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Review CornerSoftware
Phonics & Reading Excelerator Grades 1-4
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
This package of 4 CD-ROMs is most useful for its 2 programs that teach and reinforce phonics. They offer excellent opportunities for skills practice for children in first and second grade.
Award
Ages: 6-9   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling   Brand: Topics Entertainment
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
 
 
image Product Overview
Four programs are offered in this set that focuses on reading and phonics:
  • Phonics Vowel & Consonant Games
  • Intermediate Phonics Games
  • Step Into Reading & Creative Writing
  • TumbleBooks Library

Both of the set's phonics programs are educationally valuable and strong. These sequential and orderly titles are more than worth the price of the program. In Phonics Vowel & Consonant Games, kids attempt to earn silver or gold stars as they work through demonstrations and games that help teach and reinforce phonics concepts. Children are introduced to both short and long vowel sounds through clever interactive lessons and games that help test and reinforce newfound skills. Each consonant sound, including those with multiple sounds, is introduced and explained. Intermediate Phonics Games follows a similar format with a slightly different learning emphasis. Again, sound recognition is tested, along with other foundational reading skills, such as rhyming words, compound words, letter blends, and spelling. Children are exposed to word families, take part in spelling tests, and play games that reinforce lessons about identifying antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms. The demonstrations are sometimes lengthy, but they are thorough and creatively presented.

The reward system in each of the phonics programs is not as forgiving as those found in most edutainment programs. Children work toward earning either silver or gold stars, where a perfect score in any one game earns gold, and even one error made in an activity set yields a silver. Children are given the choice to redo activities and "go for gold", or simply move forward to the next activity. If they opt to redo an activity, they must complete all of the exercises in the set, not just the ones they've completed incorrectly. For this reason, the programs are a little tough on children who are struggling, unless they are content with earning silver. For children who are progressing well, however, this reward system is very motivating. These children end up working harder as a result. Both phonics programs feature an intuitive presentation and very strong lessons. Families looking for an approach to early reading that is logical, systematic, and more educational than entertaining will find both programs excellent.

Children who "graduate" from the phonics programs can practice their reading skills with the TumbleBooks Library, but they won't be ready for the package's Step Into Reading & Creative Writing. We find this latter program better for children ages 9-10 and up who have already shown an interest in strengthening their writing skills. The TumbleBooks Library CD includes 6 e-Books, the strongest of which are Abra Cadabra and the Tooth Witch (an adorable story about how the Tooth Fairy came to be) and Can I Have a T-Rex, Dad? Can I? Please? Children choose any of the 6 books and then sit back and enjoy the graphics and narration. Alternatively, kids can control the page turns and attempt to read the books themselves. Although some of the stories are imaginative and visually interesting, there is little in the way of interactivity in these programs.

We recommend this package for children who can benefit from skills practice in early phonics. The phonics programs are most appropriate for children working at a first and second grade reading level, and they both offer substantial educational content.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95 and higher including XP, Pentium II 166 MHz, and 32 MB RAM. Mac users require a G3 300 or higher, System 8.1 or later, including OSX (some programs may run only on OSX classic mode), and 32 MB RAM. The set requires 15 MB of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
Phonics sounds and rules, spelling, consonant blends, digraphs, diphthongs, antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, word families, compound words, creative writing, pre-reading.

Educational Value
After working through the two phonics programs in this set, kids will come away with a solid sense of progress. Both programs are organized and thorough systems. Parents who are looking for reading programs that mirror lessons learned in school will be especially pleased with these academically strong titles.

Entertainment Value
Despite the fact that the phonics games CD-ROMs never shy away from learning by disguising the educational content, they manage to be engaging for young children.

Design
Children should be able to move through the programs on their own after caregivers briefly explain the goals of the programs and navigational icons in the similarly designed phonics programs. We would have liked more interaction and "clickable" words in the TumbleBooks Library, however.

Replayability
The phonics programs offer substantial content, motivational rewards, and rather engaging formats.

Dollar Value
The program carries a suggested retail price of approximately $19.99 US.

Released: 2003
Reviewed: April 2003