Froggy Phonics: A frog in your throat

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Vancouver Computes, June 1999

3D Froggy Phonics
Ingenuity Works
requires: PowerPC Mac w. System 7.5 or later or Pentium Windows 9x PC
$29.95 (teacher version: $49.95)

Like a babies speaking their first words, those first reading experiences can be magical times when a child makes that breakthrough to giving those peculiar black symbols on a white background meaning.

Canadian software company, Ingenuity Works can help jump-start those early reading experiences with its new 3D Froggy Phonics. This hybrid CD will run on both Mac and Windows 95 systems, and as the title suggests, entrances 4-6 year olds with its 3D animated frog and other characters.

The program provides a range of activities? children can choose to learn, watch, or play-- with a variety of choices for each. In the learning segments, children practice hearing what sounds individual letters make, and how they combine to make words. While watching, they match words with pictures of the objects-- six correct responses gets a 3D animation, featuring the same words. The play activities offer reading, spelling, painting, matching, and pattern recognition.

I tested the program with a grade one class-- for most children, that's when the reading magic takes place. The class found the program engaging, and the children were happy to interact with it. We found one potential problem-- the interface is inconsistent between sections-- it's not always clear how to end a unit and return to the main menu. As long as a child is happily interacting with the program, that's not a problem, however-- and these children were happy to work, play, and learn with this program.

The program tracks an individual child's progress. The teacher version adds more extensive management functions, and includes the right to obtain a second copy free. Schools can also obtain 5 copy lab packs ($150) or site licenses ($600).

The word 'phonics', implying learning language by sounding out the letters, has become somewhat of a politicized buzz-word in elementary education-- with proponents of a phonics approach battling it out with supporters of 'whole language' theories, who suggest that children best learn to read by viewing words as units that occur in a specific context.

Without wanting to jump into this often heated debate, anything that gets a young child reading is a big help. The grade 1s at Chief Maquinna Elementary found 3D Froggy Phonics really kept them hopping!

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan