Feb 20, 2013

Out of school learning: Teach your monster to read

Initial impressions of the Usborne Foundation's online literacy game.

I stumbled across Teach your monster to read while browsing Usborne's website for educational books - and since it's free, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try.

The backstory captured T's imagination: a little alien monster crashed on a strange planet, and now has to learn how to read to repair its vessel. Kids start off by customizing their monster's appearance (ours looks like a purple hamster who could easily fit in with the Happy Tree Friends crowd, but scarier options are available); then, they start their progression through the game's eight levels ("islands").

Kids - well, their monsters - need to demonstrate understanding of four lower-case letters or letter combinations (matching appearance to phonetic sound) by way of "minigames" to progress from one level to the next, and they win funny prizes within each level (accessories for the monster like underpants, a hat, a bow tie...and, controversially, food).

We started TYMTR the day before yesterday, and it's become an important fixture for T - she frequently talks about her cute little monster and his adventures, and is very excited about the between-dinner-and-bedtime slot when we play it. Once T got the basic hang of how to use the mouse and cursor (she's mainly used touch screens thus far), she breezed through Island 1 (S, A, T, P). I stopped her after two letters each day to ensure the information sticks to her long-term memory.

Today, we moved on to Island 2 - starting with the letter I. Here we stopped after just one letter, since the "run" minigame overwhelmed her (it's definitely more challenging than herding sheep and piling blocks) - she just couldn't figure it out. So it's helpful that she's going to be able to use the other minigames to practice the other letters.

On the critical front: I'm not sure what age group this game is meant for. I've read some reviews saying that there's too much repetition (like here, where a seven-year-old played it), but for kids who are literally just starting out - like T - I think more repetition would be helpful. Perhaps a review of the letters as you log into the game, e.g. "on your last visit you learned the letters S and T?" (Or maybe there is a review option and I just haven't found it yet...). As Horrible Histories afficionados, the fact that the game is voiced by Simon Farnaby (who plays Death - among other characters) is a bonus for us. However, little Americans might have a harder time with the British inflections. And for me, the phonetic pronounciations take some getting used to - I still learned letters by their names and sounds, and can't (yet?) get on the "sssssss not ess" bandwagon.

In essence: so far, T (and I) like TYMTR since it's cute and fun. She still needs my help to get the cursor back on the screen and wouldn't be able to do it by herself - and I can't yet assess how much she's taking away from it. But we'll continue to play and I'll provide updates on how TYMTR is working out for us as well as other ways of establishing the foundations for T's literacy.

Some more reviews:
- Cheetahs in my shoes
- Teachers first
- Educational freeware

Pictures are from the game's website and guide (pdf).

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