Word World is one of the most clever ways I've ever seen to teach reading. It's an adorable animated series where each character and many of the things they encounter in the world are made up of the letters used to make that word. Take a look at the character Duck in the image above (they only have the name of what they are, which helps to make it less confusing for kids)... he is made up of the letters D-U-C-K. Sheep is made of the letters S-H-E-E-P, and so on. There are tons of recurring characters on the show, referred to as "Word Friends": Frog, Duck, Sheep, Pig, Bear, Bug, Ant, Fly, Cat, Robot, Shark... I could go on and on.
The great thing about this program is that it really helps foster the idea that all words are made up of letters. In fact, several times during the program, your child is invited to "build a word" with a cute little song. Then the characters show them how the letters come together, make sounds, and form words.
There are also fantastic companion toys available, many are stuffed Word Friends, whose letters actually come apart so your child can build the word and make the friend whole again. Endlessly clever I tell you! I have a feeling that I would probably just find disembodied Word Friend parts all over my house, since my son just enjoys the destruction.
Word World currently airs on PBS stations, which are free over the air. There are also lots of DVDs available, as well as the toys I mentioned.
Toddler and preschool children will probably get the most out of this show, although babies may enjoy the bright colors and cute animated friends on screen. Older kids will likely be bored with the show itself, but may still benefit from some of the supplemental materials, like flash cards, for spelling and reading comprehension.
What your child learns:
- Reading Readiness: Learning that words are made up of letters, letters make sounds (phonics), spelling, capital and lowercase letter recognition, rhyming, vocabulary.
- Problem Solving: Choosing the right word or letter, filling in blanks, arranging letters in a certain order.
- Social and Emotional Development: Cultivating friendships, being helpful, social diversity awareness, knowing when to ask for help.
As a parent watching, I will admit that hearing the "It's time to build a word" song a few times in a row might be grating. However, I can't really think of any other major flaws. Some parents think Duck's voice is kind of annoying, but I think he sounds like Don Knotts. (Hey, it could be worse... he could be voiced by Gilbert Godfreid. I swear that guy does nothing but voice-over work these days. His voice makes me want to stick a sharpened pencil in my ear.) My son loves shouting out the words as they turn into the object. It actually makes me wonder if he knows more about reading than he lets on at two and a half.
I can still never get over just how clever of an idea this program is. I highly recommend it, especially for parents of pre- or early readers. It's an enjoyable way to teach phonics and other early reading skills. And it's just downright adorable!