Thursday, November 17, 2011

Word World

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.
There is also a great site for parents and educators wishing to use this program in a more instructional manner, Word World for Parents and Teachers. There is also a bar across the top where you can bring your child to play online Word World games with their favorite characters from the program.

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!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Super Why

Here's a super hero team that any parent can get behind... although I'm still partial to Spidey and the X-Men, don't get me wrong! Super Why, also known as Wyatt, is a story book character who comes to the rescue of his story book world friends by using books with characters who are experiencing similar dilemmas.

Now, you're probably thinking, "I don't know of any story with a character named Wyatt in it," and you would be right. However, when I tell you more about Wyatt's family, you might recognize him... or at least his older brother. They reside in a giant beanstalk house, and his older brother's name is Jack. Jack is now a teenager (recently headed off to college, in fact), and Wyatt has taken over the job of being the rambunctious boy of the family.

Wyatt's friends, also known as The Super Readers, are also popular storybook characters. There is Red, who roller skates to and from Grandma's house now. Pig is the smallest of the famous three, and loves to build things. Finaly, there is Princess Pea, who is known for her sensitivity to a particular legume beneath her mattress. All four have special Super Reading powers: Pig turns into Alpha Pig, who is well versed in the alphabet. Red becomes Wonder Red, who loves to rhyme and find similar sounds. Princess Pea becomes Princess Presto, with super spelling powers. Wyatt becomes the titular Super Why, with the power to read using his Why Writer, which highlights words as they are read, and helps him zap the right word to complete a sentence.

In more recent episodes, a new character named Woofster has been added. He's Wyatt's new pet dog, and he has Dictionary Power, to help define words that are new to the Super Readers. What kid doesn't love a cute puppy?

Viewers are also encouraged to watch for "Super Letters", which Wyatt plugs into his Super Computer to give them the answer to their dilemma. The letters tend to pop up throughout the story, and are sparkly and red. My son gets quite excited when he spots them, and loves "yelling to Super Why" to "alert" him to their presence.

Super Why currently airs on PBS, a free over the air channel, and PBS Sprout on certain cable network providers and satellite services.

Suggested ages for this program are toddler to about age 6 or 7. I think older kids may find the reading lessons a bit below them, but may still benefit from spelling and sentence completion lessons. Younger viewers may not enjoy the reading aspect as much, but rhyming and finding the Super Letters will be a lot of fun for the 2-3 set.

What your child learns:
  • Reading Readiness: Identifying letters (both upper and lowercase), completing sentences with the correct word, context, rhyming words, spelling.
  • Social and Emotional development: Helping others, compassion, friendship, following directions, listening to others.
  • Critical Thinking: Identifying and solving problems, using context to answer a question, finding similarities between parallel situations. 
As a parent watching, you might find the pauses to allow your child to answer to be a tad on the long side, and some of the situations may be overly basic. There is a little humor thrown in for the adult crowd, in that some of the story book characters the Super Readers meet are obviously neurotic, but aside from that, there isn't going to be much you'll enjoy other than watching your child respond to questions.

It's a cute little show, without loud and obnoxious characters. That's always a plus in my book. The reading aspect of this show, I find, is almost unparalleled in other programs. Your child will love having a super hero of their own to identify with, and seeing characters they recognize from some of their favorite stories on screen is a special little bonus.