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Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: Little Reader from Brillkids

I admit, it never even occurred to me to look into a reading program for my toddler. We don’t start reading instruction with our kiddos until they ask. I’ve always figured that they probably weren’t ready to read before then. Don’t get me wrong…we do read to them. Constantly. And allow them to investigate books, even if it means that they eat a few. Or rip them to shreds (I’m sure our library hates us). But toddlers actually reading? And comprehending what they are reading?

Brillkids Learning Systems has developed an innovative approach to teaching kiddos how to read, in fact they may start reading before many of them have even started talking. The program is called Little Reader.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a copy of the Little Reader software, plus the full-year curriculum from Brillkids free, for review purposes. I received no compensation.

Little Reader is essentially a flashcard program that flashes words, pictures and videos on your computer screen, while pronouncing the words for your baby.

frog flash

Each lesson builds upon the previous lessen, so while you may start with only a few words, more will words will be added as you go on. Each lesson is divided into 2 sessions---the idea is to do one session in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening. (There are studies that show that going over the same information again a few hours later does lead to much better retention, so this makes perfect sense.) Each session consists of 3 parts: word flash, multisensory, and picture flash. The entire session is very short (about 5-10 minutes, depending on how you have your options set up, though you could make it longer than that).

little reader main screen

The pictures, videos and audio files used can be totally customized. You can replace all the included pictures with your own pictures, for example. And you can record your own pronunciation files.

little reader record screen

You can use your own videos, too. Adjust the volume. Decide if you want an arrow pointer on the screen. Choose how many pics to show of each word. So many options. The only option I could not find was the ability to change the amount of time between flashcards, though I could have missed it.

The controls for customization are not entirely intuitive. There are video tutorials available, but they are for the current version of the software available for download on the site---the Crew was given access to a newer version that has not yet been released. Presumably, once this version is officially released, there will be new tutorials to go with it. I found the tutorials to be informative, anyway, but the quality varied on them somewhat, and many had some rather loudish background music I could have done without. Still, I was able figure things out and add some of my own pictures…haven’t tried to record due to a lack of a decent mic at the moment, but we’ll try that eventually.

The quality of the pictures included with the program are good. Video quality is a little lacking (low res) and most words that have a video (not all do) only have one, so it can be a bit monotonous to see the same grainy videos over and over. This is not really surprising (the download for the product is of course, huge already, higher res videos would require even larger files). Perfect excuse to sub some of your own.

In addition to being able to change any and all of the media provided in the curriculum, you can create your own lessons from scratch. In fact, there are a number of lessons available for download (for registered users) that have been created by other users.

And if you are worried about your child spending too much time on the computer, any or all of the flashcards cards can be printed to use anytime, anywhere.

So what do we think of Little Reader?

I was skeptical. And hesitant to try this with 18-month-old Emma. We keep video time to a minimum in our house, and the thought of parking my toddler in front of a computer to watch video lessons was, well, a concern. Young children are very impressionable. What effect would this have on those circuits in her little brain?

I was reassured to see in the user guide that the parent is encouraged to participate in the lessons with their child so that this is a time for interaction, rather than zoning out in front of a computer screen.

Emma does love the lessons, particularly the pictures and videos of different animals. She gets very excited. Is she learning to read? I have no idea. It’s really too soon to tell. We haven’t been using it every day (I have a hard time remembering to get on the computer with my toddler), or we might be further along. The program definitely catches her interest. Ok, that’s an understatement…she’s riveted to it when it is on. She will occasionally point to the screen and make an excited sound, but she hasn’t even said any of the words, but then, Emma is still fairly non-verbal (she communicates primarily through her own baby signs, and uses few words). We may see some more evidence of what it going on in her brain over time.

Do I recommend it?

The program is well designed and I love the ability to fully customize it. But this is a very spency product and the few weeks that I’ve had it simply haven’t given me enough of a feel for its actual usefulness to be able to recommend it. I’m not convinced yet that it actually can do what it claims to do. I’m not convinced that I would or should want it to do what it claims to do. And I’m not convinced that even if it does do what it claims to do, that it’s worth the price tag. With further use, I should be able to get a better feel for all that. If we continue to use it, I may post some updates.

I do recommend that you try the Little Reader free trial for 14 days to see if it’s a good fit for you and your child.

Price:

Little Reader Basic with 6 months of pre-made lessons: $149.00

Little Reader Basic with 12 months of pre-made lessons: $199.00

Little Reader minimum system requirements (Windows compatible only):

  • Operating System: Windows XP, Vista
  • P4 processor with at least 1 GB of system memory
  • 10 GB hard drive with at least 5 GB of available disc space
  • CD-ROM drive (Required for CD Installation)

Check the Brillkids website for more info on system requirements.

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