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Review CornerSoftware
Phonics Voyage
Rating: two and a half stars
The Bottom Line
Though content is, for the most part, promising, presentation is poor. This title misses several opportunities to teach, and contains lessons that are too lengthy to be digestible for the target audience.
Ages: 4-10   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: Arrow Educational
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
Phonics Voyage Product Overview
The captain of a pirate ship welcomes children on the ship's deck and invites players to explore the different parts of the ship, each home to one or two early reading activities.

The activities generally open with a lesson that presents examples of the concept being taught. For example, when children play a game at the Wheel House and select "beginning sounds", they are presented a new sound (blend) one at a time and an accompanying list of words that start with that sound. There are too many of such words, and they are read too quickly for most developing readers. After the "lesson", children play a game that tests the knowledge they have presumably gleaned from the lesson.

Kids practice sight words for the days of the week, months, and numbers, go on a treasure hunt by selecting the correct sight words to match an auditory clue, make silly sentences by toggling between different words, select the crew member who says the correct sound of vowels, consonants, and vowel combinations, and more. A storybook section is found in the Crow's Nest and contains 2 rather appropriate and engaging stories that unfortunately miss an opportunity to teach. The words are not "clickable" and kids have only to watch the story unfold instead of participating in it.

In an honest effort to include a good range of activities, the educational content ranges from identifying the letters of the alphabet to determining the sounds of commonly found vowel combinations. However, the program does not contain distinct difficulty levels nor any real rhyme or reason. As such, the difficulty levels of side-by-side activities can differ dramatically.

A big problem with the program involves the lessons that introduce activities. Instead of presenting short, digestible lessons, the program overloads children with far too much information at once and reads words too quickly. Players ended up clicking through the presentations to get to the games.

We also found some flaws in the games — when children were required to listen to a word and select its written counterpart in the treasure game, they didn't have the option to hear it again. They were left guessing the answer and being penalized with their ship moving a step backwards on the treasure map. As well, when mistakes were made, the program didn't offer either an explanation or the correct answer. Instead, it skipped to another question.

One test family felt that the auditory instructions were far too lengthy (though a child is able to "click through" these sequences), and felt the educational content "missed the mark". This family's 7 year-old tester enjoyed the music and the theme of Phonics Voyage. Her parents felt that the content was satisfactory, but that the presentation needed to be improved before recommending the program to others. Instructions were felt to be lengthy, there were too few pictures to help reinforce new vocabulary, and the lack of difficulty levels frustrated the child. They would have preferred a system that would allow her to skip topic levels to match her skills.

Another complaint concerned the lengthy lessons — especially the presentation of consonants. The lesson shows each of the 21 consonants one by one with word examples for each, sometimes 13 words long! Even the most patient children will find such a lesson tedious.

All in all, the educational component of the program was disappointing. The lessons were uninspired and too lengthy, and kid testers lost interest easily. The graphics and audio are below par. Though the pronunciation is clear (especially important in a phonics program), the sound quality is uneven at best.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 3.1/95/98, a 486 DX-66, 16 MB of RAM, 8X CD Drive, 16 bit sound card, speakers, mouse and a color monitor. Mac users require a Power Macintosh or newer with 16MB of RAM, 8X CD Drive, color monitor, mouse and system 7.6 or newer.

Skills Covered
early reading and phonics, beginning sounds, alphabet, ending sounds, vowels, consonants, vowel combinations, sight words including days of the week, number words, months, sentence formation

Educational Value
The educational method here is basically drill, and is rather dry. Lessons are lengthy and uninteresting, and games simply drill children's knowledge. However, children who spend time with the program will reinforce some sight words.

Entertainment Value
Some humor is incorporated into the program (children laughed when the "reward" for correct responses was a playful food toss, resulting in funny exclamations from the befuddled chef, such as "aye, buttered barnacles"). One of our testers did return to the game a few times during the testing period, and the theme was a general hit.

Navigation is quite straightforward. There are a variety of ways for players to get from point A to point B. Use of difficulty levels would have helped improve the program.

The amount of content is satisfactory. However, long-term replay value is questionable.

Dollar Value
The home price is $39 and there are various prices for school versions that include a workbook, starting at $99 for one CD. The product comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

Released: 1999
Reviewed: October 2000