Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Everybody Focus!

Every once in a while I'll get the chance to review something that I wouldn't have even known existed, and that actually makes a difference. Those reviews make me feel like my writing has an impact - helping other families discover something that solves frustrating problems feels great. Our problem? We have a seven year old. A very smart second grader who has issues with wandering focus, forgetfulness, inattention, all that stuff that makes teaching super fun. It also makes me, as her teacher, start obsessing. Is this something we should dive into and get testing for? Or is she, you know, seven? Impossible to tell, and I'm stuck fighting with her, getting frustrated and worried, and wondering what other tricks I have up my sleeve. Then a product review appears, offering to use brain power to improve focus, and I was intrigued. Over the review period we found that Madison could improve her attention with Forbrain from Sound for Life LTD.



Forbrain Sound for Life LTD


When I was teaching music, one of the things we worked on with our kindergarten students was getting into their proper singing voice (head voice). We used vocal exploration to allow them to feel that space in their heads, and then, once they were there, we could begin working on pitch matching and in tune singing. Some kids took to this instantly, others were more challenging. One of the tricks we used for the students who weren't quite getting it was a curved piece of plumber's pipe. The students held it like a telephone, sang into one end, and the other end focused the sound into their ear. Often, it was shocking - they really "got" what they sounded like and soon could manipulate their voice to match what they wanted to hear.

This reminded me of those days, albeit in a much more technologically advanced way. The device looks like a phone headset, looping around the ears with a speaker for the mouth. But it's not merely directing the sound. This gets into the science of the brain. The dynamic filter enhances specific frequencies of speech and constantly surprises the brain to increase memory, attention and sensory processing. Forbrain corrects the way you hear your own voice leading to better speech production and increased confidence. 

In a nutshell, here's how it works:
  • Your voice is processed by an alternating filter and then transmitted through bone conduction.
  • The filter instructs the brain to be more conscientious with auditory processing and sensory integration.
  • Communication with speech fluency, pronunciation, sound discrimination and rhythm becomes effectively lucid.
  • Improves your working short-term memory, which in turn impacts reading and writing skills.
Very science-y. And neuroscience is fascinating to me, so I was getting really into watching the videos and reading about it on the site. However, all of this researched and developed technology and science is just that - a piece of technology. How did it work in application? Did it deliver?

In our experience, it's not a one use fix (and doesn't claim to be). You need to give it time. They suggest (for kids) fifteen minute increments twice a day for about ten weeks (an intensive session would be twenty minutes three times a day). The first time Madison put it on she was definitely weirded out by the experience. She neither liked it nor disliked it. She wasn't really sure what it was doing. But we used it during her spelling time (her Achilles heel, if you will) and again when she did some reading to me (her reading is actually quite good, but now that her decoding is secure, we're working on expression and fluency, as well as recall).

Over time, I would say that yes, we see a difference. We see a difference in her focus, in her working memory, and in her attention. A full session, as mentioned, would be ten weeks, and we've been using it about half that time.



Forbrain Sound for Life LTD


Overall, I'm excited that we got a chance to try such a fascinating product, and we will keep using it in our school time. Reagan, at 5 years old, also wants a chance to get in on this, and although the set doesn't quite fit yet (recommended age is four and up, but smaller heads do take a little adjusting), I think it may help her speech clarity. I'm glad we have it in our home to boost our brain and work at our optimal potential!

Forbrain Sound for Life LTD


It's been interesting to see how others are using this in their homes!

Forbrain {Sound For Life Ltd Review}


Crew Disclaimer


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Even Better Mess Free Art!

When I was first introduced to mess free tempera paint this past spring, Madison was hooked, but a bit limited by the six basic colors. We love the Thin Stix and wanted more colors so we were excited to receive Thin Stix Creativity Pack from The Pencil Grip, Inc. to review this time. Not only that, but both girls have gotten even more into art, desperate to paint all the time, so this was just perfect.

I am not a visual artist and don't usually have the pull to create. I am also someone who struggles with everyday clean up, so when the girls ask if they can paint, I hem and haw and stall and negotiate because the amount of clean up it would add. I would so much opt for a paint night or a day at art camp, no matter how much it cost, if it meant that I didn't have paint splatters on my table, sink, and clothes. (Full disclosure: I've done this. The art center that they go to has one day sessions during the year to line up with the random day off from school calendar, and I've sent them just to get a good art fix to last them a while.)


Thin Stix Creativity Pack


These sticks look like markers (and work like markers) but are actually solid tempera paint. Madison really loved the first set we received a few months ago, but she was admittedly bummed at the limited colors and frustrated that, unlike liquid paint, the answer wasn't just a color mix away. This set is so varied that the girls aren't limited at all. Not only do they have the colors they need, but the "colors don't mix" thing works for them, because now they can layer colors without inadvertently ending up with a big brown blob. The girls love the neons and the metallics especially. The metallics were great for adding that final touch.

Thin Stix Creativity Pack


Thin Stix Creativity Pack

Although both girls initially focused on taking some of the small canvases I had left over from a co-op class, both wanted to take these off paper and see how well they worked. They really like painting unfinished wood (usually pieces that come in a kit, although they do ask for the random letters and designs they see when we're shopping) , so we grabbed a few letters and shapes from Target and I let them go.








Clean up is amazingly easy. The most I have done is a table wipe, and although the girls are notorious for getting their art all over their clothes, everything, even the RED, has washed out with no extra effort on my part.

And now, the best part, (for me, anyway) is that these are available at BJ's! I don't have to order online to get the big pack, I can pick them up on our weekly trip, and this pack of 24 colors is only 19.99! We will definitely keep our art drawer stocked so I don't need to hem and haw when the girls are itching to paint!


The Pencil Grip, Inc.


Nothing inspires me more than reading how other homeschoolers made these work in their own lives!

Thin Stix Creativity Pack {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}



Crew Disclaimer



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Magic Stories for Comprehension

Madison is a great reader for second grade, and she's getting beyond the point of phonics based reading programs, and more into comprehension programs. We've been supplementing our reading curriculum with The Magic Stories from Allsaid & Dunn, LLC, publishers of The Reading Game and authors of the Wordly Wise series, which I was very happy to get the chance to review.

The Magic Stories is a follow up to The Reading Game, though you do not have to have used The Reading Game to enjoy this program. The Magic Stories are downloadable pdf format, optimized for iPad or computer and can also be printed (which is usually our preference for schoolwork). We can continue to build Madison's confidence and comprehension (and creative writing skills !) while tracking her fluency progress with the free running record sheets.

The Magic Stories {Allsaid & Dunn, LLC. Reviews}


The Magic Stories is a set of six stories directed toward children reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. Each story is fun to read and usually teaches a lesson of some kind. They also come with their own set of “Naughty 40 words” to be printed out on 4 sheets of paper or card stock and cut into flash cards. Madison LOVED the idea of "naughty words".  These naughty words are merely words that readers typically struggle with. The cards and list are to keep on hand to review before you read each story, and we added them to her daily routine, just like we used to do with her sight words.

The Magic Stories {Allsaid & Dunn, LLC. Reviews}


Each book is around twenty pages. We printed them in black and white, and Madison enjoyed coloring in each book to mark our completion. Every book comes with four sets of worksheets that cover reading comprehension and creative writing exercises.. The activities include:
  1. Maze (recalling the story is what will lead you on the right path)
  2. Finish the sentence
  3. Imagine
  4. Finish the story


The Magic Stories {Allsaid & Dunn, LLC. Reviews}
The Magic Stories {Allsaid & Dunn, LLC. Reviews}

You can move through these books at whatever pace makes sense to you. We covered one book and all the comprehension worksheets in about a week, took a week off, and did a second book in the course of another week. I chose to do this second book during a week where Madison's regular reading program was focusing on poetry, just to give her some prose to keep her skills up. The stories are really varied - you have fairy tale inspired stories, fable style stories, stories from other cultures, silly stories, and stories intended to teach a moral. Madison liked some better than others, but she enjoyed them all.

One thing we really enjoyed about this program was the opportunity to use it however we wanted to. There is no "how to" file, and there is no "suggested schedule". You have the materials, and you, as the teacher, get to decide how best to use it. If you love the idea of using running records to assess your reader, they're available. If you want to discuss the stories, using the worksheets as a guide, go for it. I love that there wasn't really a "right way" to use this - to be honest, I use all programs in my own way anyway - and I didn't feel like a renegade by decided to skip the true and false worksheet.

It's not a full comprehension program, but it's a fun little supplement for those seven and eight year olds who love to read!


The Magic Stories {Allsaid & Dunn, LLC. Reviews}


Crew Disclaimer




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Creative Solutions to Everything

I am a total Pinterest junkie. Before Pinterest existed I was a total magazine junkie. I pin to boards now, I clipped and filed then.

I love pretty pictures of organized cabinets and creative solutions and systems that look like they are ready to make my life as amazingly easy as reading the article. I scroll and I pin and I search and I pin and after about 15 minutes, I'm totally calm, knowing my organized life is just a few completed pins away.

It can be horrifyingly expensive to get custom storage from a contractor or an expert, or it can be as easy as getting some dollar store stackable bins.

It can be easy as arranging tension rods, or a little more complicated, like building collapsible shelves in your trunk.

It's one of those soothing things to me. When I am overwhelmed with life and everything in it, I like to look at those pretty pictures of things all things organized and clean and it just clears all the clutter out of my mind.

What's funny is that I really don't have to do most of these things. I do some, of course, typically the easy and cheap ones. But I actually get less satisfaction from doing these things than collecting them. When I do them, there's the possibility for failure, for disappointment when it doesn't work out as planned, and for frustration. When I look at them, it's nothing but possibility.

My creative solution to stress? Looking at creative solutions.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Underachieving Halloween

There are parents, some of whom I know personally, who take Halloween very seriously. Their costumes are creative, and handcrafted and totally original. They have sorted treats according to diet requirements, catering to peanut allergies, red dye issues, and gluten sensitivity. They have healthy, spooky and aesthetically impressive snacks ready for the school festivities, which required foot painting, slicing and cornstarch gluing. Their pumpkins are works of art. Their family has created an amazing trunk or treat experience with coordinating costumes, a full set worthy of a professional theater production, and an act to match.

The worst of these moms are the ones who aren't obnoxious about it. We can all laugh at the humble bragging, faux modest, super show-offy moms. It's the mom who just honestly loves Halloween enough to make spooky meals all through October, or the mom who will figure out a way to turn herself into Te Fiti to match her daughter's Moana because she loves to dress up (and her hubby has no issue baring his chest as Maui). It's the mom whose house you visit, and without her saying a word, you realize that every single kid can take a treat without having to worry. She didn't give you a pitying look and a sanctimonious answer. She just did it, because it didn't bother her.

I have friends, good friends, who fit into all these categories. A mom showed me her daughter's Renaissance book character costume, asking for my opinion on the final touches. I was blown away, and she quickly said that she'd sourced most of the pieces from the thrift store, so the only sewing she was doing was the alterations. And the embellishments. And the little touches.

And I looked at my store bought Pinkie Pie, which Reagan begged for, and felt ashamed. This thing was cheaply made, thin, and too big in some places, too small in others, with a plastic mask. She was embodying the total commericial aspect of Halloween - store bought, ill fitting, a mainstream character. Madison, even though she was a creative, invented character (a fan-fiction style addition to Descendants as Halley, daughter of Captain Hook), her costume was a store bought pirate costume. They don't coordinate anymore. And unless I am personally attending a costume party, I don't dress up.

We don't have trick or treat visitors in our neighborhood, but when we did, my treats came from the big mixed bags at Target. I'm more of a "wow, I drew a jack o'lantern face on a cup of oranges or wrapped a juice box in a bandage like a mummy and I feel amazingly Pinteresty" mom when it comes to the parties. I didn't make an individual treat bag for each girl at dance class. Our candy goes into the generic orange pumpkins. Last year, when I was asked to fill in a space at a last minute trunk or treat, our car barely qualified as decorated. Frankly, I was happy I got the trunk cleaned OUT.

But here's the thing. My girls LOVE Halloween and they think I am totally amazing at it. They are wearing their costumes as often as I'll allow them and screeching with glee over how they look. They think the snack packs of mandarin oranges and juice boxes are amazing. They couldn't get over how much they loved the very concept of participating in a trunk or treat. It's not that they don't care if other moms put in more effort. I truly don't think they even notice. A costume is a costume. A treat is a treat.

So when I go all out for Christmas, wrapping up gifts for the American Girls to open, coordinating wrapping paper, getting different coordinating holiday outfits for every event and generally sinking into the whole month of December, don't think I'm trying to show you up. I love all those little touches and I do them for me as much as I do them for the girls. Kids don't feel like Christmas is any less exciting if their American Girl doll doesn't have her own presents to open.

And when you effortlessly show me up on Halloween, I'll know that my kids are just thrilled that it's on the calendar, no matter how much I put into it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Comfortable with YOUR Choices

I swear, in the days of crowd sourcing on Facebook, there is absolutely no way to ever feel totally confident in your decisions.

Recently, I decided that I was going to break with my phone upgrading pattern, and make the switch from Android to iPhone. I'd thought about it for a while, balancing the totally frivolous reasons (it would make it easier to share dance videos) with the good parenting reasons (it would allow me to be a much more effective administrator on Madison's iPod account). I looked at what apps I'd end up losing and the inconveniences caused by switching when I'd been a loyal Samsung customer since my very first smart phone. I looked at all the ease of moving to the phone who seemed to have a monopoly on plenty of apps. I balanced serious with frivolous, looked at prices, talked to Adam about what would make more sense.

I ordered the phone, found the transfer and set up shockingly easy (even coming from a competing platform) and almost instantly was swamped with people who both thought that a) I had made the best decision that I would ever make to 2) I would live to regret it long before I would be able to get another upgrade.

I feel like this is true with everything. If we want to get our new furniture we should a) go to this store and only this store! b) never get anything from this store because they are the worst. And it's the same store.

Appliances. Furniture. Technology. Planners. Curriculum. Cars. Banking. Services. Restaurants.

If you look for opinions, you will get plenty of this is the only and never ever and what gets totally infuriating is that you will get a contrasting opinion for every single provider.

 I kind of get it. If you had a really good or a really bad experience, you want to make sure that people know. And if you have a normal, middle of the road, perfectly adequate experience, you need to convince yourself that you made the right decision and things were absolutely amazing. You don't want to show that you made a decision that you potentially spent a lot of money on and have had a little bit of worried buyer's remorse. Sure, you've only used one roofer, but man, he was the best roofer in the world. I get it. I've done it. We hired a stone mason to do our paths and patio a few years ago. It was horrifyingly expensive (although we did get three quotes and did our research, and they were on track, masonry is just expensive). It took several weeks, and there were days that the guys didn't show up because he'd pulled them to another job. The yard was ripped up by the equipment. There were days we were actually pretty annoyed by them. However, the end product was beautiful, and when people ask if we know anyone who can do stone work, we recommend them full force, talking about how amazing they were. Best place. Hands down.

Do your research. Ask for opinions. But overall, the choice is yours and you need to feel confident that neither the best nor the worst will be true.
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