"Multimedia can be very beneficial for young children. For example, research shows that children who see a story's action animated are more likely to remember it," says early reading expert Susan B. Neuman, a professor of education at the University of Michigan. “Plus, computer programs enable children to hear a story repeated many times until they master its language. But there's no substitute for a parent reading to a child. Parents can mediate the process, and help a child connect their book to their own lives. This is critical to the learning process."
How to Shop Smart
To help make sense of the many "learn to read" CDs, Web sites, and toys available, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the program age-appropriate? (Is the font size suitable for your child? Is there too much text on each screen? Is the vocabulary level suitable?)
- Does the program encourage a sense of discovery? Does it allow your child to solve problems and make his own decisions?
- Does the program offer "intelligent" feedback? (When a child makes a mistake, how does the program respond?)
- Is the educational content presented systematically? (Does it build sequentially? Are there opportunities for children to demonstrate what they know days and even weeks after the initial "lesson"?)
- Does the program keep track of your child's progress?
- Might the program inspire your child to learn to read in other contexts? (What opportunities are there for connecting with physical books at home and in school?)
- How easily can your child control the features by himself? Are the audio instructions and feedback clear?
- Does the program include information for parents that clearly outlines the educational goals?
Every Child Is Different
Whether you are purchasing software, borrowing DVDs from the library, or visiting online learning sites, remember some basic notions about literacy education. First, every child will learn to read at her own pace. No two children become "literate" quite the same way. So multiple approaches, including technology, are useful. Scholastic's ClickSmart Reading, for example, uses animated adventures to motivate your child as she reads online storybooks and practices phonics, word recognition, and other early literacy skills. Don't miss Scholastic's apps for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad to help promote literacy at home.
Second, learning to read is a very gradual process. There is no panacea that will make your child learn to read overnight. As long as he is presented with a variety of approaches, and receives support from you, he will most likely learn to read with skill and relative ease.
Finally, while the latest technology might seem essential, keep in mind that children learned to read long before there were computers or DVD players. There is nothing as powerful as having your child sit on your lap as you take him through one of your favorite stories. If he can't wait to turn the page, then he is headed in the right direction.