About two weeks ago, I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a new company and product. Honestly? I’m swamped. But when I clicked through out of general curiousity I knew, without a doubt, that I had to make time for Smarty Ants. Middle and I are thrilled Idid.
Middle and I signed up for our free trial of Smarty Ants, a downloadable software phonics program created for children ages 4-7 by the creator of LeapFrog, to teach basic reading skills through first grade. I am still so impressed with the graphics and creativity in the creation of this software. Its so well done you feel like you’re participating in a movie, rather than a video game. I downloaded the software on our First SPARK laptop and Middle has been playing, about 15-30 minutes a day, since.
The software begins in a set-up phase, where the parents and child answer questions like “is the player (who is represented by an ant) a boy or a girl?” and “what is your ant’s name? What are your friend-ants’ names?” (the friend ants get to help you along the way). You also have the option of using an actual stuffed Pup as your helper (the Phonics Pup) or a virtual one (which is fine. Smarty Ants operates perfectly whether you have the Pup or not. The Pup is basicallly an added bonus so you can take what you’re learning with you, when you don’t have the computer or a wifi connection.) More on that below.
The next questions ask the parent to analyze her child’s reading abilities in the most basic sense. Then, its the child’s turn to learn to play! As he learns, Smarty Ants is analyzing his reading ability. Within just a few minutes, Smarty Ants has leveled your child and set him on a course to learn.
The leveling was right-on for my guy. He was able to jump in and play phonics games. In less than 2 weeks, I can tell he’s expanding his knowledge of letter sounds to a new level: blended letter sounds (like br, sh, th, ch, etc.)
The software is downloaded onto your computer, but you still need to access the internet for it to run. Which means that you can’t bring your laptop and have your child play anywhere. We uninstalled Net Nanny because it kept getting in the way and blocking Middle from playing. I’m sure there’s a change in the settings that I could have made to allow access, but there wasn’t enough of a necessary value in having Net Nanny on the computer right now.
The games are all high-interest level: Middle loves that so many of the mini-games are sports based, which he identifies with. There are a lot of rewards involved that motivate him and, in addition to beginning reading skills, he’s learning about making choices: when you earn points and tickets you can “buy” things for your ant, like clothing, or you can use them to access new games. Also, as you progress, more games and activities open for the player to experience.
This afternoon I was playing with him and he showed me his virtual word wall. I was shocked at the number of words he’s achieved in such a short period of time. Absolutely shocked. And very impressed and proud.
Here’s where I point out that many of you know that I’m not a big believer in teaching phonics, so a lot of my real life friends may be surprised that I even considered reviewing this product. I still stand by my old motto: “teaching only phonics, only the sounds of the letters, the way that some curricula do, does nothing to help a child learn to read.” Neither does teaching children to memorize that the name of a shape of letters together is a word and, therefore, your baby can read! I will say that for a long, long time. However, games that teach phonetics? I’m all for this concept as long as a parent doesn’t subsitute it for reading time together. Comprehension and contextual reading are integral parts of the reading process. Smarty Antsteaches my son how the sounds he already knew blend together to make a word. By doing it with him at the best level that matches his needs, I’m learning ways that he learns. (Smarty Ants begins at a simpler level than blends, it begins with letters and letter sounds, but we were able to skip these levels due to the assessment.) But parents need to recognize that Smarty Ants is a supplement to your child’s learning, and not a subsitute.
I should also note that, within the skills levels, Middle is able to challenge himself selecting easy, medium or hard “mini-levels.” And as the skills become more difficult, contextual and comprehension skills are added. We’re just not at that point yet, and, unlike a really good book, you can’t skip to the end.
The Smarty Ants Phonics Pup:
In addition to our free trial of Smarty Ants, we received a Phonics Pup. The pups attach to the computers through a USB and are programmed with songs that the pups sing to your child that are aligned with the concepts he’s learning. So when Middle is learning the blend /br/ like he worked on today, our Pup, Buster, was loaded with songs that reinforce the skill. Middle can unplug Buster and take him anywhere (no wifi needed) to cuddle and sing along. The Pup is not a necessity. He’s adorable and a great reinforcement. (And he comes with a code for a free one month trial or you can buy the Pup with a 1 year membership.)
Also, I have to include how adorable this guy is. When I was describing how he moves and sings, a friend commented that he sounds like Teddy Ruxpin. Sure. But a way-updated 2010 dog version! He’s cute and cuddly and, probably, about the same size. But the Pup is a whole lot smarter, too.
The best part about our Pup, Buster? Little has fallen in love with him. The kids put him on the floor and turn on his songs or voice, and Littlecheers, claps, dances and mimics. Its about as close as we’re getting to having a real dog any time soon, so I’m so glad she’s fallen for this non-shedding, non-mess-making, always happy, low-maintenance puppy!
I’m giving away a Phonics Pup with a 1 year subscription, a $69.99 value! I’ve already recommended Smarty Ants to several friends of children who are just starting to learn their sounds and words, so you know you absolutely need to win this one, right? Here’s how to win:
- All entrants must enter a comment to this post. Tell me who you want to win the Pup and 1 year subscription to Smarty Ants for? Your child? Neighbor? Grandson? Donation to Toys for Tots?
- Extra entries are available if you tweet about this giveaway, please comment after you tweet sharing your twitter handle.
I’m selecting one winner, through random selection, on Wednesday, November 24. Entries will close at 4 pm EST. The winner will be alerted via email or twitter and asked to reply with her mailing address. Winner will have until Friday, November 26 to reply before a second winner will be chosen.
As a member of the BabyCenter Momformation Blog Network, I was sent the Phonics Pup, one year membership, and a compensation for this post and giveaway. Additionally, this post contains affiliate links.
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