Game Review: A Fist Full of Coins: Game to Improve Expressive Language

Game board for "A Fist Full of Coins.". Photo courtesy of http://www.nomorelearningdisorders.com.

Description:

A Fist Full of Coins is a game designed to improve expressive language skills and make children more available for learning. Players arrange playing pieces according to instructions on a card, and receive coins based on the complexity of the task and how well it was carried out. The emphasis is on increasing length of memory and utterance in a positive atmosphere where everybody earns a coin just for trying.

Though designed for speech therapists and others working with kids in an educational setting, it's easy enough for parents to implement.

What's Included:

Inside the game box are a game board marked with a "Holding Area," "Assembly Area," and spots for four different levels of cards; 15 instruction cards for each level; 50 yellow plastic coins; green oval, blue circle, red heart, and yellow square boxes; and a dozen small pieces — orange button and diamond, purple car and flower, white snowman and star, green clover and tree, blue butterfly and bird, and yellow moon and triangle.

How to Play:

The board is placed in front of the player whose turn it is, with the Assembly Area directly in front of the player. The player picks a card from one of the levels, and reads the instructions aloud. The card can be read as many times as needed, but no pieces can be touched until the card is put face down (or, as we play it, given to Mom).

The player must then move the needed pieces from the Holding Area to the Assembly Area and arrange them according to the instructions. Finally, the player must describe what he or she did, using as many descriptive words as possible.

Scoring:

If the player gets all the instructions right, he or she gets one coin for Level 1, two coins for Level 2, three coins for Level 3, and four coins for Level 4.

For each mistake made, the player loses a coin -- but every player, every turn, receives at least one coin just for trying. The idea is to encourage effort and speech, and keep things as positive as possible.

Sample Instructions:

  1. Level 1: Put the blue bird in front of the red heart box.
  2. Level 2: Put the yellow square box behind the green oval box and a blue butterfly in front of the oval box.
  3. Level 3: Put the orange diamond between the circle box and the heart box. Then put a green clover under the circle box and turn the heart box over and put the white star on top of it.
  4. Level 4: Turn the oval box over and put it on top of the button and the flower. Then put the car on top of the oval box and a butterfly behind the oval box and the triangle in front of the oval box.

Pluses:

  • It's easy, compact, and fun
  • It's hard to find games that really exercise working memory and oral language skills, and this one is awesome at it
  • You can play it with just one child, or up to four
  • The instructions make it easy for parents to coach their kids
  • In addition to memory and language, it reinforces color, shape, and directional recognition

Minuses:

  • The title is going to mislead a lot of people into thinking it's about money
  • Speaking of money, at $40, it's priced more for professionals than parents (though I'm thrilled that the price recently came down from $50)
  • There are few enough cards for each level that your kids might memorize them if you play a lot
  • There's a wide variation of tasks at each level that might seem unfair to some kids
  • If any of those cute tiny pieces get lost, the game's unplayable

How to Get It:

The game can be ordered direct from the No More Learning Disorders site, which has additional information about its creator and creation, as well as case studies and testimonials.

My Review:

My kids absolutely love this game. It's unusual to find something that they'll both agree to play, but I can get them sitting down for this. We've also included, at various times, my 8-year-old nephew, a middle-school friend of my son's and a high-school friend, all with varying degrees of language and cognitive and behavioral impairments. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Even when it was hard. No one got frustrated or competitive. They seemed to just really dig the tasks.

We've done some personalizing of the instructions. Since there's no end goal for the game, we've been playing about 15-20 minutes at a time and calling it quits at the end of a round. That seems to be keeping it fresh. Instead of putting out all four levels of card, eating up a lot of board real estate, we've just been using a couple of levels that are within their ability. At first, it was Level 1 and 2 only; now, it's 2 and 3.

I can't vouch for the kind of speech and cognitive gains mentioned on the game's Web site. We've only been playing it for a week or so, anyway. But I will say that I've seen impressive progress in my kids' ability to remember the tasks described in just that short time. When we first started, my high-school age, expressive-language impaired daughter struggled mightily just to manage the Level 1 cards. It was interesting to me to see the way in which the game highlighted her specific difficulties. When we played today, she surprised me by doing a couple of Level 3 tasks without a problem. That's pretty big stuff for her.

My son, whose language issues are less but attention issues are greater, sits and stares at that card until he's got it down, and then carefully follows the instructions. That, come to think of it, is pretty big too.

I sure do wish it was cheaper, but I'd recommend it anyway. It's a great addition to any parent's home therapy collection -- and if you've been shopping in therapy catalogs, you've probably already made your peace with that kind of pricing. If it strengthens your child's memory and expressive language abilities, even a little, it's probably worth the fist full of coins it costs.

A message from the game creator.

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