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Review CornerSoftware
Earobics Step 1
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Earobics Step 1 is an invaluable program that systematically develops auditory processing skills that are vital to success in reading, spelling, and language skills. The program is engaging, powerful, and highly effective. Every child who is about to or in the midst of learning to read can benefit greatly from this program.
Ages: 4-7  Subject: Reading/Pre-Reading/Spelling  Brand: Cognitive Concepts
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
This program is the first step in the Earobics series that focuses on developing listening skills, phonological awareness, and auditory processing skills. Included are 6 interactive exercises, most of which are hosted by friendly and encouraging cartoon characters.

At sign-in, the player can select one of 3 difficulty levels (beginning, intermediate, or advanced) for the program. It is easy to see a child's progress, as there is a visual representation of the proportion of the total exercises completed for each activity (pictured at right). Players see this every time they select a new activity and many will be quite motivated to fill in the slots on this screen. An icon that takes you to an Options screen is present on all the activity screens, which allows a player to pause their game or to exit the program.

The 6 activities are as follows:

  • Karloon's Balloons (larger picture above) involves listening to sounds and clicking on the correct objects associated with these sounds. At the basic level, kids simply click on sounds given the grid of pictures. As they progress, they listen to sound sequences and must repeat them. Later, they are not shown the pictures until after the sounds have played. More complicated situations are gradually introduced as players progress.
  • In C.C. Coal Car, kids are presented with a sound (such as "long e"), then hear different sounds or words and must determine whether what they heard is that sound or not. In our long "e" example, words may be "shut" or "bleach". With success, each train car is filled with coal. As the child progresses, more challenging sounds are presented, and kids must also determine the position of the sound in words (beginning, middle, or end).
  • Rap-A-Tap-Tap involves listening to a series of drum beats and clicking the mouse the correct number of times to reproduce the same sequence. The game becomes more challenging when the drum beats are presented closer together, and again, when drum beats are replaced with speech sounds and syllables. Kids are rewarded after each success with a short music interlude.
  • In Caterpillar Connection, Katy Pillar is disconnected — there is a small word or sound attached to each part of her caterpillar body, and when they are put together, they combine to make a compound word (and later, the words are broken down into syllables) that kids must identify by clicking on the correct picture. As kids display mastery, the words become increasingly similar (such as "dollhouse" and "doghouse"), and the time lag between the spoken word parts increases. Additionally, when syllables and sounds need to be blended together, the number of sounds in a word increases as kids advance.
  • At the beginning of Rhyme Time, a number of frogs (starting with 3 and gradually advancing to 5) each say a word and kids must identify the one that does not rhyme. Later, kids are asked which frog said a word that rhymes with the given word. In both types of exercises, more frogs are gradually added and background swamp noise is introduced to increase the challenge.
  • The first type of activity presented in Basket Full of Eggs requires kids to click on the pair of same-colored hens when they hear a pair of sounds that are the same, and to click on the white and brown hen couple when the sounds they hear are different. The vowel sounds presented become increasingly similar as the child progresses.

A form of adaptive learning technology is adopted in this program, and it means that the levels automatically adjust according to a child's performance. This helps to minimize frustration. Although some of the activities can be quite challenging, you can be assured that your child will be faced with these challenges only after mastering important basic skills.

Most games are timed, but an important trick to extend the time allowed for a response is to click on the speaker icon which repeats the auditory component and restarts the timer! This way, kids can "buy" a bit of time when necessary.

I usually penalize a program that doesn't allow a player to click through verbal instructions, but this program certainly qualifies as an exception! It is vital that a child listen to the instructions in order to play the activities.

My own children are having a great time with this program. My 5 year-old is getting the most out of it — as a highly visual learner, she doesn't naturally listen to the subtleties of language. Even during the relatively short time that we tested this program for this review, I have noticed a huge difference in her listening skills. She is excited about the spaces filling up as she completes the activities (although she is sometimes frustrated by the fact that, from a child's point of view, the criteria for earning these colorful markers seems uneven). In general, she is very enamored with this program and wants to play it often. My 2 1/2 year-old likes to watch her older siblings play the game and now frequently attempts to break down words into sounds. I'm pleased that she is becoming more aware of the different blends and sounds that make up words.

It wasn't until seeing Earobics in action that I realized how educational software focuses so heavily on visual exercises — hand-eye coordination, recognizing shapes, the alphabet, proofreading, etc. All of these skills are developmentally important, but auditory processing skills are also very critical skills that facilitate reading, speech development, and more. There really isn't much on the market that focuses on auditory skills, and certainly none do this as completely as Earobics. It is interesting, too, because the usefulness of computers for the type of auditory exercises found in Earobics is very high.

The methods to teach these important skills are interesting and produce wonderful results. For example, background noise is used at certain points in many of the activities, helping to teach kids to focus on relevant sounds. Other methods used are things even the most informed parents wouldn't think of (unless perhaps they happen to be experts in language and literacy).

Earobics is used by professionals with children who have auditory processing difficulties, speech problems, and more. However, I would recommend it wholeheartedly to any child who is within the suggested 4-7 age group, and a bit beyond as well. The activities in the Earobics series are designed to increase phonological awareness (the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds in language) that is so crucial to success in reading and spelling.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are a 486/66, 24 Mb RAM, and 2X CD ROM. Mac users require at least a 68040 with 24 Mb RAM, System 7.0 or higher, and at least 2X CD ROM.

Skills Covered
auditory attention/focus, auditory figure-ground discrimination (focusing on sound with the presence of background noise), auditory discrimination, sequential memory, sound blends, syllable blends into words, detection/segmentation of sounds including syllables and phonemes, sound-symbol correspondence (phonics), rhyming, identification of sound position in a word, phonological awareness

Educational Value
This program focuses on important (and often overlooked) auditory processing skills and does an excellent job of it. It is filled with smart features that allow for excellent customization — kids advance to more challenging levels only once they've displayed mastery of the basic skills needed to progress.

Entertainment Value
The program is packed with exercises, and upon success, kids are often rewarded with a simple animation. The visual progress bars (the colorful balls fill the blank spaces as kids advance) are the primary motivators, and although these "rewards" are simple, our test children loved earning them. The timing feature in the activities will appeal to kids who enjoy a challenge.

Adaptive learning technology means the program automatically adjusts according to the performance of each child. This feature is excellent. There are 3 levels of difficulty that can only be adjusted at the beginning.

There is a tremendous amount of content in this program — 5 of the 6 activities have 3 levels of difficulty and within each there are many more levels of play (the total count is "up to 593" levels of play).

Dollar Value
The home version is $59 US, which is a little more than the price of the average children's software package, but remember that Earobics is not your everyday computer game. The benefits of using this unique program far outweigh the cost.

Released: 1997
Note: Earobics Step 1 is available for professional use (Earobics Pro Plus) for $299, in addition to the home version which is $59 US. Earobics Step 2 (full review coming shortly) is also available and is similar in its focus to Step 1, but is designed for children aged 7-10.