Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Telephones that Help You Read and Speak Socially - First Toys Are Tools Giveaway

DOES: helps you listen to yourself and your friend more clearly as you read to each other, choral reading helps you remember what you've read, lets your child pretend to order room service  or a gluten-free pizza with fresh basil and soy mozzarella cheese
INVEST: $16-$17
TOOLS: Remember to Learn (new), Foment the Love of Language, More Make-Believe Please

The first time I saw a Whisperphone, I knew it would be mine.

When you see it, you may think it's very low-tech but to me, it is a product born from very advanced thinking.

When I entered the fourth grade, something happened.  Reading comprehension became really hard.  For our weekly reading test, I would have to read a passage and answer just four questions at the end.  I was lucky if I got two correct.

To save myself from a good beating (oh yes, my parents were very very old school), I literally forged their signature on these tests every single week for the whole entire school year.  I really don't know how I got away with it.  I think perhaps I just got a beating come report card time.  Either way, I really struggled that year.  I could read the words but for some reason, I'd be lost by the time I reached the middle.

I never liked reading and still don't love it all that much and don't quite know how I made it through college and grad school without Kindle apps however, I'm quite done with all of that. Phew.

But not for Number 1.  I see similar struggles that might even surpass mine but don't worry, there will be no beatings here.

#1 wears this as part of his homework routine

So I got the Whisperphone.  For those of you who read my old blog, you will know that I'm a huge fan.  (See this post for additional info)  You basically talk into it because one end of the "phone" is at your lips.  You immediately get that sound feedback straight to your ear.  It's not as loud as you standing in front of a loudspeaker but rather, the sound is pointed and it's pointed straight at your ear. But what is best about the Whisperphone is the sleek shape and ability to rest on your head so your hands can be free.

The minute you start speaking into it, you will immediately want to lower your voice but a softer voice is even better.  I know this because even though I yell at my kids a lot, I know they hear me and respond to me so much better when I speak in a calmer gentler voice.  Sometimes he tells me that he doesn't need it but then I ask him why would he ever get the regular engine when he can get the race car super performance engine?  And that is what this phone does for him and I constantly remind him that it's an "express train to his brain."  Yes, it is corny but he is seven and I can get away with that for now.

I don't really know the science behind it but I know that he can drown out outside noises better with it on and because he's highly distracted, that's not just a huge plus, it is just plain necessary.  Either way, despite my lack of technical knowledge, listening-to-yourself-thing has got to be helpful because even I frequently say things out loud to flesh things out whether I'm proofreading (my great weakness) or reading something hard (my great weakness' twin). So I actually borrow Number 1's Whisperphone even though it's not my size. They have a bigger size for big kids and adults but why would I ever spend any money on me?

(see bottom of the post about the Social Thinking experience in relation to this video)

Everything is Better When You Have a Friend

So we have the Whisperphone already (actually two- one for school) but now lo and behold, I see something even cooler.  There is now something called a Whisperphone Duet.  But why make two phones connected to each other?  I figure the makers were thinking like this: everything is better when you have a friend.

Everything tastes better when you eat with a friend.  Drinking wine or coffee is way more fun with a friend.  Scooting and biking is more fun for sure.  I would say running is better with a friend but I lack in this experience.  However, I can say that eating vegetable crudites is definitely more fun with a friend.  So why can't reading be more fun with a friend?

To learn more about hearing and reading I contacted Lois Heymann, author of The Sound of Hope, who along with Rosie O'Donnell, was able to cast a huge spotlight on Auditory Processing Disorder through Tara Parker Pope's post in Well, a blog in the New York Times.* I had always thought about how much Number 1 registers when he hears and reads aloud but that article really made me question it more.  I actually haven't stopped questioning it and so I decided to go to someone who knew about about hearing and learning.   Lois, who is also the Director of the Auditory Processing Center at the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York City told me a million interesting things about reading with friends, otherwise known as "choral reading," a chief feature of the Duet.

Lois likes choral reading a lot and uses it often in her practice.  "Hearing everybody around you reading and making sounds helps you to make those sounds too," said Lois who believes that this helps children with their auditory sequential memory which she explained as remembering things in a sequence. "To me, it's part of reading.  It's part of early literacy."

"It’s like singing together.  I like singing together.  I like reading together," said Lois.  I connected with this thought right away because I have been doing something like this with Number 1 but not knowing why.  I had been asking Number 1 to put a little oomph to his reading, almost asking him to speak like a news anchor.  I love how radio and t.v. reporters use tone and stress to hammer out a point. You can't forget what they say.  

Additionally, about choral reading and keeping up with other kids, Lois added, "it gives you the rhythm and rhythm is very very important in both reading and music, of course, but definitely in reading."   Okay! So this is why my darling Number 1 must like poetry more and how much he has really started to love singing.  When he sings, he can pronounce multi-syllabic words and tongue-twisting sentences like he made them up himself.

Reading is my greatest weakness and yet I'm sure I could listen to her talk about it all day long.  She enlightened me on many things but one that stuck out was something I was not thinking to do with the Duet and that me reading to Number 1 with it myself.  Of course I thought to use it for play with him but not for reading with him, somehow I thought that would be for school.  She stressed the importance of reading to your child even if he can read by himself now.  And that is the most interesting part: there are many benefits to reading to your child who has already started reading on his own.  It's too much to talk about here.  Hopefully I can come back to it after I've read Lois' book.  But based on our conversations, it sounds like every family has a lot to gain from her insight.  I seriously thought I was doing the right thing by making him read to me every night.  While I'm sure it doesn't put me in the Parents' Hall of Shame, I think we've been missing out on something big.  But now, we know better and have the Duet to help us break from our routine!

Here is yet another confession.  It's kind of crazy but despite the benefits to reading it has, I love the Duet mostly because it is just plain social fun.  I told my kids to read to each other with the Duet to see what they'd do and then Number 1 went to his top bunk while Number 2 went on the bottom bunk to read to Number 1!  It really is cool how it stretches.  You can purchase attachments to make it longer and I've been told that they are working on an attachment to make the Duet include more partners.   Cool! I'd love to see a Quintet!   In the meantime, we'll be fooling around with our Duet in whichever direction the wind blows our fancy.  **Somedays it will be the communication device between Bunk #1 and Bunk #2 and on other days, we may pretend ordering Chinese food from our favorite takeout place nearby - hey wait a minute, that's more reading!  See, I told you it was cool.

THE GIVEAWAY:   Five Whisperphone Duets Shipped to You Free

To celebrate my cool find, Harebrain Inc.,the makers of the Whisperphone Duet will generously give away FIVE Duets to lucky winners of my very first giveaway.  It's early here folks so your chances are good!  To enter, make a comment about how you see the Whisperphone Duet being used or tell us about kids reading together or about reading to your child.   If you have used the Duet, tell us what you think.  (additional note added 12/16/11- I want to be clear. Five are being given away so there will be five winners winning one Duet each.)

Bonus entries:
  • Become a member of this blog
  • Tweet about this giveaway once a day @toysaretools counts as one entry.  Here is the tweet:   Win: Phones That Make Reading a Blast #giveaway from @toysaretools ends 12/17  http://tinyurl.com/7lzxb8f
The giveaway is open until Saturday, December 17th, 2011 at 11:59 PM, Hawaii-Aleutian Time (HAT - 10 hours behind GMT; 5 hours behind EST until Daylight Saving changes)  Why HAT?  Why not?  It is first U.S. state I stepped foot in when my family left Korea to live in New York City.  One day I'll be back!

I will randomly pick FIVE winners at random.org, alert you by email, and announce the winners at the foot of this post.  And to my readers in Russia, Germany, Korea, and anywhere else, Whisperphone will even send it to you and will pay for the shipping!  Aren't they fabulous? You could possibly even get it before Christmas!  (Please remember that if you comment on this blog, I need to be able to see your email address easily, so if you sign in as "Anonymous" or through a blogger account that doesn't have your email then you must leave your email in your comment in order to be included for the drawing. (Same applies for entry via becoming a member)

Here is one way that people feel safer about leaving email addresses in their comment.
ex. toysaretools (at) gmail (dot) com

Good luck to everyone and thank you for continuing to read Toys are Tools.  If by chance, you don't win, you can always order them from Whisperphone.com, or check the site for the nearest retailer.  Lakeshore Learning Materials, a store I will only go to with a predetermined amount of cash because I don't trust myself with the plastic way of paying, is now carrying Whisperphone products too.  If you give it to your child for the holidays, maybe they will not know that it can be used for academic purposes.   Why spoil the fun?

Disclaimer:  Every Whisperphone I own was purchased by me however the Whisperphone Duet was submitted by Harebrain to Toys are Tools for review. There were no obligations to write a post.  Additionally, this post has no relation to the advertisement you see above.

* Sometimes, you read a blog post and it takes to to a new level of thinking as a parent. Maybe one of mine can do that for you someday in the meantime.... If your child has a learning disability or ADHD, take a look at this post by Tara Parker-Pope whom I've followed since her Personal Health column at the Wall Street Journal.   This was very inspiring and I pursue #1's knack for science (not inherited from me for sure) with the same hopes for building confidence.

** This might become its own blog post but I need to strongly recommend the social component of this tool.  As you can see in the first video, this little guy does not know what the other person knows on the other end knows. That is why I have to continually ask him questions because he is not giving me enough information because he is assuming I know too much as if I could read his mind.   Sometimes, kids get into trouble because they are not thinking about what you are thinking.  I learned about this through a curriculum called Social Thinking.  It's an excellent program.

Photo of Whisperphone Duet: courtesy of Harebrain Inc.

NOTE:   Winners have been announced.


  1. Came here from the SPD listserv. What a great product for my son! I'll definitely be signing up for your site and FB and twitter :) I hope we win but at least if we don't, it's in our price range :)

  2. Emily (erwtaylor at yahoo dot com)December 13, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    I would love to try this with my speech delayed son...and maybe it would be good for his older brother too who never seems to know when his voice is too loud!

  3. OMG what a cool invention, my two boys are always driven by distraction,and this toy just might help them to communicate and conect better. I hope to win. Thanks for the opportunity.
    PS: this would be great to use in class when having to do something with a partner and there are 30 kids in the class.

  4. this is a test comment

  5. This would've great for my loud sOn; and I work at a nonprofit inclusive nursery school.
    Friendofinwoodhillpark at yahoo dot con

  6. The Whisperphone Duet sounds like a great tool to encourage focused interaction with another child. Also, I love the idea of choral reading. Makes intuitive sense.

  7. Love this! The boy has always done better talking on the phone. ;-)

  8. I can see this being a great way to encourage kids of different ages to play/read together - my 2 year old loves to pretend to talk on the phone, and my 7 year old loves to read, but hates reading out loud. What a great concept! poppetbaby (at) gmail (dot) com

  9. hello everyone,
    thanks for entering the contest. don't forget to 1-join as a member of this blog to another entry as well as to 2- like us on Facebook (link is above and in the post) Good luck everyone!

  10. Interesting. Our son prefers to read out loud as opposed to silently. I bet this would be useful in helping his comprehension, especially if we read together. Diana thaidi94@yahoo.com

  11. It is a great device for my son who has a speech delay. He is distracted by noise easily. It can help him to concentrate and communicate with other children. jaehyun817@naver.com

  12. This is very cool! I can definintely see the positives from this for both my kids of many levels! Would love to win!!!

  13. dkcanning at yahoo dot comDecember 14, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    This is the same Debbie as above.

  14. Just found your site through a yahoo list and love it. Also, would love the phone. I am following you now. mmstangerjunk (at) comcast (dot) net

  15. I liked you on FB, too mmstangerjunk (at) comcat (dot) net Thx for second chance to win

  16. I would love the phone for my son who has cerebral palsy and motor planning issues. He is beginning to learn to self correct without speech prompts and it would be great for him to hear his own words back immediately.

  17. I love these videos. Consider me entered!

  18. love it . never too early to start.

  19. As an ESL teacher, I often see kids who are new to the country so afraid to talk, it's actually been labelled "the silent period." I think this would be a great way to do some pairwork activities to boost confidence in speaking out loud.

  20. SR and anyone else: please leave your email address in the comment box to qualify, your blogger page does not contain any way to contact you. Thanks!

  21. My 3 and 5 year old would love Whisperphone! They can work on their verbal communications while having fun. What a great pretend play and practical toy. Hope I win! lisalisakim@yahoo.com

  22. I loved the whisperphone! My children would enjoy it very much, not just to interact but also to read, thanks for the videos!

  23. forgot to post my email address: englishsilvia@yahoo.com

  24. dear anonymous of two posts ago,
    you need to leave an email address somewhere in the comments box to enter.
    here is an example

    toysaretools (at) gmail (dot) com

    additional entries but must leave comment first:
    1. become a member
    2. like us on facebook

  25. As a classroom preschool teacher I like to have supports that benefit a variety of learnig styles. Whisper Phone would be a great tool for quiet reading time after snack. Also, starting in January we will be starting what we call: Buddy Reading, part of the Tools of the Mind curriculum. In Buddy Reading children take turns reading or talking about the pictures with a partner. Whisper Phone would be so helpful in getting some of my kids with processing delays or inattention to stay engaged in this structured and shared reading activity.
    My email: emily@thequadmanhattan.com

  26. These phones sound awesome. I would definately love to try out a pair with my guys, age 11 (perfect reader) and his 7 year old brother, who has some reading issues, but LOVES to do everything in a duet! Thanks so so much for the tip! kim(at)thequadmanhattan(dot)com. (I am the Founder of The Quad Manhattan - an inclusion recreational and educational center for gifted kids with or without special needs.

  27. This sounds like such a neat toy! I think it would help my daughter (8 yo) with her Spanish reading.

  28. Rebecca, you are definitely right there. I think this toy first appealed to me because of my background teaching English when I lived in Asia for three years. This phone actually has a presence in Taiwan for this very reason.

  29. Sounds really cool -- both my kids love playing with the phone! Audreydotrushingatyahoodotcom

  30. I think this is a very cool toy because these days it is so very important for children to be able to talk on a phone in a socially acceptable way!

  31. I bought 2 of these items, once for each of my children. Both have been diagnosed with ADHD, and alas, they are both very loud. The elder of the two really benefited from this product. HUGE improvement in yelling ! We tried using it for school work, but that was much more difficult. The eldest needs to be given instruction verbally in order for him to process it properly. The product DID seem to help him pay better attention to me, and I he was able to wear it for long lengths of time. The younger child , in my opinion, is just too young to use the item . She refused to wear it long, and could NOT control her voice even when wearing the product. I tried wearing it a bit, and found that it DID help me be less vocal in all of my protests. Great product ( in my opinion ) for children over 6 .