Reading and writing never required an on/off switch. But the new electronic aids turn learning phonics, spelling and other language skills into fun. To get things rolling, children need H-E-L-P from an adult to guide them in mastering these devices.
|Someone must sit down with the child and show him
or her how to work the toy — Roberta Connors, retired
Are they tools or toys? At LittleSmarties.com, an Internet store that sells educational toys for kids, the best sellers are the ones disguised as pure enjoyment. Before a toy is listed on its site, the people behind LittleSmarties consult with educators who work with children of various ages.
"Theyīre looking for something thatīll engage the kids and provide the maximum amount of learning," said LittleSmarties.com president Stanley Brodka. "I guess the goal is to give something to the kids where they donīt necessarily realize theyīre learning."
The top-selling toys on the site are several LeapFrog and The Learning Journey (ToyDirectory)products, including the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Set. The set is meant for use on a refrigerator, an unlikely but effective place for kids to take a bite out of phonics.
One of the advisors to the site is Roberta Connors, a retired K-2 teacher and former preschool director. She also worked in toy research and development. The change in toys over the years is remarkable, she told TDmonthly Magazine, with so much emphasis now on electronics. But the electronic learning aids are beneficial only if the child is guided by a parent or another adult.
"I think if you just give them the toy and say, īThis is itī and start working with it, itīs probably not going to work, unless you have an exceptional child," she said. Someone must sit down with the child and show him or her how to work the toy and then the child will catch on and be able to do it alone, Connors said.
The future of electronic learning aids is now, Connors went on to say. She appreciates toys that require others to join in the game. Also of significance to her are toys that help build childrenīs coordination.
In agreement is Dorothy Cohen, owner of Teachers Supplies of Long Beach. Tops and blocks are still popular and important, she said. A combination of the basics and electronics is needed. "Young children need a recipe for both in learning," she said.
Many items from this category that are selling well in her California store are from LeapFrog and Educational Insights (ToyDirectory). But the effectiveness of the products lies mainly in the little hands of the child.
"Theyīre only good, of course, if the youngster is interested and at the right stage in his or her life," said Cohen.
Here are more items that offer a balance of entertainment and education in teaching language skills:
Donīt bring out the bug spray for this one! With seven different levels, the
Phonics Firefly adapts to the childīs changing skills and abilities. The 16" x 12" game teaches phonics with a combination of lights and top-notch sounds. It is also a great tool for teaching children and adults with special needs.
Packing for a phonics safari just got a little easier. This was initially introduced as the Launch Pad, an award-winning reading product designed for schools. The 10.5" by 13.5" Phonics Pad came out in 2004 with new technology that eliminated separate cartridges. It features clear audio.
This bug stepped out on the toy market this year and currently is in the top
10 best sellers for Learning Resources. Measuring 60" by 32", the colorful floor mat is made to be jumped on. The music gets the kids moving and, before they know it, theyīre learning. And that makes parents happy.
The Write and Learn series emphasizes writing skills. Released at the end of July, it starts children with doodling and guides them to writing letters and numbers. As part of the series, the Lightboard features a chunky stylus perfectly sized for a childīs hands. Itīs 14" x 12" x 15.7".