Age level: Early Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
Description: Compose Yourself is a fun, easy-to-learn game that allows kids (and adults) to compose their own music. It’s a unique card game that is definitely one of my favorite releases of 2015. Many of my students with autism are highly motivated by music, and I love how this game provides access to composing and exploring music.
The game was invented by composer Philip Sheppard and allows kids to become mini maestros. Players can flip, rotate, and re-order transparent music cards to create any pattern they want, then enter the card codes into a special website to instantly hear an orchestra play it! And, their compositions can easily be shared via social media and e-mail!
Skills & Modifications: The simplest way to modify the game is to reduce the number of cards for the player to select from. It’s also important to note that you must select cards in groups of four, otherwise the website will not play the composition. Also, the website is set so that no more than 16 music cards can be used for a single composition. It may be helpful to create a poster with 16 spaces for the cards to ensure that your learner does not select too many cards for the composition.
An important modification may be to select the format for playing the composition. The website allows the player to choose to hear it played by a marimba, an orchestra, or both. It is much easier to hear the individual notes when played by a marimba than by an orchestra, because the orchestra includes multiple instruments in the composition.
Music – Compose Yourself provides exposure to different types of notes, examples of measures, and other musical concepts. For kids who already have a natural interest in music, this can be an excellent way to transition that interest into more functional musical skills. For kids who have experience, with music lessons, this may be a fun way to explore music.
Patterns – The combination of the visual cards and the audio provided on the website allows children to recognize patterns in notes and measures. Sometimes I will set up four cards, then have a learner look and listen, then describe the pattern. For a few of my learners, it has been an exceptionally motivating activity.
Independent Play – It can often be a struggle to find appropriate independent play activities for learners with autism. If you teach your learner how to follow the steps for interacting with the cards, this may be an excellent choice for independent play or for an activity schedule if you use one to teach leisure skills.
Managing Information – The game requires learners to manage multiple pieces of information: the orientation of the cards, the card codes, the visual information on each card, and the website content for playing the music. You may need to modify the amount of information your learner has to manage. For example, when I introduce the game, I frequently just let students arrange cards, then I enter the information on the website for them. I slowly introduce the skills related to entering the card codes and changing the orientation or order of cards.
Pros: I can’t get over how fun this game is for adults and children alike. My students with autism who are interested in music have easily picked it up, and several of them play with complete independence. As a teacher, I most enjoy seeing my students exploring and learning through play. With over 60 transparent music cards that can be flipped, rotated, and combined in millions of different ways, Compose Yourself allows endless opportunities for creation.
Cons: The only con for this game is that to hear the music, you must have access to the internet. As a teacher traveling to multiple locations, I don’t always have a wifi connection. I wish there were an app so I had reliable access to the wonderful online component.
Cost: $14.99 (exclusively sold at Amazon) You should invest in this game if: your learner loves music, you are seeking highly motivating activities to share with your learner(s), or you looking for unique activities for both solo and group play.
ABLLS: A10, K15
Compose Yourself was provided to me for free by the company Thinkfun to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the game. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.
Age level: Early Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
Description: Artgig Studio is one of those app companies that has earned my complete trust. I’ve written about Drive About before, and I use Mystery Math Museum and Marble Math all the time with my students. So I got pretty excited when I learned they were introducing a spelling app.
Mystery Word Town works much the same way that Mystery Math Museum works. The goal of the game is to work your way through the town and find all the missing gold, while also catching the outlaws who stole it. To enter different rooms in each building, the player must spell a word. It’s a simple concept, but the motivating story line allows for lots of spelling practice within the game.
Skills & Modifications: The game offers some built-in modifications, including three different levels of play and options for audio hints. I love this because it allows students with autism (or any student, really) I higher level of independence when playing the game.
Spelling – The game is specifically designed to practice spelling skills, and it does a beautiful job with this. Prior to playing the game, your learner should be able to easily recognize letters and spell C-V-C words.
Scanning – This is a great way for working on scanning skills, as students must simultaneously scan each room for letters and for pieces of missing gold.
Orientation – Mystery Word Town also helps students practice the skill or orienting themselves within the building. It’s helpful for them to remember which rooms they’ve been and which floors of the building they’ve been through. If this is a skill you want to focus on, you may want to sit with your learner while they play to prompt them as necessary.
Independent Play – Many of my learners with autism are highly motivated by the iPad. I love that Mystery Word Town provides an opportunity for practicing functional skills while still allowing the learner to engage in a preferred activity. If your learner uses an activity schedule for managing leisure time, this may be a great option to add to the schedule.
To see how Mystery Word Town is played, take a look at this brief video:
Pros: This is a great app for use in the classroom because you can have unlimited accounts on one device, which means every student can log back in under their own name and pick up right where they left off!
Cons: I don’t really have any cons, but I do have one wish: I would love if the game allowed you to input spelling words for the player. However, I greatly appreciate that there are three different levels of spelling words already programmed into the app.
Cost: $2.99 You should invest in this game if: you are a classroom teacher seeking appropriate educational activities for elementary learners, you have a student who is highly motivated by iPad activities and needs practice with spelling, or you are looking for independent leisure activities for your student.
ABLLS: A10, A19, T2
VB-MAPP: Independent Play 14
Mystery Word Town was provided to me for free by the company Artgig Studio to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the toy. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.
Age level: Early Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School
Description: The goal of Color Clash is to collect the most tiles by matching them along three different attributes: picture, word, and color. While the goal is always the same, Blue Orange has included instructions for EIGHT (!!!) different variations of play, which makes it much more likely that you’ll be able to use the materials in a way that is motivating for your learner. Moreover, two of the games are designed for one player, which is fantastic if you are seeking independent leisure activities for learners with autism.
Skills & Modifications: Because the instructions for Color Clash include rules for so many different variations of the game, it is not necessary to modify the game. Instead, choose the variation that is most appropriate for your learner’s skill level and motivation. For some games, you may choose to reduce the number of tiles visible within the field of play.
Matching – Color Clash is more complex than most matching games and would not be recommended for learners who struggle with the skill. It requires the ability to match across attributes: picture, word, and color (see picture below.) This is a great game for maintaining higher-level matching skills in a fun way.
Quick Responding/Playing with Speed – Many of the games require players to play quickly, and speed is essential because everyone is playing simultaneously. If your learner loves matching and/or visual activities, this may be a great way to practice playing games with speed.
Independent Play – As aforementioned, two of the games included in the instructions are designed for one player. This is a great option of teaching structured use of leisure time if your learner is motivated by the materials. If your child uses an activity schedule, Color Clash could easily be added to the schedule for either independent play or for inviting peers/family members to play.
Pros: You can play Color Clash with 1-8 players, meaning it can be used for independent leisure skills as well as for a group activity for family game night or in place of recess on rainy days. The materials are also durable.
Cons: This game is more challenging than it first appears. Be sure to try it out on your own before deciding if it is appropriate for your learner!
Cost: $14.99 You should invest in this game if: you have a learner who is highly motivated by visual activities, you are seeking independent activities for leisure time, or you are looking for accessible games for family game night.
ABLLS: A10, B7, K15
Color Clash was provided to me for free by the company Blue Orange to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the toy. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.
Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary
Description: Crazy Cereal is an electronic game that works on color recognition and fine motor skills in an incredibly unique way that many of my students find highly motivating. It can be played with two players, and playing time is about five minutes, which is great for learner with shorter attention spans.
The goal of the game is to use the color-changing spoon to dip into the cereal bowl and find the matching cereal piece.
Share a Berry is also part of my Great Games Giveaway!
Skills & Modifications: This is a difficult game to modify. The only modification I have made for students is to reduce the number of cereal pieces in the bowl.
Color Recognition/Matching – This is a unique way to practice color recognition. The spoon changes color, and each player must quickly find a match. Watch out for the color flash free-for-all when players can grab any cereal pieces they want!
Fine Motor Skills – Crazy Cereal provides lots of opportunities to practice scooping food with a spoon and moving it the food to another bowl. If your learner is motivated by objects that light up, this might be a great option for working on fine motor skills.
Quick Responding – The spoon changes color quite quickly, so your learner must respond quickly if they want to win the game.
Pros: Many of my students love the electronic spoon, and it’s motivating enough to get them focused on the skills required to play the game.
Cons: My only complaint about this game is that you can’t adjust the setting for how quickly the color changes on the spoon.
Cost: $24.99 You should invest in this game if: you are seeking unique ways to work on playing with speed, looking for fun games for siblings to play together, or trying to find new ways to practice color recognition.
ABLLS: A10, A19, B7, K15, V4
VB-MAPP: VP-MTS 7
Crazy Cereal was provided to me for free by the company Educational Insights to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the toy. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.
Age level: Early Elementary, Upper Elementary
Description: Jump 246 is a rummy-style game designed to help elementary learners learn how to skip count. Players draw and discard number cards to build sets of five numbers in sequences that jump by ones, by twos, by fives, and by tens. A player wins the game by jumping through all four levels.
Jump 246! is also part of my Great Games Giveaway!
Skills & Modifications: With four levels of play, it’s easy to modify the game to shape skip-counting skills with your learner, and to play it with learners of multiple skill levels. It’s easy to shorten the game by requiring each player to make one rummy of a specified level.
Skip Counting – Jump 246 was designed by teachers who were looking for fun ways to practice skip counting skills. I love a game that focuses on one skill and does it well.
Pros: This card game is simple and focuses on an essential math skill in a fun way that keeps your learner engaged.
Cons: No cons for this game!
After a rainy weekend, I got to thinking it was time to give away a few more games. There are lots of ways to enter for a chance to win over $50 worth of games for preschool and early elementary students!
Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary
Description: Share a Berry is a fantastic game for young learners. Players follow their path and try to collect the most strawberries. To begin gameplay, a path is created in front of each player that leads to the Big Berry Basket in the center. Players take turns flipping over cards in their path, and adding and subtracting berries to their Strawberry Strings.
Share a Berry is also part of my Great Games Giveaway!
SimplyFun put together this brief video that shows how to play the game and shows the educational benefits.
Skills & Modifications: The primary modifications I make to this game are reducing the number of cards in each player’s path. There are additional, skill-specific modifications below.
Counting – This is a great game for practicing basic counting for the numbers 0-5. One of the things I love about this game is that students who struggle with counting can compare the length of the berries on their strings to determine the winner.
Recognizing left and right – I love this game for working on recognizing left and right. When students are motivated by the materials in this game, the visual prompt can be helpful.
Addition/Subtraction – Each card requires players to either add or subtract berries from their string. The cards also include “zero,” which allow for practice with the concept of zero. It’s so valuable that this game provides practice with addition symbols, subtraction symbols, and the number zero. The game is also easily modified to focus on only addition or only subtraction by removing the River Path tiles (subtraction) or Berry Path tiles (addition.)
Motor Skills – Share a Berry allows young learners to practice stringing beads within the context of a fun and active game. This fine motor skill is important, and I love that this game provides the opportunity to practice the skill in a more entertaining manner than simply stringing beads in successive trials. The size of the beads is also excellent for students who struggle with fine motor skills.
Pros: I appreciate that this game is easy to modify. Also, SimplyFun does a wonderful job of providing materials to support learners with autism. You can take a look at their suggestions here.
Cons: For learners with autism, the wait time between turns may be a bit long to maintain their attention. You may want to start by introducing the Share a Berry with only two players, then systematically increasing it as your student’s attention span increases for the game.
Cost: $26.00 You should invest in this game if: you are seeking fun family games to play with young learners, you are looking for ways to incorporate fine motor skills into games, or you are seeking counting activities.
ABLLS: K15, R1, R5, Z14
VB-MAPP: VP-MTS4, Math 12, Math 13
Share a Berry was provided to me for free by the company SimplyFun to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the toy. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.
Age level: Early Elementary, Upper Elementary
Description: Thumbs Up is one of my favorite new releases in 2015! It’s a versatile game that both young learners and older learners enjoy, and it’s easy for learners of all ability levels to enjoy. Moreover, it practices a surprisingly broad range of essential skills for all young learners. It’s also an accessible game to young learners with autism or other developmental disabilities. To see a quick demonstration of how to play the game, there’s a great video review from TTPM here.
Skills & Modifications: There are two simple ways to modify this game to meet the needs of your individual learner. First, you can reduce the number of rings in the field of play. For example, you can just place one of each color in view of the student to reduce the number of rings the child is scanning. The second modification is to select the cards that only require the learner to find four rings, then systematically introduce more difficult cards.
Scanning – In order to play this game, your learner must be able to complete basic scanning skills. The game requires players to scan both the card and the rings in the field of play.
Quick Responding/Playing with Speed – The game is designed as a race to see who can be the quickest at finding the rings and stacking them on their thumb in the correct order. If your learner is motivated by visual games, this may be the perfect game for working on speed in gameplay.
Counting/Number Recognition – Thumbs Up is fantastic for working on basic counting skills, maintaining 1:1 correspondence. Because the game is played at a quick pace, it helps build fluency with these skills once they have been mastered.
Color Recognition & Matching – The learner must be able to simultaneously match numbers and colors. This is a great way to practice higher order matching skills, where the learner must match the color on the card to a ring in the large field of items.
Motor Skills – For some learners it may be a struggle to quickly pick up rings, but this is an excellent way to practice the motor skill if your learner is motivated by the game. It’s also fantastic for learners with autism, who frequently don’t use both hands to complete tasks efficiently.
Peer Play – I love this game for peer play because Thumbs Up has a short playing time and everyone plays simultaneously.
Pros: The rules are simple and gameplay is quick. I also love that learners of many different skill levels enjoy the game, making it an excellent option for family game night. Finally, there are enough cards to keep the game fun for multiple rounds of play.
Cons: No cons for this one!
Cost: $14.99 You should invest in this game if: you are seeking fun games for a family game night or peer play, your learner has strong visual skills and is motivated by visual games, you are looking for games with a short playing time.
ABLLS: A10, B7, B13, K15, R3
VB-MAPP: VP-MTS 10, VP-MTS 15, Math 12, Math 15
Thumbs Up! was provided to me for free by the company Blue Orange to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the toy. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.
Age level: Upper Elementary
Description: The Tower is a simple game that gets kids competing to be the fastest to match a color sequence. This two player game is speedy and fun.
Skills & Modifications: While The Tower is a simple game, it provides opportunities to work on a broad range of skills. I’ve included some modifications that pertain to specific skills below.
Scanning – The Tower requires players to engage in higher order scanning skills because they must not only look at the face-up side of the blocks, but turn them over to find specific colors. For learners who have mastered basic scanning skills, this is a great way to take those skills to a higher level.
Sequencing – At its root, this game is all about sequencing. Once The Tower is turned over and all 8 balls are visible, both players are quickly trying to replicate the sequence in the Tower. Some children with autism may struggle with sequencing skills. You may want to cover part of the tower so they have less visual information to attend to. One way you can do this is by simply placing an index card in front of the tower so that only the bottom ball is visible, then moving it up as the child finds corresponding blocks. You can quickly fade this by making two balls visible after the child has shown success, then three balls, etc. until the child is playing the game as designed.
Color Recognition/Identification – A child doesn’t have to be able to identify colors in order to play this game, but they must be able to match. If the child enjoys the game but struggles with naming the colors, you can model the skill for them. For one student, we just used the tower. I would flip it upside down so one ball would drop, then have the student name the color. He loved the tower and it as a simple way to randomize the response required.
Prepositions – In playing the game, there are a lot of prepositions that are used naturally in talking about what is happening, such as “blue goes ON TOP of red,” or “yellow is UNDER purple.” It’s great practice with basic prepositions.
Motor Skills – The game does require that players can pick up the blocks and stack them neatly. This may be especially challenging as the tower being built gets taller. If your learner is motivated to win the game, this can be a great way to practice careful stacking.
Peer Play – The primary reasons I like this game for peer play is that it is quick and easy to learn. There’s also potential increased motivation for observing what your opponent is doing, which is often challenging for learners with autism.
Accepting Mistakes/Errors – You may get to the end of creating your sequence only to discover that your final block doesn’t have the color you need to complete the task. If your learner is motivated by this activity but struggles with accepting mistakes, this may be an excellent game to practice that skill. Though they are in a race with the other players, there is an opportunity to quickly take apart the tower and try again and the faster you do it, the better the outcome. It has the potential to shorten the duration of frustration and tantrums, especially if you create clearly defined steps for your learner about what to do if they discover they can’t complete the tower.
Pros: Many of my students are motivated by the tower and the blocks. I like that you can practice a range of skills with the game, and most of my students with autism are quickly able to understand the purpose of the game and play it as designed.
Cons: The only con I see is that only two players can play at a time, unless you want to buy more than one set.
ABLLS: A10, B3, B13, G13, G35, K15, Z13
VB-MAPP: VP-MTS 2, VP-MTS 4
If you follow the blog, you already know I’m a huge fan of Tiggly. Tiggly Shapes and Tiggly Counts are excellent interactive toys for the tablet that focus on early math skills. But I’m especially excited that the new interactive toys, Tiggly Words, (which is released today) focuses on early literacy while staying true to the highly motivating, engaging format of Tiggly’s previous products.
I have found the interactive toys (Shapes, Counts, and Words) to be helpful with my students with autism who are highly motivated by the iPad. It allows for me to target specific academic needs in a way that is engaging for those learners.
Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary
Description: Tiggly Words consists of five vowel toys that interact with three apps: Tiggly Submarine, Tiggly Tales, and Tiggly Doctor. The apps all focus on basic letter and sound recognition skills, but include elements of silliness, exploration, and problem solving. Dr. Azadeh Jamalian, Chief Learning Officer and Co-Founder of Tiggly, said “We know physical play is an integral part of children’s development and with the launch of Tiggly Words, we now have three products that bring that physical play into children’s digital sandbox.” I love this goal, and I love the opportunities it provides for expanding the play skills of learners with autism.
Skills & Modifications: It usually very difficult to modify apps to meet the needs of an individual learner. However, because Tiggly Words includes the interactive toys, it’s possible to make some simple modifications. For example, if your learner struggles with scanning, you are able to reduce the number of letters he/she has to choose from to complete an activity. Or, if you are working on improving peer interactions with the tablet, you can give a peer some of the letters. This allows for opportunities for the learner with autism to make requests from peers or to engage with the peer in play on the tablet during the activity.
Letter Recognition/Sound Recognition – Tiggly Words is built to give lots and lots of practice with letter and sound recognition for vowels (a, e, i, o, and u.) It provides many examples of each vowel at the beginning, middle, and end of both CVC and more complex words.
Phonics/Spelling – While some of the letter activities are related to matching, one of the things the app does that I love is that it becomes progressively more difficult. For example, at first it may show the letter you need to find, but after a few successful trials, the learner will have to find the correct letter by listening to the word being pronounced.
Independent Play – As I mentioned earlier, many of my students with autism really love the iPad, but for some of them it is difficult to find appropriate and motivating activities for them to engage in independently. If you have a learner who is also motivated by letters, Tiggly Words might just be the perfect fit.
Pros: The interactive toys add a whole new element to tablets. They allow for more peer and adult interaction, increase opportunities for modifications, and with three apps, it’s much easier to find an activity that meets your learner’s unique interests.
Cons: While I love that the skill level becomes more difficult as the child plays the Tiggly Submarine (one of the three apps,) I wish that there were a way to control the difficulty level. For some of my learners with autism, they need many more trials at a specific skill level before increasing the difficulty.
Cost: $29.95 for the word toys, each app is free You should invest in this toy if: you have a learner who is highly motivated by apps on a tablet, you are seeking unique ways to practice literacy skills, or you are looking for a way to increase functional use of the tablet for a learner with autism.
VB-MAPP: VP-MTS 5
Tiggly Words was provided to me for free by the company Kidtellect to write about here. This did not influence my opinions on the toy. The thoughts and ideas above are all my own.