastic intergenerational game. Play it with your grandkids and you will be amazed by their ability and also by how much fun you can have playing it together!

 

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Goosie Cards — Personalized Custom Flash Cards that Teach and Bring Family Closer Together

Goosie Cards

$16 and up at Amazon.com

Goosie Cards are a great product for several reasons. First, they’re extremely high quality. Large, durable, glossy lamination enables them to withstand a fair amount of bending and biting (it happens occasionally). Next, they’re educational. Using a combination of visual images and printed words, they help babies and toddlers with speech development, preschoolers with pre-reading skills, and young school-aged children with early reading. But what makes Goosie Cards most interesting is that you can personalize each card with your own family photos, thus creating your own custom set of memorable photo flash cards to present to your grandchild. Since they are high quality, in addition to providing a fun learning experience, a set of personalized Goosie Cards have the potential to become a keepsake of sorts, that grandchildren can use to remind themselves of you and other family members, friends, pets, vacation memories, etc. Of course, we love the simple yet effective way Goosie Cards help to strengthen intergenerational family connections. It’s easy to upload photos to their website, and Goosie Cards are produced and delivered quickly. And, if you don’t want to personalize your set, Goosie Cards has a fantastic library of stock photography to choose from to design what they call “Chic” flash cards. Or, you can even purchase a gift certificate so parents can make their own set for your grandchild. You may also appreciate the fact that Goosie Cards were invented by a new mom who saw a unique opportunity to enhance early learning — as well as the fact that they’re made in the USA. Another classic product with a new twist, and executed perfectly!

 

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FeltTales Felt Story Boards: A Simple Classic Toy that Encourages Imaginative Play & Story Telling

FeltTales

$19.95 at Amazon.com

We always appreciate manufacturers who take a beloved, tried-and-true product, and revitalize it, introducing it to a new generation of children who will appreciate it just as much as their parents and grandparents did. FeltTales felt story boards are just this type of simple, classic toy, yet they have a modern look and feel with themes that should appeal to both boys and girls ages 3 and up. In addition to the “Pups in the Park” theme, shown here, you can choose boards ranging from “Pretty Princess,” and “Let’s Go to the Ballet,” for your granddaughters, to “Dinasaur Days,” and “Pirates at Shipwreck Cove,” for your grandsons. On the back of each story board is a “story starter,” in the form of a few rhyming verses regarding characters and theme, to get creative juices flowing if necessary. Each FeltTales story board comes with at least 19 moveable felt pieces that feel great to the touch as only felt can. A bonus is the portability of FeltTales, each having its own travel handle and an attached plastic zip-lock pouch to carry the pieces — a perfect activity to bring to grandparents’ homes (or to a restaurant), and to play with together!

 

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Whistlefritz Adentro y Afuera Total Immersion Spanish DVD for Kids Ages 2-7

Whistlefritz Adentro y Afuera

$19.99 at Amazon.com

By now it’s well known that the best time to learn a second language (such as Spanish) is during early childhood, and that the best method of instruction is total immersion — with no English spoken and no translation used. Developed by a mom who wanted to teach her children Spanish effectively, Whistlefritz Adentro y Afuero (Inside and Out) is the latest in a series of total immersion beginning Spanish DVD’s for kids ages 2-7. Extremely well-produced and instantly engaging, these DVD’s could compete for airtime against any existing educational TV show for young children. Whistlefritz uses a proven Blues Clues-like style, placing an engaging live host against a backdrop of simple animation, with Fritzi, a mischievous mouse, as her sidekick, and live (adorable) children to interact with them. The actors speak slowly and clearly, and, when appropriate, representations of the word or phrase being taught are shown on the screen. Your grandchild will learn the words for many common foods, the numbers 1-10, etc., not to mention the phrases that make every day simple interactions possible. For instance, Donde Esta (Where is)?, Muy Bien (Very Good), and many more. A bonus — the real children throughout the DVD, in scenes shot at a playground and eating various common foods, are familiar for kids, helping them realize that even though their native languages are different, they all enjoy the same kinds of things. And, with superbly entertaining and educational instruction such as this Whistlefritz DVD, it’s entirely possible for them to communicate with one another! In addition to Adentro y Afuera, Whistlefritz offers two other beginner DVD’s — Los Animales (Animals), and Vamos a Jugar (Let’s Play).

 

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New Twig Wooden Building Blocks Use Renewable Materials for Open Ended Creative Play

Twig Building Block Set by Fat Brain Toys

$49.95 at Amazon.com

Twig wooden building blocks, new from Fat Brain Toys, demonstrate why a product doesn’t need to use the latest technology in order to be the latest sensation. Sometimes a new twist on an old favorite — in this case, wooden blocks — does the trick! The set comes with 72 pieces of all shapes and dimensions that can be mixed and mingled to fit together in countless ways — each way different from the other. My son, who is no stranger to building and construction toys, exclaims, “I can make something different each time and I never know what it will be!” There are so many developmental skills being used and refined with use of this toy — logic and problem solving, artistic expression, visual/spatial ability, sensory awareness, and more. Twig would even appeal to some adults as well, as the pieces are constructed much like the way a brain teaser wooden puzzle is, except there is no wrong answer — only open-ended creativity! They are precision cut and constructed from high quality, highly renewable materials, and painted tastefully in muted primary colors. Twig makes a wonderful gift, and can be passed on and on. Ages 3 and up.

 

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Meanings in Motion Life Skills Card Deck Brings Families Closer Together

Meanings in Motion

$15.95 at Amazon.com

We all lead busy lives, and today’s kids are no exception — often running from school and work to sports and other activities, then rushing home to do homework, have dinner, and hopefully get enough sleep… only to do it all again the next day. Weekends and school vacations are sometimes the only time family members really have to relax, play, spend time together, and… talk. Talks don’t always have to be serious, and sometimes just plain silliness is the best way to connect. Other times (and I suspect we don’t use these moments nearly enough) are great for discussion, and getting to know each other — even if you think you already know all there is to know. Meanings in Motion life skills card deck is a new activity developed by a social worker who counsels children of all ages. It’s basically a tool to help us all — regardless of age — to do some self-reflecting. The card deck is actually a fun way to remind us of some important qualities and life skills we should use and exhibit throughout life. Each card prompts us to ask ourselves, and each other, questions relating to these practices (and how they make us feel), and we respond to these questions as honestly and accurately as possible. Of course, the depth of responses can vary radically depending on the age of the family member, but what’s so unique and refreshing is that grandparents, parents, children, and other family members or friends, are all on the same playing level — and there are no wrong answers! One great place to start with a younger child is the “feelings” card, the illustrated side featuring simple smiley faces, silly faces, sad faces, confused faces… you get the picture. The questions on the back include: “why do we have feelings,” “what purpose do they serve,” “what is one feeling you struggle with the most,” and “can you have more than one feeling at a time.” Some of the other life skills highlighted in the cards are: integrity, gratitude, honesty, compassion, self-esteem, positive thinking, forgiveness, building boundaries, balance, empathy, creativity, and peace (a state of calm). Now you see why this is a great activity for all family members of any age. We can all use these reminders, and talking to each other about how these qualities come into our lives can only bring us closer together. In addition to carefully crafted questions, each card also includes suggested activities. For instance, the “positive thinking” card suggests limiting exposure to negativity, choosing to be around positive people, and avoiding negative gossip and bad news. It also suggests reading inspirational books and poems, and re-telling stories that you’ve found to be uplifting. Another thing that makes Meanings in Motion successful is that each card is so beautifully designed. The sturdy, laminated, oversized cards feature colorful, whimsical, and often comical photographs and illustrations to represent the idea each card is meant to convey. For instance, the card dealing with “diversity” features a full tray of donuts, all decorated in their own unique way, yet all looking equally delicious. Meanings in Motion is a different kind of gift, for sure. But it has the potential to help family members of all ages with their own individual self-development, while at the same time bringing everyone closer together.

 

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Published Letters from Children to President Obama: Great Gift for Grandkids, Parents or Anyone!

Dear President Obama: Letters of Hope from Children Across America

$17.95 at Amazon.com

Children in America were well aware that history was made in November 2008, but their thoughts and reactions were bound to get lost among the flurry of news reports and adult conversations. That’s why it’s refreshing to read this new collection of children’s letters to President Obama, complete with hopes, fears, well-wishes, illustrations, and expressions of downright elation. Children ages 4 – 18 from all areas of the U.S. are represented and have a lot to say. Some of the letters made me smile — kids have been know to do that! For instance, I got a chuckle out of “Have fun at the White House,” “Do you believe in ghosts,” and much more. Other letters made me realize just how aware kids are of what our country’s issues are. Questions like, “Is the White House Eco-Friendly,” and “P.S. I’m 8 years old and I want to change the world. How Can I,” are just a sampling of some of the thoughts going through kids’ minds. 200 letters and drawings were collected by journalists Bruce Kluger and David Tabatsky immediately following the election. Linda Ellerbee wrote the Foreword, a nice addition that does not outshine the very real sentiment expressed by our youngest, yet extremely active and concerned citizens. Letters to President Obama makes a great gift for your grandkids, but adults will equally appreciate it.

 

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