It seems that nowadays more kids are entering school with some level of basic computer skills, thanks to a proliferation of affordable home computers. Integrating early learning software programs into classroom curriculum has then not only become easier but more enjoyable for children as they tackle the beginning concepts of reading, writing and arithmetic. The plethora and diversity of new early learning software titles is a boon to educators, although figuring out just which title is best for each classroom can be overwhelming. With that in mind, we'll take a look at some of the newest language arts, creativity and social studies programs available, leaving math titles for an upcoming Focus On.
Several programs are designed to reach the earliest of readers, beginning with learning the alphabet. For students ages 3 and up, Alphabet Express from School Zone features eight activity stations that emphasize different skills. For example, the dot-to-dot activity challenges students to connect the letters in alphabetical order; 24 letter scenes ask the user to identify objects that begin with the letter shown at the top of the screen; and for aural learners, the alphabet song introduces letters through song. This multiple award-winning program is compatible with Windows and Macintosh systems and has an easy-to-use interface that beginning readers can quickly master. Many of the activities feature several difficulty levels to accommodate a variety of learning levels in the classroom.
Another title that focuses on the alphabet emphasizes the sound of letters and is appropriately entitled just that. Sunburst's Letter Sounds is the first title in the Tenth Planet Explores Literacy early learning series. Created for pre-kindergarten to first grade students, Letter Sounds uses activities with video and speech to teach letter recognition, the sound of letters individually and in words. Instructors can organize the activities to focus on specific letters to coincide with their curriculum, and certain activities allow students to save their work to disk or print their work.
As students begin to recognize letters, several titles can take them to the next level: words. Leap Into Phonics by BrightStar guides pre-kindergarten through second grade students through eight categories of activities: sounds in your environment; nursery rhymes; rhyming games; parts of words; beginning, middle and ending sounds; the alphabet; sounds in words; and making words. Each activity emphasizes a phonic skill with colorful artwork, sound effects and music that encourages and engages students.
Lesson difficulty levels progress with the student, and teachers can log into the software program to print reports on student progress and control access to the various activities. The program comes with a teacher's manual that includes extended activities and suggestions on curriculum integration. Available for Windows 3.1 or higher and Macintosh system 7.1 or higher, Leap Into Phonics is endorsed by and is currently in use in Omaha public schools.
Another reading title adds the magic and enjoyment of Sesame Street, as kids ages 3-6 practice their new language skills with Elmo's Reading: Preschool and Kindergarten. This two CD-ROM set from Creative Wonders's Sesame Street pre-reading line uses phonics and whole language reading techniques along with characters from Sesame Street to encourage and educate young readers. Disk one uses comprehensive activities to teach basic reading skills, while disk two lets students practice their new skills in reading adventures. In addition to multiple skill levels, the program can also automatically assess the student's skill level and adjust the difficulty of the activity accordingly.
Some software programs are now utilizing speech technologies to enhance learning. Reader Rabbit's Reading Ages 4-6 from The Learning Company's series for beginning readers has a record and playback feature that lets students record their ideas while they read. …