Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Zooples and Co Review and Giveaway

Today's our second big giveaway over at my education based blog ABC & 123! I wrote the review posted here and again over there. Go learn about a great company and find out how you can try their products!
Lindsey at iDesignMyWorld on Etsy is talent behind the Zooples & Co, and her adorable collection of animal friends are ready to help teach your child about the alphabet! Zooples & Co Animal Cards measure 4.25 in. x 5.5 in. and it's clear the second you open the box that they are professionally printed, on sturdy card stock. The color and print quality is excellent and there is so much detail in each animal and the shading of the backgrounds. What makes them extra cute illustrations is that each animal has a look similar to an epoxy sticker with a slightly shiny look to it. Shadow effects add depth to their appearance and the overall look is very colorful and vibrant. Lindsay says she loves designing cute, and she manages to make each animal sweet and cuddly looking, even the shark!
The cards are a visual treat the second you open them. This mama was very pleased with the sturdy plastic container that make the sets all ready to wrap up to give as a gift and are the perfect size for a stocking stuffer, Easter basket, preschool graduations presents, birthday gift, or special surprise. The perfectly coordinating ribbon tied around our Jaguar set added to the lovely presentation. You know I whisked that away into my crafting stash before handing the cards over to my eager tester's hands!
Cards come in complete sets of 26 so you get one for each letter, the front and back are shown above. Each letter comes printed with a Zoople friend on the front along with it's name spelled out in a rounded all capital letter font. The backside features the same decorative background and a large capital letter.
My set came with corners but you can now request them with rounded edges, I didn't think my two and a half year old would get hurt but since there is a choice, I recommend choosing the rounded edge option over unrounded. However, my personal choice would be to get cards laminated, you won't have to worry about sharp edges with this option because the lamination edges are then rounded. I will tell you why further on in the review, when I discuss educational uses for the cards.
What I especially liked are the animals Lindsay choose to depict. There are familiar favorites that your child is well acquainted with but also ones that might be new like dolphin rather than the more commonly chosen dog for the letter D.The cards are also available individually so you can replace any that become worn, although this is unlikely as each is on sturdy cardstock and when my daughter bent the corners of a few they bounced right back into shape without any creases. Replacement or extra cards can be purchased by customers of past full alphabet sets for a reduced cost of a dollar each. Extra individual cards would come in handy if you'd like your child to spell out specific words using the cards. I also think framing a group of individual cards so they spell out your child's name would make a wonderful decoration to a nursery or child's room. Zooples & Co offer more options for room decor, which will be discussed shortly.

Learning Connections
Obviously, these would be a great starting off point for letter of the week activities! You could use these to introduce each new letter and then center your activities around the featured animal. This would be especially high interest for my daughter or any other who adores anything to do with animals.
We had so much alphabet learning fun with our letter cards! My daughter is at the introductory stage of learning her letters. We laid all the cards out and took turns calling out an animal name. She'd find that animal and then we'd say the animal name again before turning it over. Next we'd say the letter name while tracing the letter outline with our finger. It sounds simple but she'll actually sit and do this for the entire alphabet at once. That's saying a lot because she's a very active child.
At two and a half my daughter is too young to put them in ABC order, but when I taught kindergarten I used to give my kids an index sized copy of the alphabet along with a shuffled up set of cards and have them lay them out in alphabetical order. As that skill was mastered they'd have to put them in order without the reference card. For now we sing the alphabet song and lay out the cards in ABC order as we sing each letter. This was also a popular activity!
I have tubs and tubs of plastic magnetic letter sets leftover from doing learning centers in my classroom. I used them for a simple matching game. ER likes any opportunity to get her little hands on the piles of letters, so she was quite excited for this game. Just lay out a few letters and have your child find the one that matches and place on top of the card.

You can often find sets of plastic magnetic letters like these at Dollar Stores, at such an inexpensive price get several sets so you have extra vowels and commonly used consonants. They'll come in handy for a number of educational purposes.
We matched up the entire alphabet and after a break for lunch and some sand table play time we came back and finished the activity. We put the cards in ABC order, or rather I put them in order while talking to her about what I was doing. She sat on the floor very intrigued by what I was doing and insisted on helping me put several of the letters into our line of letters. We sang the song and she picked up each magnetic letter as we sang it and put it in their storage container. Then we sang the song again and picked up the cards.
The next logical step for using the letters with the cards is to spell out the animal names. There are several animals with short 3 letter names: cat, fox, yak or 4 to 5 letter names: bear, frog, hippo, lion, wolf, zebra to make this a learning task for early learners and enough longer names to still keep it challenging for intermediate learners, i.e. alligator, goldfish, unicorn, and vampire bat.

For a young child like my daughter, I sort out the necessary letters for each word and hand her only those to put in order. She still needs some guidance but has picked up what she's supposed to do fairly quickly. We spell out each word after we copy it with plastic letters.
An activity along the same concept but to practice writing skills would be to give your child the sent of cards along with a simple book with a set number of pages like the one above. The child chooses a card for each page, then copies the animal name onto the line, and draws their own interpretation of the animal in the space provided.

Now that Lindsay offers the great option of lamination, I'd choose that one so you can give your child a dry erase marker and the cards. They'll have lots of fun tracing the letters to spell out and write each animal name. The pen marks will wipe off easily and it's a great activity to take with you in a plastic bag for practice while waiting at a restaurant, at the doctors office, or while flying or at church. The animal names with fewer letters are shown with larger letters and longer names like reindeer with smaller ones so one set can keep different levels of beginner writers occupied starting in later preschool stages.

Laminated cards can even be used for letter formation before your child is actually ready to print. I've post on Katie's Nesting Spot, about making ABC cards for your child to use with playdoh. Skip the hassle of making your own. Have your child make playdoh "ropes" and use them to form the letter on top of the laminated card.

As you can see there are many ways a great set of alphabet cards with highly engaging pictures can be used. Get a set as your child begins their letter studies and they can be used a long time and with all the stages of alphabet work. Zoople's animal flash cards are a great quality product with wonderful illustrations that will engage your child and keep him or her interested in learning!

Interested in getting your own set?
Buy One !At Zooples & Co on Etsy! You can choose which card you'd like feature as the first card in the stack and personalize how they'll appear in their plastic container. That's a nice little feature, choose a favorite animal of the recipient and you can even choose different animals if more than one child is getting a set as gifts at the same time.Lindsey specializes in alphabet cards and sets but offers other fun options that showcase her charming Zooples. If you fall in love with a particular card and want one to decorate your little one's room, she has delightful 8X10 prints, my favorite is the G is for Giraffe or the M is for Moose, with her new nature inspired background, shown above. Or you can skip the hassle of a frame and get a wrapped canvas print of your favorite Zoople animal, a set of three shown below. Both versions of prints include a description printed directly on the picture of the letter and animal shown.Did you notice that the Zooples in her prints have been grounded? As Lindsay explains, "No, not because they’re naughty, but they have bodies now." I really like the new complete animal designs because if there is one recommendation I'd have for the Zooples & Co line, it's that the Alligator and Iguana heads on the flash cards look very similar and they confuse my daughter a little. I think if the grounded versions would look different enough to avoid the confusion. I think an option for a set with the grounded versions of Zooples would be a great addition to Lindsay's line.
Aren't these coasters perfect for using out on the deck with an ice cold beverage? Zooples are also available in drink coaster sets in the following themes: panda, African safari, and sea creatures. They are rubber backed so unlike the glass or heavier tile sets you don't have to worry about your little one dropping one on their toe, a big ouch, as we know from experience.

Win It! Zooples & Co Giveaway!
Lindsay at Zooples & Co has generously agreed to give ABC & 123 readers a choice of one of the following:
  • a set of ABC Animal Flash Cards, or
  • an 8x10 Animal Art Print of your choice, or
  • a set of Cute Animal Coasters!
Find out how you can win by going over to ABC & 123! Hurry this giveaway is only open until June 8th! Don't forget this IS NOT the giveaway post! You need to enter only on this post.

I received our review product from Zooples & Co, free of charge in return for writing a review of their products and hosting a giveaway on my blog ABC & 123. We want to stress that our opinions are genuine and no effort was made to influence them by the company.

Wow everyone! We had 101 comments on our giveaway post for Zooples and Co! I am so happy that everyone loved hearing about Lindsay's cute illustrations and my ways to incorporating them into your learning activities.

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