We’ve wracked our brain power, practised our typing skills, brushed up on our artistic talent, and taken the opportunity to explore the Louvre Museum, and, with Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip & Kipper, Nintendo continues their efforts to deliver differentiated experiences beyond the norm.
This latest foray into the realms of ‘edutainment,’ as the name implies, concentrates on improving reading and writing skills by developing phonemic awareness – the ability to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes. Developed by the IE Institute and created with Oxford Reading Tree’s recognisable characters and considered content, there are already clear assurances as to the programme’s success in that it is used in primary schools across the country – integrating well with the National Curriculum.
Splitting itself into three interactive volumes for Nintendo 3DS that cover Levels 1 – 6, these supplement what children learn in school and serve to underpin their early education with the opportunity for additional practice. While they have been designed so that they can be steadily worked through alone, guidance is recommended in not only allowing you to offer encouragement but to help track your child’s progress. The Parent Guide will introduce you to the structure and techniques used in the software, covering any questions or concerns you may have in effectively putting everything to use.
Levels 1, 1+ and 2 are covered in Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip & Kipper: Volumes 1, assisting children aged 3 – 6 years old with their early development. Children will focus on sounds that they hear around them in daily life at Level 1, whether that be at home, school, a farm, park or football match. Exercises are stored on a bookshelf, with children working from left to right to steadily increase the challenge. Sounds and Letters will see them familiarise themselves with such associated sounds – a tractor rumbling through a field, a teacher instructing a class or the roar of a crowd. Later, they then match where these are happening in a larger illustration which allows them to see how sounds relate to an object, event or feeling. These exercises then close by tasking them with echoing the sounds that they heard, which they can record using the built-in microphone to then play back to themselves to listen for accuracy. Level 1 also throws in a Let’s Sing exercise, where children can that allow them to practise words and rhythms through singing along to songs. They can use percussive instruments by tapping on the touchscreen, although a criticism here is that the lyrics don’t appear on-screen and are instead hidden away in the Parental Guide button. When open, which they will more often than not need to be, this negates the chance to use the instruments.
Levels 1+ and 2 expand on the Sounds and Letters exercises, becoming more practical in that they move onto children practising the actual sounds (phonemes) rather than just associating them with their origin. The process of listening to the clearly spoken example and then replicating this by recording their own voice works well, while also looking to introduce other words that use similar sounds. Listen & Write and Listen & Choose are also introduced, a sapling growing into a tall tree as you successfully practise writing a phoneme displayed on-screen or match sounds to an illustration.
These familiarise children with focus sounds and words that will be present in Fiction and Non-Fiction stories, with parents recommended to check which will be used to practice before you begin reading. Although narrated audio books with slow, clearly spoken sentences are included, meaning that you can leave children to enjoy these alone, and allows you to rely on the software to model sounds and words for you. These reading exercises are staged, with children then invited to read aloud (and record the sentences that they say), later being quizzed as to what happened in the story to see how well they understood it, seeing which words they remembered by matching sounds to spelling and then writing practice.
This structure continues in Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip & Kipper: Volumes 2, which encompasses Levels 3 and 4 and is suitable for those aged 4 – 7 years old. Children continue to practise new sounds in Level 3 while being introduced to more alternative spellings of certain sounds, whereas Level 4 revises everything already learned before looking at alternative spellings and pronunciations. These continue to be taught through Sounds and Letters, Fiction, Non-Fiction and Let’s Sing exercises, with a careful increase in complexity moving away from situational association to more practical learning.
Levels 5, 5M and 6 are the focus of Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip & Kipper: Volumes 3, again suited to those aged 4 – 7 years old, where everything that they have learnt so far is put into practice. Exercises continue to highlight how sounds can be written in different ways, with confidence and fluency emphasised at Level 6 where they are tasked with reading through a range of Non-Fiction books. By this point, they will have journeyed from associating sounds with their origin at Level 1, through to reading about Paris, Robin Hood, and aspiring athletes – becoming ever more reliant on their own capabilities and requiring less guidance not only from the software but parents also.
Children are encouraged throughout their time with Phonics Fun’s learning material, continually showered with ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’ exclamations while earning themselves Stamps, Badges, Rule Cards, Vocabulary Cards and Song Cards as a reward for their efforts. These are collected in separate Stamp and Card Books, garnering a sense of accomplishment for the time poured into studying.
StreetPass is supported, allowing your name, stamp and card collection data to be shared with others using the software – a quick method of comparing progress with friends and classmates. While SpotPass, once activated, allows you to receive messages from Kipper, although I’m yet to be sent any words of encouragement!
A formidable three-strong package, Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip & Kipper succeeds in helping to lay an enviable foundation for increasing phonemic awareness. Through interactive design and effective utilisation of the Nintendo 3DS hardware, these educational volumes prove the perfect supplement by blending fun-filled exercises with structured learning.