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Starfall is a an online educational games site for children aged 2-8. Focusing on teaching reading and other skills while having fun.

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      24.02.2011 14:50
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      Its fun, it's educational, and it's free.

      Starfall phonics produce a number of educational products aimed at teaching children to read. This is a U.S. based company though and only a limited number of their products are available in the UK. However there website is completely free and has an absolute treasure trove of resources for teaching literacy from ages 2-8.

      The main pages offers a number of different selections for different ages levels. The first selection is ABC's which my two year old absolutely loves. There are alphabet blocks representing each letter of the alphabet. Clicking on any block will bring the child to a number of activities for that letter, showing the letter in upper and lower case, sounds, words with that letter and animated pictures, like igloos and iguanas for I and a simple game. For instance the letter I has a game where children catch upper case or lower case I's. When they put the letter into the correct jar, it will turn into an insect. Other letters have matching games, dragging puzzle pieces to make simple words and other games of catching and sorting upper case and lower case letter. Beneath this are a few more activities - the alphabet in American Sign Language, the vowels with a short song for each, and an alphabet song with a fellow making motions for each letter, like a big snapping motion like an alligators mouth for A.

      I do not really make a conscious effort to teach my children when they are very young. I do provide games and books though that help them learn, and provide as many opportunities as possible for self led learning.
      My two year old absolutely loves the games in this section and can play with only minimal help. I think this is brilliant as he can have fun while I am busy tidying up and learn something at the same time. I would certainly encourage any parents with young children to give it a try, after all it doesn't cost anything to play.

      The next section"Learn to Read", is more advanced, ideally ages 4 -7, but my two year old also enjoys this, even though he can not get full benefit from it. This section has been wonderful for my older son though and made it so much easier for him to understand long vowels as their are lovely animations showing the words change with the addition of an e at the end of the word. You also get songs, games and animations to teach other reading basics, like when two vowels go walking, r controlled vowels, sounding out longer or compound words or chunking as they call it. etc...

      The best part of this section is the books though. There are 15 short story books, for a child to learn to read from. The first one is very simple with 3 letter words and only a few simple sounds, but each book progresses including more complex words and sounds. You can read these aloud to your child, or let your child read to you, or the child can work independently. Any time a child is unsure of a word, all they have to do is click it and the computer will sound it out for them. I really think this is brilliant for helping children learn to read, and I imagine I'd have paid a fortune for this on cd-rom if it were sold rather than offered free. You can buy the books in print from Amazon, as I did, but you don't need to. In fact the site offers a simple black and white version free, you just print them out and staple them together ( these can be found under downloads).

      Both of my sons enjoy looking at the stories and playing the games in the section, although the two year old will need help for most. Obviously the two year old needs someone to read the stories to him as well. For my 6 year old this has been a really wonderful tool and his reading level has absolutely skyrocketed since he started using this. He does really seem to enjoy the games and this programme has certainly given him much more confidence. I would strongly recommend this to any parent of children learning to read, or perhaps those who have learned by sight reading only, as a brief introduction to phonics.

      The nest section isn't quite as much fun in my opinion, despite it's title "It's Fun To Read". It is just a few simple stories, rhymes, tongue twisters and games. They are OK and worth taking a look at, but nowhere near as brilliant and the other sections. It does provide more simple books for children to read though, and again any word the child gets stuck on will be sounded out if they click on it. It also has sections on music, with famous composers, and an art gallery with works by and some info about famous artists like Van Gogh. I would say the magic tricks page is the best part of this section. This section however does not get as much interest from my boys as the rest of this site.

      Finally comes the most advanced section "I'm Reading". Again this has a wealth of resources, Greek Myths, Chinese fables, Folk Tales, plays, comics, fiction and non fiction books, like penguins, wolves etc.. The non fiction books are illustrated with photos and are really very nice. I would say this section is ideally suited for ages 5-8, but of course younger children may enjoy this with help. My two year old loves penguins so this is popular with him. I really am impressed by these. My sons both enjoy the stories. You get quite a good sized library for beginning readers and the programme will build confidence as well as increase a child's ability to tackle unfamiliar words.

      I really can not recommend this site strongly enough, take a look at www.starfall.com I am also very impressed that although this site is for a commercial company, they do not seem to be pushing their products on you. There is a link at the bottom you can click to their store, and another link from the main page to learn more about their kindergarten curriculum, but these are small an unobtrusive. There are no annoying pop ups, you don't need to register to use the site, and there are no other means of pressuring you to buy things.
      I can't help wondering if this company really does care about children's literacy instead of just making money. What a novel idea.

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