Monday, December 2, 2013

Giveaway + The Selfish Parents' Guide to Gift Giving at School (Part 1)

I eyed this for years before I bought my own.  Technology allows us all to have our own laminators now.  It's great!

WHAT: My list of things your teacher or school therapist may need but won't ask for.... (will also help your child in the process hence "selfish")
NOTE: Important! If you are a cash gift giver- I'm sending you my cyber high-five now. Still, you can't ignore a good deal when you see one. 
INVEST: These prices reflect some deals I found right now!

PROMOTIONS: Look for coupon and sales alert inside this story
GIVEAWAY: Do you have your own laminator? Well, you can now! Win best-selling Scotch Laminator (U.S. only) on Amazon!

Cash is King but Gifts are Queens So Why Take Sides?

Let me say this again, when it comes to holiday gift giving to teachers and school therapists: CASH is KING! I repeat CASH is KING!

Back in the days when I worked in an office (a real one, not my bedroom), my employer would pay for extras to make my work more efficient. Need a new mouse? Send an email to the office manager.  Your back giving you problems? Look through the catalog and request a new pillow or chair.  Some companies send you home in a car service if you have to work late.

But for some reason, teachers don't get this kind of break. So I often see them spend their own money on the kids (books, art supplies... I even met one teacher who bought her students milk and cereal!) But do you ever see them snag the latest and greatest in teaching aids, you know, things to help them make their own work more efficient? Noooo... why make their lives easy when they are creative enough to invent their own stuff... still... it takes so much of their personal time. They have families too.

The "Queens" a.k.a. The Best Selfish Gifts Ever (from Parents to Teachers and School Therapists....  Friends and Family of Teachers, you can get in on this too...)

I joke that this gift is of the selfish variety because the giver will know his child will directly benefit from this gift but still it won't belong to his child. It belongs to the teacher and she can use it with her whole class.  If you are a regular giver of cash, then this add-on, no matter how small, will be a real "gift" because hopefully you will be getting something very useful, a little luxurious, and probably totally unexpected. If you find my picks pricey--- no worries-- find another parent and chip in!  How cool is that!?!

So here goes, my next monster list.  
For Your Child's Awesome School Speech Therapist

Pirate Talk by Super Duper Publications

Fake money motivates kids more than real money!

My son's tutor is wonderful.  I hired her to help #1 with reading goals but thanks to Super Duper products, she is helping with reading goals while getting down to the heart of things by seeing things from a linguistic perspective.  After her first game of Pirate Talk with #1, she came out beaming!  So did he!

This came as no surprise to Nicole Kolenda, who teaches speech and language pathology at the university level (Columbia, NYU) and works directly with children in private practice.  About Pirate Talk she said that it could work so well for a newer speech pathologist who could use a boost in making sure goals are met for all her students when they are in a group session. "For example, there's many things you can do with a book in terms of speech and language goals," she said, "Sometimes that versatility with materials comes with time."

In talk, you could say that Pirate Talk is about kids meeting their goals together. Learning can be more fun in a social setting. Nicole felt that this really worked because we can very subtly targeting everyone's goals at the same time. "Even for a seasoned therapist who doesn't have time to think it all out, it's right there on the card,"she said, "It becomes a holistic learning environment."

I love this card. What a total nightmare. There is no way a kid would NOT comment on that!

The teacher can act as a game show host and ask whatever question he likes. I like to mimic the game show host in Word Girl.

If you decide to get Pirate Talk for your own family, I think you'll be making a wise decision just the same. For the adult, it's like you are taking a parent workshop without leaving your home. "It's not just a game," Nicole said. "It's a game that's very thought out about how can we take these picture prompts and target a bunch of different receptive and expressive goals."  Pirate Talk makes a better teacher out of any of us, especially for us parents (since the kids live with us) because they reflect real situations and show us how it relates to our language needs.  Nicole thinks there is so much carry over from that and from what I've seen her, Pirate Talk is full of treasures for both the child and the adult playing this game.

Buy Pirate Talk at Super Duper (Remember my coupon code for you: DM57FE9C and save 15% until Dec. 20th!  Remember it's Free Ship over $20!)
Buy Pirate Talk at Amazon


MeCorder by Learning Resources

Recently, I found this little guy on sale and I POUNCED! When I used to teach English in Asia, my students would have certain difficulties with the pronunciation of these words.  While I didn't fuss too much, they really wanted to sound more like a native.  But as adults they were so used to certain consonants and vowels that it was really hard for them to do something new.  Thus, I asked them to stare at my mouth and then before they repeated it, I asked them to stare at a mirror!  It worked!  BRAVA!

Now that I'm a parent, I still want to use this method because my kids are getting older but I can tell that their articulation still needs a little work.  Super Speech Master, Nicole Kolenda once told me that it can affect spelling for the older child.  UGH!  That totally stinks but it makes sooooo much sense!  We spell using our understanding of the sounds that letters make but if we constantly mispronounce something, how can we expect to spell that word appropriately?  Nicole is a genius.

Buy MeCorder at Different Roads to Learning (my preferred retailer for this product since it's a tech gadget and you want to make sure your seller is reliable)
Buy MeCorder at Amazon


Word Joggers by Super Duper Publications
(also great for classroom teacher because there is so much in that box!)

So many chips, cards, ways to play. Creative teachers will find a way for everyone to get in on the learning (and fun!)

This year, thanks to expert speech and language pathologist Nicole Kolenda, I learned why categories are so important.  If you have a child fumbling to speak or write or both, listen closely to why working on this is so important.

"Learning to categorize and understanding how to apply the "rules" of categorization are essential language skills that need to be taught explicitly to many kids, not just those who require speech and language therapy," she said. "Learning to categorize increases your vocabulary, helps you to organize and subsequently "access" that vocabulary quicker."

There are so many categories to work on (Animals, Food, Clothing, Home, School, and Transportation).  If you are on the Super Duper website, you'll see a button that shows you how this product aligns with Common Core Standards. I think that is terrific but for me, I am going by "common sense standards" and common sense tells me that this is a skill that will be helpful not just at school but at work. Remember your first filing assignment? Remember those times when you couldn't decide which file it went in?  You had to think "What would the other people do?"

As you can tell, it's tricky to make a match.  Electronic devices are constantly changing their roles and hence, this is a perfect illustration of why categories are important. We are not dictionaries. Language morphs over time.  Kids will come to appreciate that as they file more word in their minds.

Categories help people communicate because we file words that we need to use when we talk to others.  Those of you who speak a second language will know just what I mean.  Somethings can't be translated exactly and is because you really have to decide what you are meaning at that very moment and use the corresponding vocabulary. Sharpening filing skills is critical to growth which is probably why that intern who was the ACE filer was considered for a full-time spot after she finished school. And if your intern couldn't sort and file, how far would she get in your firm?  Not far, right?  Categories, looks elementary and that is the point!  Without the basics, you go nowhere.

Buy Word Joggers at Super Duper
(Remember my coupon code for you: DM57FE9C and save 15% until Dec. 20th!  Remember it's Free Ship over $20!)


For the Classroom Teacher

Frixion Gel Ink Pen by Pilot
prices vary by package

Thank you to Barbara Bolich, Resource Room Teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Washington.  She told me about these pens.  I think I've seen erasable pens before.  None have ever impressed me but Frixion is a Pilot pen and if Ms. B says it is good then it has got to be good. After having gone to graduate school in Asia, if there is one thing I learned, it's that Pilot pens kick butt! Someday I will tell you about my awesome Pilot mechanical pencil that my son can't break! Ha! It's called the Croquis and it glides across a page like a hockey puck on ice.

What makes Frixion so great is that like a gel pen, it writes smooth, but erasing is even more fun!  Apparently, the ink is heat-sensitive so rubbing it will erase your mistake quickly but makes very very little mess.  MAGIC!  Get a few for the classroom and some for the teacher too!

Buy Frixion Gel Ink Pens at Amazon


Kaleidograph in Frame by Kaleidograph Toy
Holiday Special $17.95 for a set valued at $35.00
One black or white frame and one Kaleidograph set (Crystal or Flora)

How is this a selfish gift? I love anything that will give a child a reason to get up out of his seat without getting in trouble. It is likely that the child needs to relax and occupy his mind. And you guessed it, Kaleidograph is great for that too. It is an engaging toy for all ages and if you are like me, you can sit there for an hour and still not reach that one image that reflects how you feel at that moment.

I can see teachers use something like this for so many uses. Back in the old days, there would be a student who fed the rabbit every morning or cleaned the erasers. There are certain kids who need a job in the classroom to help them feel that they are a part of the group. Now, we can have a daily Kaleidograph maker since no one needs to clean a smartboard eraser. This current deal is limited.  Believe me, framing your kaleidograph is really worth it and this deal will not last forever.

Buy Kaleidograph in Frame from my newest affiliate- Red Hen Toys! They have free shipping under $75!
Check below for strategic fill-my-cart-to-get-free-shipping-ideas.


Selftish Gift Cerficates? Get Gift Certificate to Red Hen Books and Toys:
$?= Chip in with parents to meet the free ship minimum right now at $75

Red Hen has lots of cool things. Sorta progressive-schoolish. Kinda artsy... basically, you'll want to try everything they have.

My favorite section at this store is Math and Geometry
But if you give this gift certificate to a teacher, you will look like that cool parent-in-the-know (and of course you are... because you read Toys Are Tools! Yeah!)

Things I'm interested in there:
Gift Certificate so you can be the coolest parent in the class
Minuta 2 (This looks beautiful and only $19.99)
PipSquigz (best price I've seen so far!)
BTW, Congrats to Chava, who just won Squigz!
Squigz Deluxe (best price I've seen so far!)Soccer Ball Kit
Zometool Creator 1 (Excellent gift idea priced better than Amazon at time of publication)
Zometool Creator 2 (hard to find and at amazing price!- best deal on this!)
Tobbles Neo (Excellent gift idea priced better than Amazon at time of publication)
Ivan's Hinge - a stocking stuffer masterpiece

message to reader: Do Not Stop Reading until you get to the end of this list! There are middle fingers and teacher emails that you have to see!  Now take a look at the PLUS!

Time Timer Plus by Time Timer

Hold the phone! I know I am a little too enthusiastic about my timers but I have THE timer that will rock your world. If you like the concept of Time Timer, I think you'll find it hard not to hug the Time Timer Plus after your first try.

First off, rather than a mere turn off/on sound switch, the volume is now adjustable. Adjusting the time is just as easy as it was before but because of the protective transparent cover that prying fingers can't remove.... children can be free to be more independent with the use of this timer.  Additionally, the size is adorable (5.5" x 7") - it's slightly smaller that the 8" timer which had long been my favorite size... until now!  If your teacher likes timers or if you want him/her to try it out, I bet you could secretly become the Teacher's Parent-Pet.   Lastly, for many teachers, this could be considered a luxury buy and so a gift like this is quite meaningful.  However, to be sure, if your teacher likes timers, after just one use, this timer will become a mandatory school supply.  Read my related review of the Time Timer here.

Buy Time Timer Plus at Different Roads to Learning (My preferred retailer especially since the Plus is a tech gadget and this store is highly reliable, )
Buy Time Timer Plus at Amazon


Go for the Dough by Super Duper Publications

I might talk to you about categorizing words to you until I'm blue in the face but here is the thing: our children deserve variety. My son told me that he really looked forward to playing Go for the Dough when he met with his speech therapist.  I had no idea that he even knew the game until it arrived in our home.

 Wondering if I was overdoing this, I thought I might need a little brain-waker so I ask Nicole Kolenda again what happens if we don't sharpen these skills.  "Children with depressed vocabulary skills have difficult in every aspect of learning," she said. "In school, they don't "get" everything and they are unaware of their shortcomings, while socializing with peers and family, they are often lost and subsequently "quiet"." Nicole said.  "Learning how to categorize sharpens your relational vocabulary and also sets you up to understand relational terms..synonyms, antonyms ..etc."

Did she say synonyms and antonyms? A-ha!  She hasn't seen this game but now that she's talked about this, I feel super cool for picking this game!

I have been looking at Super Duper products for years and never thought to press the yellow on the page that says "Common Core" but then I did and thought, hmmm... what if you the reader didn't as well?  So here, I'm pressing it for you and you can press this picture to see that this game is full of Common Core objectives. Think like this... $10 per grade if you start at Kindergarten...  and then you'll see what I see.... you are getting a great deal!

While it's really nice that the play "money" is make of a terrific plasticky paper that I can't describe to you, more importantly, it organizes your word goals by awesome learning categories such as synonyms, antonyms, categories, multiple meanings and definitions.  Should you decide to give this to your teacher or speech therapist, know that you are doing good by your own child and his peers. This game is totally awesome- the fact that it's about pizza delivery and money is smart game design that helps us keep them motivated!

Buy Go for the Dough at Super Duper
Buy Go for the Dough at Amazon


For Reading Group Teachers, Writing Workshops, Learning or Reading Specialists

These are the coolest things ever....

Whisperphone Select by Harebrain

I remember having to wait for my turn to read when I was in elementary school. I stressed over that so much! I was so worried about how I would look and sound that I thought of nothing else until it was my turn. That means, I didn't follow along with the other children and subsequently, I'd fail the reading comprehension tests.  Well, if son's class is divided into reading groups, consider getting the Whisperhone Select.  When they use it, they can listen to their pal read the same story. They can read in unison if they want.  The whole point is that everything is better when you have a friend.  The Select allows you to have more than one friend and more importantly, it allows the teacher to work directly with a student without having to pull him out or aside.

Alison Berkley of Emerge And See is excited to talk to me about this amazing contraption.  Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at the Select.

Buy the Whisperphone Select at


Tran-Quill Pencil Kit
(Plastic $36.50; Aluminum $46.50)

Thanks to Ms. B for letting us use this photo of her students and their pencils!

This pencil was recommended to me by an OT and while I initially gasped after seeing the price, here I am, one year later, an owner of three pencils, proud affiliate and supporter of ARK Therapeutic, the makers of my "Buzzy Pencil"   But heck, I'm not the only one. Check out what Ms. B. had to say to the donors of her fundraising project at Donors Choose:

We were thrilled when the package of five Tranquil Writers arrived. Now there are six available for children to use, and they are in near-constant use! Two boys get very stressed while writing and decided the chew-top was a good choice (each is marked and stored in a separate bag!). The gentle hum of pencils vibrating as children wrote and wrote and wrote today was awesome!

Students used the Tranquil Writers to complete tests, solve mathematics problems, write stories, work on language and vocabulary, plan writing, and compose a piece on bats today. I can't wait to see what they do tomorrow!

Thank you for supporting my fantastic learners. No one fussed or whined about writing today, a minor miracle! You've made a difference in the life of little writers--Thank You!

With gratitude,
Ms. Bolich

Thanks again to Ms. B for sharing her story with us. Read my full review of TranQuill Writer here.
Buy the Tran-Quill Pencil at Ark (15% off  until Dec 2, use code: THANKS )
Read why it is better for you to buy this at Ark


Crazy Cool Gifts for Any Educator

Sign Language Bingo by Super Duper Publications

I would like to stop yelling as a means of emphasizing my point.  I think sign language can help me as my kids do better with visuals when receiving directions.

I got this game because my two boys often have trouble speaking their thoughts out loud. I find that when they accompany their actions with hand gestures, the words come out more easily.  You will see great orators and television news reporters do the same thing.  Rarely do speakers on a stage communicate with just their mouths.

I asked Nicole Kolenda about her thoughts on the use of sign language by hearing children to aid their language skills.   Nicole said this is a controversial subject but at least for her, she definitely thought it was helpful. "The act of language learning always becomes more 'salient' when we incorporate movement into this learning as we are accessing a different part of the brain."

No, it's not the middle finger but I got your attention didn't I? That's the point. Some kids don't look at you when you speak but if you sign, they will look at you!  It is GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Another great plus about this game is that it is a GAME.  It's a BINGO game where the players are gesturing the sign and players must pay attention (with their eyes!) to play and win.  Inevitably, you will see all players copying the signer.  That is so cool.  They are all repeating what was "said" and as a group, we learn together while having fun.  None of us really know how to sign and so taking time to learn a little before playing helps but you can wing it if your kids are on the older side.  Seriously, I love sign language.  One day, I plan to yell at my kids by signing.  I hope they'll yell at me back with signs too.  It will be the quietest and probably the most productive arguments we'll have as a family.

*Idea Experiment: Have your child learn the alphabet signs and try studying for spelling tests by signing the letters of a word 3x each rather than writing.  Compare test scores each week and then get a friend to be your control group and another friend to be your test subject.  It could be your next science project!

Buy Sign Language Bingo at Super Duper    (TAT's Coupon Code: DM57FE9C and save 15% until Dec. 20th!  Remember it's Free Ship over $20!)
Buy Sign Language Bingo at Amazon

Last but not least.......  The praise comes from a teacher herself.. she has no connection with the company... she was writing an email because she ran into a bit of bad luck....

MeMoves by Thinking Moves

I think this email to MeMoves sent by Emily, a teacher in Wisconsin, says it all. Thank you Emily for allowing me to share this and thank you for inspiring me with your gusto!

I don't normally do this, but thought it would be worth a try.  I purchased ME MOVES about 2 years ago and I use it daily in my first grade classroom.  I truly believe that this has calmed my students down IMMEDIATELY after coming in from recess or any other times when they have needed some focusing.  Unfortunately, my school received new computers over the summer and I had the ME MOVES DVD inside the tower when they removed it from my classroom and it was recycled with the rest of the computer.  I am devastated!  :(  I still have the case and the music CD but the DVD is gone.  I was wondering if there's any way that you would be able to help my students out with another DVD?  I have noticed a difference in behavior after these movements have been used with my students and really have missed it this year.
Thank you!

In case you're wondering, Emily's students got themselves a new MeMoves package.  Read my full review of MeMoves here. *

Buy MeMoves at
Buy MeMoves at Amazon

And now try to win the LAMINATOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter to win!
educational toy, best educational game, best educational toy, learning tools, toys for learning, toys are tools, child development, therapeutic toys, special needs toys, gifted children toys, games for gifted kids, 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

* Just want to say that I'm totally impressed with Emily for keeping her CD in good condition for two years, despite daily use! Wow!

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the manufacturer for the publication of this review.  The reviewed items were provided to Toys are Tools to facilitate a review. Reviews are never promised.  Some of the products were purchased by me too.  But don't tell Mr. Toys Are Tools!  He thinks all of them are submissions from companies but sometimes, that just doesn't work out and if I see something good and I want it .... well, you know...  If such products work out well, there is no reason not to share the good news. 


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