Reading Eggs: learning tool or techno-threat?
I’ve set my three year-old twins on the Reading Eggs iPad app. The girls like it. Learning to read is much more sophisticated than the simplicity of the Peter and Jane books I grew up with.
Reading Eggs is about learning to read using a fun online reward-based system that keeps kids motivated. It’s a clever, child-friendly e-learning software programme devised in Australia by Katy Pike, a mother and educational publisher who wanted to capitalise on technology - and children’s love of it - to combine the fun of using the PC, laptop or smart phone with the more serious business of learning.
My children are immediately hooked. They enjoy the recognition of letters and press the eggs that contain the letters, waiting for the reward of an egg turning gold. Later, they see the happy chicken saying ‘wow!’ at their success and this reinforces their motivation. If they lose their concentration, instead of hitting on the right word on a floating egg, they can press the little pig to make her squeal, or press the potato so he turns into a splatter of chips and ketchup! It’s all just fun, especially for two children aged under four whose attention span could improve.
I ask Tara Cotterill of Reading Eggs UK about the financial commitment needed to do the full program - surely hundreds of pounds? ‘A subscription to Reading Eggs won’t cost you hundreds. A one year subscription costs £39.95 and a six month subscription costs £29.95 and this gives access to both Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress, which is for older children.’ I have also noticed discounted deals for taking out a subscription on money-saving websites such as Savvy Mummys and Little Bird, which is good to know.
‘But what about the threat to books?’ I ask. ‘We would not suggest that Reading Eggs replaces children reading books’ Tara says, ‘and the purpose of the program is to support children’s learning to enable them to read books and become a more fluent reader.’ ‘So it’s just a supplementary tool?’ I ask. ‘Using the program will help them to read the books they have, not replace them. We want children to find learning and reading a fun and enjoyable experience, not a chore or to feel like work.’
Katy Pike of Reading Eggs wanted preschool and primary school children to enjoy learning to read and feel self-motivated. Reading Eggs is so reward-based that children don’t realise they are learning. It launched in 2008 in Australia, expanding to UK and US markets in 2011 and now includes Reading Eggspress for older children (7-13).
I talked to London Mum-of-two Helen who has a nearly four year-old and a one year-old. She started doing Reading Eggs with daughter Amelie when she was just over three, and needed to guide her at the beginning.
‘It’s really designed for you to enjoy the program with your child, especially if you start it before they are four. Amelie loves it, and as I love reading, Reading Eggs offers a really nice way of reading and learning together. Sam the ant, who introduces the lessons and the varied songs really brighten up the whole thing, but I can see it’s an even better tool for a slightly older child.’ Children are rewarded with golden eggs, which they can buy games with, which constantly keeps them motivated to move on.
I also asked Helen if she buys the supplementary books which mirror the online lessons but include sticker rewards, which could get expensive. The Level 1 Book Pack (aimed at 4-6 year olds) includes the first 40 lessons of the Reading Egg program. This includes 40 reading books and 200 stickers, mini posters, activity books and a pack of Flashcards with games. It’s half price at £39.95 if you buy it with an online subscription, otherwise it’s £81.67 so commit initially or not at all! Helen thinks it’s worth the extra expense. ‘The books are great for reinforcing learning and Amelie loves filling her sticker books with things she’s familiar with from the games.’
When I ask why the under fours struggle, Helen says ‘that’s just what I feel, as I can’t leave Amelie to her own devices for long.’ But on the upside, Helen still thinks it’s a great tool. ‘Reading Eggs really sparked Amelie’s interest in letters. After doing the program for a bit, she recognised and spotted letters everywhere - on signs, billboards and in shops.’
For now, I am keeping my girls on the iPad but they’ve had a quick go on the PC with the proper program to see if they can do it. Having learnt the basics with the finger-friendly app, they just point to the visual ‘answer’ and I click on the mouse for them. Obviously, there’s a lot more to the program than the app. Annoyingly, Apple products do not support Flash Player - which is required to use the proper program - so it’s not possible for them to use it until I have the patience to give them cursor pad and mouse lessons.
Eggspress, the Reading Eggs program for 7-12 year-old children, appears to be equally effective for older children. Having done some on-line research, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t rate it as a tool for ‘reading to learn’ and improve one’s reading, vocabulary and comprehension skills. This is opposed to Reading Eggs, which is simply a tool for learning to read.
Pros and cons aside, there is no doubt that Reading Eggs, as an interactive learning experience, is a great tool for teaching phonics. Thankfully the bedtime story ritual is still safe, at least for now.
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