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Review CornerSoftware
Reader Rabbit's Complete Learn to Read System
Rating: four and a half stars
The Bottom Line
A set of 2 CD-ROMs and away from the computer materials make up this appealing and exceptionally designed package. Many parents will like the all-in-one approach. Some children will need a bit of a push to complete the program in mission mode, but lots of customization options and a "free play" mode means kids can practice skills in a self-directed manner, if it suits them better.
Award of Excellence
Ages: 3-7   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: The Learning Company
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
 
 
Reader Rabbit's Complete Learn to Read System Product Overview
This package is designed as a comprehensive system for young children to learn to read and develop early reading skills. It not only includes 2 CD-ROMs, but also away-from-the-computer materials — 2 sets of flash cards, a workbook, storybooks, and a Parent's Guide. These materials are not just extras — they contain the words and stories that kids learn in Disc One of the CD-ROMs.

So what about the CD-ROMs? Disc One is entitled Learn to Read and is an all-new title. It's truly packed with good features and learning. There are two ways to play:

  • Pick and Play, in which kids simply practice skills, read storybooks, and listen to songs in a free play sort of way. All activities in the game are available, and kids get to choose the levels of difficulty as well. This is recommended for kids who are ready for pre-reading activities, but not quite ready to read words.
  • Road to Reading is a sort of mission mode. Here kids follow a directed path that requires playing the games sequentially in order to advance along the road to reading. They journey to all Letter Lands along a path that starts with "M", and they must play activities and read a storybook for each area before advancing to the next.
Those familiar with Reader Rabbit's Interactive Reading Journey will recognize some similarities to the Road to Reading mode in this newer Learn to Read title. However, the graphics are totally new, and the amount of options for customizing the learning experience have increased dramatically. Plus, the storyline is totally different.

The story line is as follows: Mat the Mouse is frustrated because everywhere she goes, people tell her to "read the sign" or "read this", and she doesn't know how. In exasperation, she leans against a wishing machine and wishes there were no words. The next morning, she wakes up to find that her wish had come true, and she desperately wants to undo her wish. The wishing machine gives her a sheet full of empty spaces where words are supposed to be, as well as letters of the alphabet lining the outside. Her mission is to fill up all those letters in order to restore words in Wordville. Hamster friends and Reader Rabbit himself join Mat on her noble quest.

No matter which mode is chosen, kids are faced with activities as follows:

  • Music Labeler: With 5 difficulty levels, kids place beginning, ending, and middle letters (depending on the level) that complete a simple word. The hamster plays the piano upon success, and letter sounds are clearly spoken as the letters are chosen.
  • Sorter Magic: Sort words either to the magic box if they end in, for example, "an", or in the garbage can if they don't. Kids can choose from 5 levels, thereby choosing the actual vowels that will be featured in the words.
  • Bubble Blend: Kids blow bubbles to build words, and discriminate between two similar words (like "pat" and "pan"). Choosing one of the 5 levels determines the vowels featured in the words. As kids advance, they have to click on the sight words that will complete a spoken sentence.
  • Costume Creator: Each of the 5 levels contains sets of 20 different "sight words" (for example, "the", "of", "do", etc.). Kids click on words and say them out loud, then are asked to choose all the given words from a set of 9. Upon success, a mystery hamster dresses into a special costume.
  • The Great Race: Hamsters on tightropes are racing, and kids can make them advance by clicking on the ones holding the correct word that is spoken. (This is very similar to Interactive Reading Journey 1's snail race).
  • Letters and Sounds: This is the most appealing to the younger crowd — kids choose a letter of the alphabet and up pops a colorful screen. Reader Rabbit asks them to find words that begin with the selected letter and when they do, they are rewarded with a fun animation. They love clicking on, for example, the mushroom patch and seeing them transform into "a muscleman mushroom".
  • Books: All of the books that are found in the Reading Road mission are found here, sorted into 5 levels. Their hard copy counterparts are included in the package for away-from-the-computer practice. There are 26 in all (remember, kids must read a book for each letter of the alphabet along the Road to Reading). They're pretty good, too. Plus, there's a record and playback feature, and in 6 of the storybooks, there are bonus creativity pages that allow kids to personalize elements from the story (for example, decorating a cookie at the end of "Cookie Time").
  • Songs: There are 7 songs to choose from, including "If You Read", "Mat's Song", and more. In the Reader Rabbit tradition, these songs are adorable. They manage to convey a very positive attitude toward learning to read, and are upbeat and great fun.
This program is loaded with parent-friendly features, including Progress Reports that are based on performance in "The Great Race" activities. When kids redo the Great Race activity, their progress is updated. An interesting feature in this report is the addition of a "Study Words" section in which the missed words are marked with an asterisk until kids successfully identify them. The familiar and handy POP (Program Options Pad) present in Reader Rabbit titles is found in this program as well. Click on the little balloon icon to access it. Among other things, in POP parents can control whether or not they want background music and whether the books should be automatically read aloud or not. Even more options are available by typing in Teach1 — parents can allow their kids to go directly to a certain letter along the Road to Reading or allow access to any Letter Land.

The printable certificates that kids earn after completing The Great Race activities along The Road to Reading are more than just certificates of achievement — they contain the list of words that have been taught so far, and kids can hang them on the wall and continue practicing them after the fact.

Disc Two is called Classic Tales and is basically a repackaged and renamed version of Reader Rabbit's Reading Development Library Level 2. The graphics are outdated, and your child may remark that Reader Rabbit "looks funny", but it isn't too bad. It contains 2 stories (Jack and the Beanstalk and Country Mouse/City Mouse) that can be read not only by different characters but also from each character's perspective. They're quite cute despite the outdated graphics, but there's not a lot to do in them. The idea here is for kids to practice and develop their newfound reading skills.

The materials included are adequate. The flashcards are smaller than typical ones, but they match the words and levels in the program. The workbook contains some typical workbook-style activities, as well as lots of pages for practicing handwriting. After all, writing is an important step in learning to read. There's also a parent's guide that is really a comprehensive manual with some suggestions for teaching kids to read, and a parent's quick reference card. There are 7 storybooks containing all 26 stories found in the CD-ROM Disc 1.

I used to recommend Interactive Reading Journey 1 (which was repackaged as Interactive Reading Journey Preschool-Kindergarten, then later as Reader Rabbit's Reading Ages 4-6) for parents looking for a systematic approach to teaching their child to read. However, more recently I have hesitated to recommend it because it is not up to today's standards. Well, here is a program that I can recommend again to such parents! The storybooks are much more appealing (gone are the "I am Sam. Sam is me." rather dull books), and the graphics are bright and exciting. They are interactive (for example, kids match seeds to plants in one storybook) and kids won't find them a chore.

Many parents will end up buying workbooks, readers, and flashcards separately at some point during their child's learn-to-read phase — with this Reader Rabbit program, they'll get all of these things in one package, with the added bonus of getting materials that coordinate with each other and the learning activities on the CD-ROMs.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are a 486/66, 8 Mb RAM, and 2X CD ROM. Mac users require a 60 Mhz Power PC or higher with 16 Mb RAM, System 7.1 or higher, and at least 2X CD ROM. Having a microphone is helpful, but not essential.

Skills Covered
letter recognition, letter formation, rhyming words, consonant sounds, short vowel sounds, word families, sounding out words, vocabulary, sentences, context clues, reading comprehension, sight words, spelling, story sequence, phonemic awareness, word blends, tracking print from left to right, following directions, matching spoken words to print

Educational Value
Children motivated to work through this program will come out of it having learned a whole lot of skills. Early reading skills are exercised well in a systematic program (or not, depending on what you choose) that is supplemented with real-life materials for practice.

Entertainment Value
The songs are delightful and the characters are fun. Some of the activities are repetitive, but learning to read requires repetition. If you're looking for an effective learn-to-read program that doesn't involve repetition, you simply won't find one. The storybooks are a far cry from more typical learn-to-read fare — they are interesting and fun.

Design
This program got perfect marks in this category. It is very customizable, easy to navigate, and kids get to choose whether to work through the program in a mission mode or in a free play mode. The manual is excellent, and on-screen help is readily available. Most animations and instructions can be "clicked through".

Replayability
Some kids will need to be encouraged to work through the Road to Reading mission mode, and others will love the challenge of filling up the magical paper and completing the mission. The replay value in this case will depend a lot on the character of the child. There is a tremendous amount of content and multiple levels of difficulty that will keep kids busy for some time.

Dollar Value
My only real problem with this program is the rather high suggested retail price of $69.99 US. Yes, there are added materials and 2 CDs, but a fairer price would have been $50 US or so. Fortunately, however, there are currently $30 rebates attached to the program which bring it down to a more reasonable price. Price aside, it is quite valuable as an all-in-one program.

Released: 1999