Homeschool Posts

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Improve Concentration and Diction, a review of Forbrain

Forbrain by Sound for Life LTD is a device designed to help improve attention, speech, and memory in just 15 minutes a day over a period of 6 weeks. I recently had the opportunity to try out this product for review purposes.

Forebrain_zps0b4vthv9

What is Forbrain?

This lightweight, innovative headset fits over your ears and has a flexible mic that adjusts to fit near your mouth. When you turn it on and speak, your voice sounds amplified. Forbrain uses:

  • bone conduction (essentially the sound of your voice vibrating through your skull)
  • a dynamic filter, which enhances certain frequencies of the human voice
  • and an auditory feedback loop, which corrects the way you normally hear your voice

The idea is that you wear the headset for a brief time each day while reading aloud, reciting poetry, singing, giving a speech, etc. Hearing your voice through Forbrain is truly a unique experience.

Forbrain is supposed to help with pronunciation and speech issues, reading difficulties, attention and concentration issues, working memory problems, vocal quality, and more.

How does it do that?

Essentially by creating a more optimal environment for the speaker to listen to himself speak.

If you’ve ever taken family videos or heard yourself recorded on a voicemail, you probably said to yourself, “Gosh, I didn’t know that’s what I sound like.”

There are a few different things going on there. For one, we sound different to ourselves than we do to others due to the fact that we are not only hearing ourselves through our ears, but also through our skulls via bone conduction.

Bone conduction is a wonderful thing. When my youngest son was born with a rare medical condition that caused his ear canals to be blocked (not permanently), he was essentially “deaf.” He failed the hearing test that they give to newborns. But we had reason to believe that he wasn’t actually deaf (over time this proved to be true). His specialists told me to speak to him with my mouth against his forehead so that he would be able to hear me through bone conduction and it worked. He responded to my voice.

Bone conduction is wonderful God-given gift that allows us to feel the vibrations of sound in our bodies and “hear” even when we can’t hear. This is why if you cover your ears and talk, you can still hear yourself quite well.

We are also not as attentive to what we ourselves are saying or how we say it as we are to what others are saying. Think about that a minute---I know what I’m going to say, so I don’t really need to listen to myself. Unfortunately, that also means that I may not be aware of sloppy pronunciation or I may forget what I said. Ever read a whole chapter of a read aloud to your kids and wondered at the end of it what happened, because you weren’t fully paying attention? Yeah, me too.

Forbrain is designed to help you better concentrate on your voice and what you are saying. It can improve concentration, diction, memory, etc., simply by allowing you to better direct your attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it.

Once upon a time, I was a radio disc jockey (for real). I noticed that when I wore the headphones while broadcasting that I paid closer attention to what I was saying and I was better at modulating my voice. The headphones were huge and blocked out outside sounds, so I couldn’t really hear anything but myself while the mic was on. Over time, my voice quality and delivery improved. Forbrain is a much less bulky (and probably more effective) way to do this and it’s easy to take it anywhere.

For more information on the auditory process, Forbrain’s auditory technology, and a scientific evaluation of how this device works, please visit the website.

Forbrain is not suitable for everyone, including those with epilepsy or Parkinsons, 80% or more hearing loss, or a cochlear implant. The device is designed for ages 3 and up.

Ease of Use

The headset itself is comfortable to wear, but it can become uncomfortable over time by virtue of how it works (more on that in a bit), so it is recommended that most users wear it 10-30 minutes a day, depending upon age (10-15 minutes for young children). This is not something you will wear all the time. One device can be used by multiple people (one at a time, of course).

The part that fits behind your head is flexible and will accommodate a wide range of head sizes or shapes. The hooks fit over the tops of your ears and then there are these blue vinyl-like pads that rest on the bone right in front of your ears. The mic is super flexible and can be adjusted to almost any position. The mic should be about 1.2 inches from the mouth. If it’s a little too close, you may get feedback, so you’ll want to adjust it.

IMG_4368

We found that the headset slides down in the back towards your neck (it doesn't fit snugly against your head there) which can cause it to pull down on the tops of your ears. This was less of an issue for me than it was for my 8-year-old daughter.

IMG_4366

Forbrain is rechargeable and plugs in with the included USB cord to your computer or a wall adapter (not included) to recharge. There's a little button that you press to turn it on, a light that shows you it is on or recharging, and +/- volume control buttons. The headset, instructions, USB cord, and extra mic covers all come in a padded zipper case.

IMG_4369

You put it on and start talking, reading, reciting, etc. Do this 10-15 minutes per day. My daughter, Emma, is doing a classical memory program through our co-op and has been wearing the headset while saying her memory sentences. I’m the Latin tutor for the program, so I’ve been using the headset myself while practicing the Latin pronunciation and working with her on the memory sentences in an effort to improve my own memory and diction. I have ADHD, so attention is an issue.

Things to be aware of

When wearing the headset and speaking, you may feel like sometimes the sound is cutting out or is alternately on and off. This is normal and is part of the dynamic filter doing its job to bring your attention back. I also experienced what seemed like not quite a clicking, but a bit like a jaw cracking sensation from the bone conduction pads. This happens more when I’m reading aloud, rather than when I’m singing or reciting something, so perhaps it is linked to my pattern of speech (my jaw is not actually cracking).

It can also take some time to get used to hearing your voice amplified. When I first started using the device, I couldn’t tell if I was speaking at the correct volume for my children to hear me…because it sounded so LOUD to me.

Neither my daughter nor I can wear Forbrain for more than about 10 minutes without becoming uncomfortable. Beyond that, it gives me a headache. If your child has a similar reaction, you may have difficulty getting her to use it---Emma sometimes does not want to use the device.

What do we think of Forbrain? Does it work?

Full disclosure: it is recommended that you use Forbrain regularly for 6 weeks before expecting to see results. We have not had this headset for that long, so I can’t fully speak to how effective it is.

My personal experiences with it have been interesting, though. While singing Veni, Emmanuel in Latin, I find it easier to focus and remember the next line of a newly learned verse without searching my memory when I’m wearing Forbrain. I also noticed that my pace slows down and I become a little more aware of how am speaking and pronouncing words when I am reading to the children while wearing it. 

I did record video of myself singing with and without Forbrain. There is a difference in my enunciation and my physical attention (my eyes move less with Forbrain on), but the difference is so minute that I don’t feel the video illustrates much. Perhaps after using it a longer time, I will be able to do another video and see if there’s a more noticeable difference. I’ve not yet seen an overall improvement in my memory or attention when not wearing Forbrain.

My daughter seems a little more deliberate about saying her memory sentences with Forbrain on, but I haven’t seen an overall improvement for her, yet.

Forbrain Sound for Life LTD

Overall, I’m not sure if Forbrain really has a lasting effect. I have high hopes, but only time will tell.

To hear what other Crew members had to say about Forbrain:

Forbrain {Sound For Life Ltd Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mess-Free Paint, a review of Thin Stix

Have you got a house full of artists, but the thought of painting with them makes you cringe? Are you envisioning soaking half dried paint out of brushes that have been dipped up to the handle and wiping up paint spills? Or maybe you’re tired of figuring out where to lay all their artwork while you wait for the paints to dry?

Here’s an answer to your troubles:  the Thin Stix Creativity Pack from The Pencil Grip, Inc. I recently had the opportunity to try out this innovative product with my young artists.

Mess-Free Paint, a review of Thin Stix at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Thin Stix Creativity Pack

The Thin Stix Creativity Pack

features 24 solid tempera paint sticks:

12 Classic

6 Neon

6 Metalix

Paints are washable, non-toxic, and free of nuts, eggs, and gluten. They dry very quickly (less than two minutes if it’s not a thick layer) and each comes with a snap on cap in a twist-up tube.

The whole set comes in a reusable plastic tray for easy storage, but Thin Stix are also easy to transport in a tote bag, backpack, or even your purse for art on the go.

How did we use Thin Stix?

I don’t normally mind getting out the paints and other messy art supplies around here, but there are times when it is nice to use a product that is easy for kids to get out and put away with minimal fuss.

Like when they want to paint at the kitchen table while you are cooking dinner. Ordinarily, I would put them off until later, but with Thin Stix there’s no need for them to wash out their paint brushes or move a wet painting when it’s time to set the table---they can just put the paints back in the tray and hang up their already dry paintings on the wall or stack them out of the way.

How cool is that?

IMG_4342

The solid tempera also works pretty well on 3-dimensional objects. Like pumpkins.

IMG_4329Pretty handy when you've waited until Halloween morning to buy your pumpkins and the family is bustling to get the house ready for that night's Halloween party---it was easy to send the two youngest kids (ages 8 and 12) to go paint pumpkins on the picnic table in the backyard. ;)

What do we think of Thin Stix?

I was interested in checking these paints out from an adult’s point-of-view. I know they are aimed at kids due to the convenience and mess-free nature of the solid tempera, but I also know that kids will get frustrated with an inferior product.

Can you do real art with Thin Stix? Or are they mainly for crafts and mess-free coloring?

IMG_4344

The answer is: yes and no. They do have real art possibilities, but they may be better suited for crafts or very large paintings.

Size-wise the Thin Stix are little thinner than a glue stick, but thicker than a fat marker. The sticks do not come to a point, but are flat, like glue sticks (which they would be anyway, once you start using the paint). The width of the sticks makes it difficult to make precise marks, but you can use the edge of the stick to get a line and some precision. If you are working on a very large piece, it will be easier to be precise.

IMG_4346

If you just do a single layer of paint, you’ll tend to get uneven coverage, but paint can be layered, and different colors can be layered over each other.  The consistency of the solid tempera is different from other paints. It's little like a cross between a glue stick and oil pastel. It smears and blends well while still wet and you can easily blend by layering colors over each other to create depth and texture. If you get another color on the stick, it’s easy to wipe it off with a paper towel.

Layering the paints does increase the drying time by a good bit, but we are still talking about a piece drying in minutes instead of hours.

IMG_4345

It may seem weird that I keep comparing these paint sticks to glue sticks, but it turns out they have a lot in common. Just like glue sticks, the Thin Stix also leave behind little globs at times (you can see some on this mountain painting) and their texture is also similar.

We found that some colors give much better coverage and blend better than others. Some of the the Metalix, for instance, cover well and have a neat metallic sheen, but it was hard to tell that a couple of them were metallic colors once they were on the page. I did find that they show up better if layered over non-Metalix colors.

Some of the light colors don’t show up at all over darker colors, which may limit you if you want to paint on darker colored papers or things like pumpkins. The yellows, for instance, work best on plain white paper.

The white is fantastic! It works really well for creating highlights and blending.

I do wish there were darker colors in this set. Even the “dark” colors lack a true depth to them, but I was able to overcome this by using multiple layers of a color or layering multiple colors to achieve that depth.

Overall, Thin Stix are a neat art supply to have on hand.

They are easy to clean up and require minimal supervision (assuming your kids are beyond painting walls or putting things in their mouths, which mine are), they transport easily (put them in your pocket or purse), and they can be layered and blended like real artist’s paints, but they do have some limitations.

If you are looking for greater precision, you’ll want to use a brush or paint on a larger scale. I would love to see The Pencil Grip, Inc. come out with a thinner version of these solid tempera paints---maybe with an automatic sharpener…kind of like a lip pencil.

Check out what other Crew members had to say about the Thin Stix Creativity Pack:


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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Magic Stories, a review

Allsaid & Dunn, LLC, publishers of The Reading Game and authors of the Wordly Wise series, have a new program called The Magic Stories for grades 2-3. Available as a pdf download, this collection of magical tales and their accompanying activities are designed to strengthen your child’s reading and writing skills, by practicing reading aloud, vocabulary, comprehension, and story-telling.  I recently had the opportunity to try out and review this set with my 3rd grader.

Magic Stories Logo screen_zpsz6hlvlop

MagicStories-Graphic-w-exercises_zpsffbkcmta 

The Magic Stories

6 engaging stories that can be viewed on your tablet or printed in black and white

Each illustrated story is about 20 ( or so) pages long comes with:

pages for reading assessment

story “maze” to check comprehension

comprehension questions

conceptual activities (examples: imagining yourself in a character’s place, distinguishing fact from fiction, etc.)

“Naughty 40” word cards and word list

creative writing activity

Titles: The Magic Hole, The Magic Ax, the Magic Joke, the Magic Hotdog, The Magic Boots, and The Magic Box.

The Magic Stories can be purchased individually or as a complete set. After purchase, you’ll receive a receipt in your email with a link to your download page.

How are we using the Magic Stories?

My 8-year-old 3rd grader, Emma, loves these whimsical stories. I have her read aloud a story to me and then she completes the accompanying activities over the course of several days. As we are adding this to our “regularly scheduled” program, we treat it as a fun extra. There isn’t a specific schedule lesson plan for using these, so we’ve been "winging it.” Update: a free pdf with basic instructions on how to implement The Magic Stories has been added to the website.

The Naughty 40

Each story comes with a list of 40 words (the Naughty 40) that your student may find challenging. There are also corresponding cards for the words that you can print on cardstock. Each word card gives the words in bold and then uses it in a simple sentence to help your child to understand its meaning from the context.  There are a number of ways that you might use the Naughty 40 list. I have my daughter read through the list before reading the story to ensure that she knows all the words beforehand. If there is a word that I think she may not know the meaning of, I ask her to use it in a sentence. So far, she has not had any trouble with any of the words (we’ve finished the first two stories), so I’ve not used the cards, but I think they could be an excellent vocabulary building exercise for some students in this age range.

The Magic Story

Each story has a magical element to it. The two stories we have read so far has a traditional story arc with a character encountering a problem and then overcoming that problem in some way.  Sometimes magic is beneficial and sometimes is is a problem. Sometimes magic helps a character learn more about himself and learn that he can be successful without magic. The stories are fun and Emma has enjoyed them.

After Emma has read the challenging words to me, I have her read the story aloud. I print the stories, as she doesn’t like reading on an electronic device. I’ve chosen to print them in “booklet” form on my printer, which greatly cuts down on the amount of ink and paper required. Unfortunately, this also makes the type much smaller. This is not a problem for Emma, but may be for some children this age. I would love it if the publisher added a pdf file that has been formatted for this type of printing to the story package.

The Magic Stories review

The stories are illustrated with black and white line drawings, so they are not ink hogs. We’ve found that the quality of the illustrations varies a bit. The drawing on the cover of The Magic Hole has a preliminary sketch look to it, whereas the interior drawings are fine. The Magic Ax drawings also varied in quality.

The Magic Stories review 2

The Magic Stories review 3IMG_20171102_122439

I have found several grammatical and mechanical errors in the stories, including missing commas and inconsistent paragraphing (sometimes two different characters speak in the same paragraph). I’m typically willing to let a typo here and there go, even for a language arts program, but the errors here require a careful edit.

The reading level has been easy for Emma and the length of the stories has not been an issue. Children who are not yet reading fluently or who struggle with the Naughty 40 list for a story may find that they need to take the story in parts or the parent may decide to take turns reading a page a time.  Each story also comes with a “running record” sheet with an excerpt from the story that will allow you to assess how your child’s reading skills are improving. You can download these as a free resource from the site, which is a great way to see if the reading level is a good fit for your child.


The Activities

The Magic Stories review 4


The story maze will take your child through a series of true false questions to see if she remembers important details from the story. If she gets off track with an incorrect answer, the maze will guide her back so she can get back on track. Emma likes this activity, but says that she needs to hide the paths with her hands, because it is easy to “cheat” and see which answer will take you on the correct path. Not sure how to fix that issue? Maybe some sticky notes to lift as flaps would work (though it would require some prior prep and lots of sticky notes).

We do the comprehension and conceptual questions mostly orally to reduce writing fatigue. This also allows us to discuss the story. There is no answer key provided, so you will need to read the stories with your child or on your own (if you child is reading them silently). I would love to see a full answer key. Even though I’m having Emma read the stories to me, I’m a busy homeschool mom; I forget stuff. An answer key and teaching notes would save me time and would reduce frustration.

The Magic Stories review 5

Emma really loves the creative writing exercises. The student is given a couple of different prompts to choose from, and they have been fun. We have found that the quantity of writing is little beyond what my daughter can manage, but scribing for her and having her draw pictures has solved that problem. For The Magic Hole, she wrote a sequel in which the Magic Hole appeared in her own house!

What do we think of The Magic Stories?

Overall, I like the idea of this program, but I feel it needs some refinements. Further edits and an answer key would be welcome additions. The comprehension/conceptual questions are engaging and creative writing prompts can be fun.

Allsaid & Dunn would like to offer you a discount on The Magic Stories! Enter following code in the coupon box when you check out to get 25% off: raisingreaders


Want to see what other Crew members thought of this program?


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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pencil Grips and Safety Scissors for Kids, a review

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

Need help teaching your child how to correctly hold a pencil while writing? Or maybe watching your little one wielding the school scissors makes you a tad uncomfortable? The Pencil Grip, Inc. just might have the right solution for you. We recently had the opportunity to try out and review The 3 Step Pencil Grip Training Kit and The Ultra Safe Safety Scissors.


Review of the Pencil Grip and Ultra Safe Safety Scissors at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds