Electronic learning toys

Of Consuming Interest

January 31, 1999|By Susan Rapp

Editor's note: Today, reading specialist Susan Rapp discusses the benefits of electronic toys and provides guidelines for selecting them. On Wednesday's Parent & Child page, she will review specific toys appropriate for emerging readers.

Somewhere between the phonics workbooks and the high-tech CD-ROM games are new products that can motivate and entertain while providing serious learning of reading skills. These include electronic toys, which are more portable than personal computer games and more interesting than paper and pencil tasks. Based on the premise that children learn and have fun when they explore, play and do things with letters and words, most interactive electronic games employ a multisensory format. That is, children can feel the shape of the letters, hear their sounds, make words and see how they look.

If you would like a fun package that provides your child with additional ways to experience letters and sounds, these toys may meet your needs. But be wary of unrealistic claims. If a package implies that playing with the games is all that's needed to turn a child into a reader, be skeptical. It is also important to keep in mind that good phonics instruction provides related reading practice. While learning isolated words improves word recognition skills, real, purposeful reading involves stories and books. So keep reading aloud to your child.

Here are tips on shopping for electronic learning toys.

Features to look for:

* Bright LCD screen that displays letters, words, cues or animation.

* Bright, chunky buttons (for toddlers), fun melodies and sound effects, and clear enunciation of letter names and sounds.

* Verbal cues and responses that keep children enthusiastic and "on track."

* Additional components or cards that can be purchased as the child's skills progress.

* Retail packaging that lets the buyer try out activities before purchasing.

* Vowels displayed in a single color that is different from the consonants.

Educational benefits:

* Include rhyming activities.

* Help the child to recognize letters and distinguish sounds in spoken words.

* Teach skills derived from reliable educational research.

* Promote spelling practice by allowing the child to write or form words.

-- Susan Rapp, director of the Village Reading Center

Pub Date: 01/31/99

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