Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Full of Vitamin ABCDEFG!

"What does a good early literacy program look like?"

That’s the question we asked ourselves over and over while designing the new Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K levels. Well, we knew it had to be all about phonemic awareness. That was the jump off point. What’s phonemic awareness? The ability to hear and manipulate phonemes—the smallest sounds we hear in words. We also knew it had to teach the alphabetic principle (associating sounds with their respective letters) and we knew it had to teach a few other skills we’ll talk about in future blogs (blending, alliteration, rhyming, etc.). But most of all, we were sure it had to be FUN. I constantly thought about those delicious chewable vitamins I used to take when I was a boy. I swear they tasted like candy, but they were good for me.
That’s what Learn to Read Pre-K had to be: fun that is good for you. It’s all about using animation, print, music, manipulatives, and online technology to help children build phonemic awareness (you already know what that means). And children have so much fun watching the HOP Kids hangin’ out doing fun things that they never notice they’re learning—a lot! If you don’t believe me see for yourselves…

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Book in Verse: Shoes in the Night

As we started redesigning Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read, one thing we wanted to do was present new reading challenges for kids as they progress through the system. In addition to introducing more complex sentence structure and longer paragraphs, we had a few other, more playful ideas. One was to create a book in verse for the end of second grade: Shoes in the Night by our own Russell Ginns, illustrated by David Gordon.

At the end of the second grade, a child using the program is probably getting better and better at reading the storybooks, so we liked the extra challenge of reading verse and the fluidity it requires.

Hold on to your socks — here are some excerpts from Shoes in the Night:

The house is still and quiet.
You could hear a dropping pin.
Then, after just a moment,
THEY start creeping in.

The hinges on the front door creak,
And soon I hear them crawl.
First there’s a bump and then a thump.
The boots are in the hall!

I hear the squishing of a sponge.
Plates rattle, glasses clink.
I bet a band of pumps and clogs
Are in the kitchen sink.

I hear some of them jumping.
They skip around a rope.
It sounds like they are having fun,
But do I like it? Nope!

What could those shoes be up to?
What’s making all that sound?
I get up out of bed,
And I start to snoop around.

I have to take a look down there.
I have to take a peek.
I slowly tiptoe down the stairs
And hope the stairs don’t squeak.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rhyme Time

It’s National Poetry Month, and we’ve got rhyming on the brain! It’s the perfect time to share a rhyming music video from the upcoming Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K edition. Here’s “Rhyme Time,” performed marvelously by The Bobs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tell us your stories!

Hey Parents-

Did you learn to read with Hooked on Phonics? Do you use Hooked on Phonics with your child? We would love to hear from you! Send us your stories and you could be featured on our website or product promotions. If your testimonial is used, you will receive a free product of your choice.

Please send your stories to success@hop.com.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rhymes with Spring

In honor of National Poetry Month, here’s a starter poem for your young poet. Tell your child the name of the poem is “Rhymes with Spring,” and encourage your poet to fill in the blanks with words that indeed rhyme with spring. Remember, it’s okay to be silly! Even nonsense rhyming words practice important phonemic awareness skills. (Think Dr. Seuss: Sneetches on beaches, Mr. Gump has a seven-hump Wump, a Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need. . . okay, you get the picture.)
Rhymes with Spring

My favorite time of year is spring.
With each warm day, I want to ______.
I fly my kite up on a ______,
Then go to the park to ride the ______.

Look at this! I’ll give you a ______.
If you’ll be the queen, I’ll be the ______.
Together we’ll fly all the way to ______.
We’ll come home with too much to ______.

But I forgot to tell you one ______.
With the spring comes the bees, and they ______!
What else is bad? I can’t think of a ______.
In spring I like almost ______.
(Hint: Try these rhymes on for size: sing, string, swing, ring, king, Beijing, bring, something, sting, thing, everything.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Introducing Visual Phonics™

With the launch of our new Learn to Read program, we unveil an exciting new feature: Visual Phonics™. These are animated segments that introduce the sounds and words in every lesson.

When we started out, we wrestled with the challenge of moving from audio to video. We didn’t want to create animations that were simply entertaining but not educationally meaningful. We were also concerned that some parents might be turned off by a reading product that required kids to watch DVDs. On the other hand, we didn’t want to create a relentless wave of letters and words that would make kids lose interest.

As soon as the first animation tests arrived, however, we knew we had a winner on our hands. These aren’t just fun little videos (although they are fun). They present a systematic approach to learning with its own set of "laws". These include:

Letters should stand still when someone is reading them.
When letters join together to form a new sound, they turn the same color.
All sound effects must stop during reading time.

This is only a small sample of the thinking that went into these videos, and I’ll be talking more about this in future posts.

And of course, there’s a rich history of animated letters, from Schoolhouse Rock to The Electric Company. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

You can get a sneak peek at the new Hooked on Phonics “HOP Kids” who run and jump and play throughout our new workbooks and videos. More on them is coming soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April Is National Poetry Month

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? It’s a month-long celebration of poetry created by the Academy of American Poets.

Just as poetry plays an important part in our culture, rhyming plays an important role in phonemic awareness. When kids can recognize and make rhymes, they’re developing an important pre-reading skill. Kids will use this skill later on as they begin to recognize similar letter patterns and word families.
So this month, make a special place for rhymes and poetry. Stay tuned for more on National Poetry Month!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Books about Bunnies

What is it about bunnies? They’re so cute, so lovable, and somehow they always manage to make for a great children’s book.

One book that we have coming out in the new Second Grade edition of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read is My Giant Bunny, written by Russell Ginns and Jonathan Maier and illustrated by Guy Francis. It’s a story about a boy and his best friend, who happens to be a giant bunny. Size has advantages and disadvantages throughout this sweet book, but at its heart, this is a book about friendship.

Until My Giant Bunny is available, here are some other wonderful books to fill your bunny-love needs:

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown; illustrated by Clement Hurd
In this story by the author of Goo
dnight Moon (an excellent bunny book in its own right), a little bunny threatens to run away, but soon realizes that he can never run to a place that’s outside the realm of his mother bunny’s love.

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
In this Caldecott Honor Book, Trixie and her daddy visit the Laundromat. Tri
xie can’t talk yet, which becomes a major problem when she realizes her stuffed bunny is gone. Good thing her daddy — with a little help from her mommy — is determined to make it all right again.

Bunny Cakes, by Rosemary Wells
Rosemary Wells’ lovable bunny chara
cters are making cakes for Grandma’s birthday, but Max keeps spilling Ruby’s ingredients. Ruby sends Max to the grocery store again and again, and each time Max tries to add the secret ingredient he needs for his earthworm birthday cake: Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters. The grocer can’t read Max’s scribbles — until Max finally finds a creative way to make himself understood.

Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, by Carolyn Crimi; illustrated by John Manders
In this high seas adventure, none of the buccaneer bunnies aboard the Salty Carrot can understand why Henry, son of the captain Barnacle Black Ear, spends all his time reading instead of doing normal pirate things. Soon, though, the crew comes to realize that reading can really come in handy!

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Okay, some of you may argue that this is really a
book about a duck, but that’s the fun of this new book of optical illusions. Is it a duck or a rabbit? There are convincing arguments for both, so it’s up to you to decide.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Starting Sound of the Day

When you’re out walking or driving with your child, why not use that time for a little phonemic fun? Pick a “Starting Sound of the Day.” For preschoolers and kindergartners, this can be a single letter, like the letter b. For first and second graders, this can be a consonant blend, like the letters ch.
Remind your child of the sound the letter or letters make, and give some sample words that begin with that letter. Then search for things that begin with that letter.

I did this with my daughter walking home from preschool the other day after she spent the day learning the letter l. She told me all about lions and love and lettuce. As we walked, we found lots of good l words: leaves, light, lines (on the sidewalk), library, and litter (did I mention that we live in New York City?) To help her find some of these things on her own I would give hints like, “Eww! What’s that on the ground that starts with the letter l?”

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What's the big deal about phonics?

As you find yourself here on the Hooked on Phonics blog, you might be asking yourself, what is phonics?

Phonics is the association between the letters in our alphabet and the sounds in our spoken language. The sound letters make are the building blocks of words. For example, if you know c makes the c sound (as in cup), a makes the a sound (as in apple), and t makes the t sound (as in turtle), you can blend the sounds c, a, t to read the word cat.

Understanding the relationship between letters and sounds is an essential step in learning to read, as found by a landmark study conducted by the National Reading Panel (NRP). The NRP was born out of a Congressional request to study the effectiveness of different reading methods. The results of the NRP study indicated that teaching children about phonemic awareness helps them learn to read, and that systematic phonics instruction showed significant positive benefits in the reading abilities of students in kindergarten through 6th grade:
The ability to read and spell words was enhanced in kindergartners who received systematic beginning phonics instruction. First graders who were taught phonics systematically were better able to decode and spell, and they showed significant improvement in their ability to comprehend text. Older children receiving phonics instruction were better able to decode and spell words and to read text orally.
The study also found that for phonics instruction to be effective, children need to put these skills to use in context. To that end, Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read combines practice in decoding and pronouncing words with reading great books to allow children to use these crucial skills in reading for meaning and enjoyment. If you want to read more, check out the research behind our Hooked on Phonics Programs.

You'll laugh, you'll cry...

I'm Russell Ginns, Senior Director of Product Development at Smarterville, Inc. 

It's my privilege to lead the team of authors, illustrators, educators, animators and musicians who have created the new Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read.

Over the next few months, the blog will give me a chance to share a behind-the-scenes look at the making of our new learning program. This should give you a window to some of the research, debates, and decisions that led to our final product.

It'll also be a bit of a soapbox for me and the team to share our views about books, storytelling, music, interactivity, and teaching kids to read.

So come along with us. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll learn the sound of the letter i!

"Mom, please don’t embarrass me."

I’m not sure if my 14 year old son, Chris, is impressed or appalled that I’m blogging … but I do know that he’s intrigued. At breakfast this morning he asked if I was going to talk about him online. “Do you not want me to?" I asked. “It depends,” he said, “are you going to tell them that it took me a long time to learn how to read?”

Here are three things you probably don’t expect me to confess right off the bat: (1) the biggie — when it came time to teach Chris to read, I never used Hooked on Phonics … which isn’t why he struggled by the way; Chris is (2) dyslexic and my husband and I — along with Chris’ teachers — had a difficult time trying to get him to read until he was diagnosed; and (3) as parents, we felt completely ill-prepared when it came to helping our son learn to read at home (never mind the dyslexia). But we did try (and try and try and try), which is the most important thing.

So, with your encouragement (and participation), that’s what I’d like this blog to focus on: trying to get our kids to read. While we have a number of ideas on that (ahem, an entire series of Learn to Read systems under the Hooked on Phonics brand), it’s not the only solution so I’m planning to share this space with teachers, reading specialists, award-winning children’s book authors, our friends from literacy organizations and you. Yes, you — if you want to share your experience with other parents — we’d love to have you post. Likewise, since I’m following a number of you already, we can add you to the blog roll.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do want to introduce you to my friends and colleagues here as well — in their own right, they’re former reading specialists, teachers, children’s book authors, curriculum developers and, of course, parents — many of whom have just wrapped up a year-long (multi-million dollar) labor of love reengineering how we deliver the phonics platform in fun (but still educationally sound), interactive ways. This blog will publish a “Developer’s Diary” to share the process, thinking and people behind this massive undertaking; we’ll also preview some of those elements with you.

Before we left the house, I reminded Chris that he’s not alone in the world — more than 40 million American children and adults are dyslexic (including one of my heroes, Walt Disney, and some of Chris’ — Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise). “Some people just have to try harder than others but the point is to try, and where we can, help others get ahead.” “Well,” he said, “if it helps people to know that you tried to the point of tears, I guess I don’t mind.”

More tears. Proud mom. And always a Mom!

Judy L. Harris