Until the mid-twentieth century, American schools taught youngsters to read using phonics, which formalizes the process by breaking down words into letters and their sounds. By learning general rules and practicing with much repetition, students learned to read while simultaneously advancing their ability to spell and use the rules of effective language correctly.
Then, with the development of the whole language movement in the 1930s, learning- to-read curricula in the public schools began to change. Traditional beginning reading texts were replaced with Dick and Jane “look-say” books. Learning to read was based on emphasizing the larger meaning of the text and its relation to the student and his or her culture. Spelling and grammatical rules were de-emphasized.
Many teachers found that the whole language approach did not produce confident and accomplished young readers or fully meet the needs of young readers and writers.
Today, in a reversal of the whole language trend, young readers again are reaping the benefits of phonics-based curricula. Texts featuring Dick and Jane have been replaced with software starring Robby the Raccoon, Reader Rabbit, and a host of animated characters. As a result, children are reading better and enjoying it more than ever.
Here is a small sampling of engaging phonics-based software that is available at reasonable prices from highly regarded educational vendors.
For ages 4-6
This product consists of two CDs. The first provides reading instruction, and the second is a Virtual Classroom where children broaden their knowledge of math and reading.
CD #1: Reading Blaster with New SmartPoints
This is an undersea adventure where the young child dives into reading and learns phonics, alphabetical order, categorizing, spelling, sentences, and over 450 vocabulary words. As the child completes lessons to learn more than 50 reading skills, he or she earns SmartPoints, which may be redeemed for online prizes. The more children play the game, the more points they earn, and the more prizes they can win.
CD #2: Virtual Classroom
Virtual Classroom is a fun and challenging place where children can broaden their knowledge of math and reading, meet other children, and join a customized online learning experience in a safe and friendly environment. Host Max Blaster leads children through a variety of classes on specific math and reading subjects. Children also may collaborate on creative writing projects and interactive math lessons.
After a free introductory period, Virtual Classroom will be offered as a low cost subscription.
$29.95 from Knowledge Adventure 800/545-7677
Let’s Go Read! 1
An Island Adventure
For ages 4-6
Here, beginning readers take off with Robby the Raccoon, Emily the Squirrel, and the Reading Rover on an exciting adventure to an island inhabited by the alphabet. As the adventure proceeds, children will play through more than 35 fun activities that instill and reinforce the essential skills for successful reading. The product features Speech Recognition, so that when children read out loud, the computer listens and responds. Record and Playback lets children hear themselves read, and with Voice Activation, children can command the computer with their voice.
$29.95 from Edmark 800/691-2986
Let’s Go Read! 2
An Ocean Adventure
For ages 5-7
This product offers children a voyage toward reading fluency that combines skill-building with having fun. Building upon a child’s mastery of letters, Let’s Go Read! 2 explores how letters combine to form words, and how words combine to express meaning. There are dozens of captivating, skill-building activities that teach a child the skills to sound out, recognize, build, and comprehend hundreds of new words.
$29.95 from Edmark (800) 691-2986
For ages 3-6
When a child first starts to use JumpStart Phonics, the program conducts an assessment test so that it has a baseline measurement from which to measure how much the child’s speech is improving. Besides metering progress, this allows an auto-leveling feature to guide players to learn further skills as soon as a new skill has been mastered. There are three levels of gameplay in each skill set, from pre-reading to 1st grade reading. A printable activity/discovery book also is available to enhance and reinforce skills.
Voice Recognition can identify and react to a specific child’s voice, and a child can engage in interactive conversation with the characters in the program. Activities can be played either with a traditional mouse interface or by voice commands.
$19.99 from Knowledge Adventure 800/545-7677
Reader Rabbit Reading 1
For ages 3-6
In this award-winning classic, which is used in more homes and schools than any other reading software, children join Reader Rabbit and Mat the Mouse on an adventure of exploration through a magical Word Factory that teaches them to read.
By playing with four Word Machines at the factory, beginning readers develop a solid foundation for successful reading. Even pre-readers can start to learn basic phonics, sound out more than 200 words, identify letter patterns, and learn spelling basics. As children learn to recognize and sound out words and build vocabulary, Reader Rabbit and friends are always ready with encouragement, hints, and demonstrations.
Graduated levels of difficulty allow parents to customize a child’s learning experience. For example, every game has at least four difficulty levels so it can be fine-tuned to match a child’s abilities.
$24.95 from The Learning Company 800/395-0277
Reader Rabbit I Can Read! with Phonics
For ages 6-9
When tentative sounding-it-out gives way to solid reading skills, Reader Rabbit is ready and eager to guide the young learner toward even greater accomplishments. This product provides over 100 engaging reading lessons that reinforce reading basics while introducing advanced concepts such as rhyming, superlatives, compound words, and writing. Record-playback capabilities allow children to perfect their pronunciation and build reading-aloud confidence. Lessons come in three skill levels, together with 30 interactive storybooks filled with lovable characters, delightful songs, and engaging activities.
As well as built-in progress reports, the package also offers plenty of printable activities to extend the fun of discovery beyond the computer. There’s also parent-controlled access to readerrabbit.com, a colorful Web site with lots of children’s activities, plus tips and tools for parents.
$19.95 from The Learning Company 800/395-0277
My Reading Coach
For ages 7 and up
This product teaches phonics and spelling patterns for English words. Built on a proven reading program created by 25-year veteran speech pathologist Jim Larrabee, My Reading Coach teaches correct sound pronunciation and letter formation, alternative spellings of sounds, and the role of spelling in word meaning. The package includes 47 roughly one-hour lessons, each with multiple activities. The student is tested for mastery at least five different ways on every lesson, and the program automatically schedules review tests and reassigns lessons.
As one would expect from a coach, the program is individualized for each child, identifying gaps in knowledge so that a student learns what he or she needs to learn. The package includes printable worksheets for reinforcing skills offline and for comprehension practice.
$79 from MINDPLAY 887/880-1800