Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Aleph-Bet Stix Interview and free GIVEAWAY!

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!  The winner is Yael.  Yael, please contact me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com within 3 days (before Wednesday, July 4th) with your mailing information.  In the event that I don’t hear from you within that time, I will draw another winner.  Thanks!!!

imageENTER TO WIN A FREE SET OF ALEPH-BET STIX, courtesy of Jewish Educational Toys and Menlo Toys

Oooh, I am so excited!  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Aleph-Bet Stix, an educational alef-bais learning product that I just happened across in a local bookstore… and, of course, being SUPER-nice, I wished I could share the fun with all of you.  Well, now I can!

I was fascinated by the idea of inventing your own Jewish educational product to fill a niche (hey, I kind of do it all the time), so I wrote to Chris Bishop, creator of Aleph-Bet Stix, who – while not a Jewish homeschooler himself, is an engineering & science-supplementing dad to two Jewish boys – agreed to an interview. 

And after the interview, you’ll find a form so you, too, can enter and win between now and June 30th.  Entries allowed from anywhere in the world – there will be one winner, announced at the top of this post, on Monday, July 2nd.  I will contact the winner to get an address for shipping.  Please allow 3-4 weeks for shipping from JET.

So let’s let Chris tell us all about how this product came to be…

What is Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix?

Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix is a set of shaped wooden pieces that fit together in various ways to form the whole aleph-bet.

The original idea was to give kids a way to make their letters before they could hold a pencil. So instead of writing, kids arrange the wooden pieces on the floor or table using a printed gameboard as a guide. There is also a die and instructions to turn the activity into a game, and there is a bag to hold all the pieces including the board.

Tell me a bit about your family.

Rebecca and I have two boys, one is nine years old, and the other is six and a half. We don’t homeschool, but we supplement their science education a great deal.

Rebecca is Jewish, but I am not. The boys learn Hebrew from their Baubie and Zaddie. I must say that I tried to learn the aleph-bet at the same time as they did, but they picked it up much faster than me!

What was your inspiration for creating Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix?

When my older son was about two years old, we went to a Chinese restaurant. He tried forming the alphabet using chopsticks. “A” was easy, but “B” took so many chopsticks that they filled the whole table! I thought, “There ought to be a set of curved sticks to make this easier.”

I called the English version Letter Sticks. A couple of years went by as I worked, on and off, on prototypes. I tried to sell Letter Sticks but couldn’t find a buyer, at least in part due to the poor economy. So while I was waiting for the economy to improve, I made the Hebrew version. I sold that version very quickly because it was a unique toy in a niche market. (The English version never has found a buyer.)

Do you have a background in education?

I actually have a PhD in electrical engineering: my day job is making antenna systems for commercial spacecraft. However, Rebecca has a PhD in psychology with a specialty of evaluating the use of technology by children; part of her work involves evaluating a science curriculum used in schools. And her sister is a teacher, so between the three of us we had the bases covered for this project!

What were your design goals for this product?

I’m most comfortable working with wood, and it is such a great-looking and great-feeling material that I knew that I wanted Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix to be made from it. Besides, wood is a sustainable product and much more environmentally friendly than alternatives such as plastic.

I was driven to large diameter pieces not only because of safety concerns but also because the larger pieces have a certain heft, and they feel comfortable in the hand. Kids like bold, bright colors, so I wanted to use many of the colors of the rainbow. At the same time, I didn’t want the toy to be viewed as a “girl” toy or a “boy” toy, so I tried to avoid too much of one color.

(Secret facts: The favorite color of one of my sons was blue, so three sticks were made blue. My other son’s favorite color was purple, so the biggest stick was made purple!)

The die was added later to help turn the toy into a game. We had a big wooden die from another game, and I knew it would be a great addition to this one.

What other features or accessories did you think about?

The English-language Letter Sticks were play-tested at a local preschool. I tried out several ideas in that environment which ultimately got transferred to Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix.

One idea was to replace the board with a stack of pages with outlines of the letters printed on them. This idea worked well in a short-term play-test environment, but there were significant problems. First, paper is not very durable and is easily chewed, torn, or otherwise destroyed. Second, the pages have to be large to fit the letters at full size. This leads to additional printing and packaging costs. Third, the pages do not store in the bag thus eliminating the advantage of having the bag. In the end, since the Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix is intended for a slightly older audience than the English-language version, it was decided to just use the folding board that fits nicely inside the bag.

That said, I will be making a pdf version of the aleph-bet available on the website, www.menlotoys.com, within the next few days, so families can print their own pages. It contains full-sized outlines of the letters to make building letters easy!  [watch this space – I’ll update this when Chris tells me the pdf is live!]

Are you working on any other educational products or toys right now?

Not yet, but mostly because I haven’t thought of any good toy ideas recently. If you think of any, let me know. I have written and illustrated a children’s book aimed at kids aged six through nine called “The Green Apple Child.” It is available through www.lulu.com under the penname Daddy Bishop. Currently I am working on a counting book called “Mr. Ree’s Mystery.”

What was the best part about creating Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix?

The emulation by my kids. While I was making Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix, they would make their own games from cardboard, paper, and dice. When I started writing books, they became interested in writing books! Live and learn and pass it on!

Okay, now everybody’s ready. How can we ALL get Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix?

Jewish Educational Toys has done a fantastic job of engaging a manufacturer and distributing Aleph Bet Puzzle Stix around the world. JET developed the packaging and artwork and made it possible for kids everywhere to have a lot of fun! You can find their products in Jewish stores around the world. You can also order directly from their website, but you have to order 6 at a time.

Wow – thanks, Chris, for telling us all about this great new product! 

Now for the giveaway!  Enter to win ONE complete boxed set of Aleph-Bet Stix, including all the “Stix,” bag, die, game instructions and letter-shape board.  There will be ONE winner.  I’ve never tried Rafflecopter before, so I’m going to give it a go and see how well this works.  There are five ways to win, and you can Tweet about the giveaway every day to enter again and again until June 30th.

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!  The winner is Yael.  Yael, please contact me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com within 3 days (before Wednesday, July 4th) with your mailing information.  In the event that I don’t hear from you within that time, I will draw another winner.  Thanks!!!

Okay, I hope that worked (I can’t see the entry code, but hopefully you will once this is “live”)… by the way, my low-tech We Choose Virtues review & giveaway has been extended until THIS Friday, June 22nd, so enter that one now while you’re here!