Well, my mother tells me that the only reason to send Big Boy to preschool next fall is to give his mom a break. She said this when I sent her his progress report from ReadingEggs when he finished the first ten lessons, which make up Map 1 on their program. He was so proud to get 100% on his little test and get a printout certificate to hang on the kitchen wall.
ReadingEggs is an online learn-to-read program from Australia that is associated with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and condoned by the Australian government to improve literacy. It is used in many preschools and schools down under. I learned about it on Brillkids forum. So I went and checked it out. There are lots of testimonials online, as well as a couple sample lessons from two different levels of the program.
I liked what I saw so I signed him up for a 14 day trial. By day 3 he was totally hooked. Every day he begs to do ReadingEggs. It is like an online games world for kids 4-8, where they do phonics and sight word lessons in an interactive format, and are rewarded with noises, songs, characters and funny animations. At the end of every lesson, which usually has 5 or 6 different parts which must be completed with a high accuracy rate, there is a little 8 page digital book to read.
Once the book is completed, a sort of large easter egg cracks open and a new animated critter comes out. They all have names starting with the sound the lesson focused on, such as Marshmallow Mouse, Nutty Newt, Bee bee Bear, Catty Cake. They are then collected in the child’s album of creatures, where he can see them anytime, and look at their “card”, which is like a baseball card, detailing where they get their name from, what they eat, where they live, who their friends are (all reinforcing that lesson’s letter sound)
The lessons are laid out as stepping stones on a map, ten lessons per map. There are arrows leading to the upcoming maps, giving the child a great sense of anticipation and goals. He can see the unopened eggs on the map beside each lesson stone, and is very motivated to move his little avatar character along the map/path.
Each child can personalize their avatar with different heads, legs, arms, egg, headgear and accessories.
Further motivation comes from earning golden eggs. After each lesson part is completed, the child gets 1-3 golden eggs, which accumulate in the upper right of the screen, and then can “spend” them either at the arcade (little games that reinforce phonics and reading can be bought per play) or at Reggie’s Shop (more avatar options can be bought, and also “house furnishings). Each child has a “house” where his avatar lives, and he can chose his favorite hatched critter to live in the yard, and buy furnishings, from wallpaper to chairs to fountains to personalize it. This provides motivation to do the lessons, and also helps with concepts of numbers, money, saving up to get what one wants, etc.
The lessons are recommended to be done 3 times each, and each time one is repeated, more golden eggs are earned. Frankly at this point (about three weeks into the program), Big Boy is only interested in hatching more critters and moving along the map path as fast as possible, doing each lesson once and not repeating any.
This hasn’t seemed to hinder him since he got 100% on his first review of ten lessons. He has covered the sounds s, b, c, m, p, t, f, the words “I” “a” “am” “ant” “Sam” and composite words with the sounds “cat” “fat” “sat” “bat” “mat” etc. And the sentences “I am a cat” “I am a bat” “I am a fat cat” “I am Sam” “a bat sat” “a cat sat” “Sam sat” etc. Here you can see what is covered in the first level.
They emphasize less the name of the letter, and more the sound of the letter. First the child must click on the letter alone, when they show it and say the sound. Then click on the letter among three separate letters on the screen. Then click on the letter within a word. Then choose between several images that start with the letter (mouse-over sounds out the word out loud). Finally, find the small letter in a word search grid. And then the capital letter in the word search grid.
Next there is a dot to dot exercise which helps both number order recognition and stroke order recognition for writing the letter. And then finally there is a “match the word to the picture” exercise, again with voice over when the child holds the mouse over the written word. There are variations such as making a penguin jump from ice flow to ice flow with the correct word on it (if the child makes a mistake, the penguin falls in the water and the game restarts), or clicking on a letter on a worm on a hook and then a word ending (am, at) on a fish. Each time they are clicked in order, they are sounded out, and the worm and fish approach each other, until finally the fish eats the worm and the whole word is sounded out.
I see real life evidence that this phonics work is taking. Since doing ReadingEggs, Big Boy more accurately pronounces some words with sounds that have been emphasized in lessons. He will spontaneously say a word like “train” and then pronounce the “teh” sound at the start, and say “letter T, like my name” or “milk” “mmm” “letter M, like Mommy”.
Now one may ask why I am getting a 4 year old to do this when he is not in preschool yet. His birthday is in November, so he won’t start until fall 2010, but if his birthday had been September, he would be learning this stuff right now anyways. He shows great interest in his name, my name, and the letters in them, and will point out those letters anywhere.
And I am hoping he will be going to preschool in French in the fall. I am concerned that he will have to make the leap to sounding out letters and the connection between the written and spoken word in what really is his third language (his birth language being Mandarin, and his first language at home being English). I would like him to have a base already in his first language, the one in which he has a strong vocabulary and comprehension.
If he understands the concepts behind phonics and reading in English when he starts French preschool, I think that it will be easier to transfer those concepts onto sounds he uses less often, like the accented e’s and a’s in French, and words and pictures he might not associate immediately. For instance, will he look at a picture of a dog, and think “dog: D” instead of “chien: C” in school? At least if he already understands the reading concepts, he can focus on the foreign French vocabulary and ways of writing it. That is my thinking anyways.
Also, we mostly read in English at home, though I try to get about half and half English and French library books. He does complain and go “Why French mommy, I like English!” when I pull out the French books, but he still listens. But I would like him to be able to read the majority English books we own and borrow, and in the French school system here, I don’t think they emphasize English for several years. And when they do, it will be English as a Second Language. So I feel a duty to do the English schooling myself, so he isn’t three to five years behind his English peers in English literacy.
Finally, I was swayed by the testimonials of parents on the ReadingEggs site: Big Boy has some expressive language delays, specifically morphosyntax, and other parents had written about how their children with special needs in language were greatly helped along by a phonics program. Indeed seeing it on the screen, and having to match the heard and spoken to the visual in a game environment already seems to be helping Big Boy make sense of the language. I am sure that as he reads and creates proper sentences within the program, this will reinforce his own expressive language skills. Indeed there is a complementary storytelling component to Reading Eggs, where children can put together words and images to create simple books that they can print out.
So, as for now, I highly recommend ReadingEggs. Big Boy loves it, I love it, we have lots of fun, and it is together time (he sits on my lap). He is learning computer skills as well, and has gone from an absolute beginner to a somewhat confident mouse user, clicking and dragging and dropping. Sometimes when he gets frustrated I mouse for him (he listens to the instructions and points to the correct answers and I move the cursor). But so far his skills in listening, computers, paying attention, and meeting goals have all increased in the three weeks we have used this program. The first two weeks were free, but we have signed up for a year for $79 AUS (about $74 Cdn). You can also get 6 months for $59 AUS.
We’ll be doing updates on ReadingEggs as he progresses, and also we are waiting on the printed components: books that match the digital ones online for review, workbooks, progress charts etc. The printed materials are discounted when you subscribe to the online lessons. Right now only Level One (first 40 books) are available in Canada, shipped from the US. Level Two (second 40 books) should be available in the near future. If not, higher levels must be shipped from Australia, which is long and expensive. When we have received the printed materials I’ll do an update.
If anyone else has a learn to read, or online phonics program that they have tried, do let us know. Were you happy or unhappy? What were the pros or cons? Have you tried ReadingEggs too?