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Review CornerSoftware
Reader Rabbit Learn to Read with Phonics
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Ideal for helping children just getting started on the "road to reading", this software bundle features the reading rabbit himself, Reader Rabbit, hosting activities that teach both phonics strategies and sight word recognition. This is an excellent program that is best for involved families and kids who are ready and willing to read.
 Award of Excellence
Ages: 3-6   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: The Learning Company
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
This bundle brings together two previously released titles - Road to Reading, which is the featured CD-ROM in Reader Rabbit Complete Learn to Read System, and Reader Rabbit's Reading 1 - in an economical package that's a wonderful starting point for children just starting to read.

No reading software program is going to do the complete job of teaching a child to read. A well-stocked child's bookcase and plenty of parental involvement are still essential ingredients in a child's success with reading. However, well-made software titles can certainly help the process along. Many programs on the market help reinforce important pre-reading skills like alphabet recognition, sequencing, and other readiness skills. Once kids are displaying signs of developmental readiness to take these skills a step further, this program can be extremely useful. It offers a systematic approach, combining both phonics practice and sight words every step of the way. For children who prefer a grab-bag approach, Road to Reading can be played in "Pick and Play" mode as well.

The Road to Reading mission mode is extremely well designed, if somewhat repetitive. Mat the Mouse, frustrated because she sees so many words and doesn't know how to read them, wishes that there were no words in the world! Her wish comes true, and now she wants to reverse it. Children follow the "road to reading" in order to restore the alphabet to the world, one letter at a time.

Kids will need to earn each letter of the alphabet through a series of activities. Starting with M, each Letter Land has kids searching for 4 objects on the screen that begin with the letter. Then they play a few activities, like a bubble game in which they blend letters together to make a whole word, with letters cleverly sounding themselves out. Another game has kids sorting words that end with a certain letter combination (like "an"), and a favorite involves clicking on hamsters holding word cards in a race along a tightrope. A sight word activity previews words that will be featured in the Letter Land's storybook. The storybook in each land is an interactive one, and kids can read the pages into a microphone, as well as listen and watch as the story unfolds onscreen. Words are highlighted as they are read and are individually clickable as well. Some activities are undemanding on an interactive level - children mostly click, watch, and listen. Others require more active involvement as kids fill in missing letters to spell words or identify whole words from a set.

Once kids work through each of the featured letter's activities and read the associated storybook, it is off to the next Letter Land. Each lesson builds upon the previous one, incorporating new words as well as ones previously learned. There are new games in different lands, but many are repeats. Some children will respond well to repeating familiar games, and others will get bored. Fortunately, the storybooks are rather engaging, and the idea of earning them will motivate many kids.

The second program, Reader Rabbit Reading 1, has been around in some shape or form for many years—a veritable dinosaur in the software world - and yet remains quite useful. In a Word Factory setting, children play games that reinforce simple three-letter, phonetically-regular words, effectively working with the phonics building blocks of reading. It's a great way to reinforce simple phonics sounds. Many 3-year-olds may not be ready for the sight words in the Road to Reading program, and this set of activities will be more manageable. It allows them to work with 3-letter words in a focused manner, without the distraction of dealing with sentences and hard to decode words. Kids who are just discovering the fun of stringing together the sounds of letters to make simple words will enjoy success with this program.

Many parents will be pleased with this CD-ROM's combination of phonics learning and sight word practice. Be aware that if children bulldoze their way through the program quickly, it is unlikely they will absorb many of the new sight words. The best approach is to have your child do one to two lessons in one sitting, and reinforce the new words through off-the-computer games. This way, children will have time to absorb and practice new words before moving onto the next lesson.

In order for the program to "work", kids will need to be keen about learning to read, and parents should be on hand to encourage as well as devise ways to extend and reinforce newly-introduced words beyond the computer. Learning to read requires persistence and reflection - two things that involve plenty of time. Using the program slowly and paying attention to an individual child's readiness signals will be the most rewarding approach.

This program is very well done. In fact, it's one of the best step-by-step early reading software titles we've seen. When used gradually with parents actively involved in the process, it is an extremely effective system. My eager 4-year-old tester wanted to race through the program. Slowing her down so that she took time to absorb and reflect upon each lesson has proven to be the best approach. Besides that, she had something to look forward to each day.

Note that this title's Road to Reading is the featured CD-ROM in Reader Rabbit's Complete Learn to Read System (see our review). This latter program includes a workbook, printed versions of the 26 storybooks found in Road to Reading, as well as flashcards featuring the sight words introduced in the system. If you think you can do without these printed extras, Reader Rabbit Learn to Read with Phonics is certainly a more economical choice.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95 or higher, Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, and 4x CD-ROM. Mac users require a PowerPC, System 7.5.5, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM. It requires 45 MB free hard drive space, and a color printer is recommended.

Skills Covered
phonics, sight words, blending sounds, letter patterns, memory, simple spelling, following directions

Educational Value
The program can be quite effective when both parent and child are committed to following it and backing it up away from the computer. Even casual use of the program through its free-play activities will help boost reading skills. Besides the excellent phonics practice, children work with the 100 most frequently used words in the English language, many of which are commonly known as "sight words".

The ability for children to record their own voices reading the pages of the storybooks is an excellent option - kids love to hear their reading efforts coming through the computer's speakers! We found this record/playback feature encourages children to take pride in their reading attempts, and try a little harder as a result.

Entertainment Value
Though the music is jaunty and graphics are engaging, some children will tire of the repetition. However, it should be noted that repetition is an essential part of any valuable reading program! The systematic Road to Reading program contains many similar activities, but some surprise elements are added to the mix - such as new ways to play the same game.

Almost all Reader Rabbit titles are well put together in terms of offering adjustable levels and a good range of options and progress reports. With no question of what to do next, children can easily play the game independently. However, the program is a bundle of two previously-released programs, and though there is no need to change the CD-ROM (both are contained on one disc), kids will need to exit the program entirely and come back in to access the other program. One handy option is the ability to turn off the automatic reading feature in the interactive storybooks.

Lots of content here - 26 Letter Lands each offering a handful of activities in one program, and 4 activities with multiple skill levels in the other - means the program has much potential for longevity. As well, timely printable awards that include lists of newly-learned words can provide plenty of motivation. The deciding factor will be a child's level of interest. Some kids will need a reward system outside of the program and support from a caregiver in order to keep interest high.

Dollar Value
A suggested retail price of $20 US is more than reasonable.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: March 2001