My boys have logged over 12 hours of reading practice since we introduced them to the Ooka Island app and it's working. Just last night, my oldest was having a “bathroom words” conversation with his brother when he realized that he knew how to spell…poo. Thanks to Ooka Island, he recognized the “oo” sound. Not one to let a learning opportunity slip by, I grabbed some paper and encouraged him to write the word down. Lots of giggles followed, my own included. Once we settled down, we brainstormed and he wrote a list of other words that had the “oo” sound like boo, boot, book, and moo (cue more giggles).
I'm loving the Ooka Island app because we're able to maintain our family commitment to after school outdoor play and practice reading without arguments. My kids are enjoying it too. Here are five reasons why I think Ooka Island is so appealing to boys:
It feels active. Not only do the activities on Ooka Island frequently vary, switching before my boys may get bored, many of the games give the sense of being physically active. There is climbing up Alphabet Mountain, where their avatar jumps from letter to letter to practice the alphabet, skateboarding down the mountain going over ramps to get air time, and jet ski jumps with tricks while practicing phonemic awareness. They even take their Ooka Island adventure off the screen. After listening to the cave of sounds, my three-year-old built his own cave of sounds out of Duplo and had his superhero characters ride through it. At our waterfront, my boys have jumped from rock to rock saying their alphabet, and run around the house demonstrating their jet ski tricks.
The reading material is a good fit. Boys are known to enjoy texts that are narrative, sustain engagement over time, and feature a male character.¹ The Ooka Island collection of books focus on the same three characters including a male main character. In each story, my sons look forward to seeing what action and sometimes silliness these familiar characters get up too. Following each new ebook, there are repeated opportunities to read, and to practice reading comprehension, sight words and develop phonemic awareness with mini-games.
They feel successful. My 6-year-old has mastered the ability to skateboard down Alphabet Mountain and to do cool tricks on the jet-ski by moving the iPad, but my 3-year-old hasn't coordinated this yet. I love that his avatar still skates and jet-skis through the levels and he's cheered on at the end. He loves it too. If he wasn't able to do these activities because he couldn't figure out how to move the iPad then he simply wouldn't want to play the game. Ooka Island has made it easy to keep the focus on learning to read while making all ages of players feel able to play the game. There is also a lot of celebratory fist pumping by their avatars which my kids love to mimic.
It has a video game appeal. Ooka Island is fun. Okay, it's not quite Angry Birds but they get excited when levels open up, a new book is found, or when they receive a sticker for good work. My boys love that they are a “hero” on Ooka Island and enjoy that they can customize their avatars. Matthew, my 3-year-old's avatar has sported the cape costume since the beginning because he is a Hero.
It's highly structured. Boys learn well when reading is broken down into short chunks that have a clearly defined goal.² All of the games on Ooka Island meet these criteria and they also provide regular feedback with rewards of stickers, cheering, and general enthusiasm from the characters. When an error is made, they provide support to help kids find the correct answer. Since the learning activities are games there is an element of competition that appeals to boys learning style as well.
Ooka Island is a game based reading program that teaches the five foundations of reading along with 85 ebooks. Your child can try the first level for free so you can see for yourself the quick progress your child will make with their reading abilities and confidence. At the rate my kids are progressing, I expect my sons will soon realize the connection between the “ee” sound and the pee word. Another silly spelling lesson is in my future soon and I couldn't be happier.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post which is the second in a three-part series about the Ooka Island reading program. You can read the first post about how it helped balance our family time.