When your child knows his alphabet and is familiar with the keyboard, it's time
for WordTalk. This is the program that actually teaches a preschooler to
read. It does this by teaching him the sounds of the letters in carefully
selected groups of words. It begins with words all in capital letters so
he can see the correspondence between the letters on the screen and the
keyboard. For instance, the word "FIT" will appear on the
screen, with the "F" highlighted. The child finds the
"F" on the keyboard and presses the key. The computer says
"fuh" and goes on to highlight the "I". When the entire word
is spelled, the computer goes through the sounds again, then says the word
(pausing briefly so the child can look at the word again after hearing it
spoken) and goes on to the next.
A parent may have to help the child get the hang of this program. In
AlphaTalk and KidWrite, any key the child pressed produced a reaction, but in
WordTalk only one key is the "right" one - the letter that is
highlighted. It took Eddy (2 years, one month old) only a couple of
ten-minute sessions to figure out what was wanted, so it's still a very friendly
program - it's simply not meant for the youngest babies.
Now, to the mechanics of WordTalk. There are several options which a
parent or the child can select. The most important menu is at the far
right - "File". It allows the child to "Open" the
particular list of words he's interested in. For instance, if he opens
"1-AT", the list consists of "AT", "CAT",
"HAT", "FAT", "FLAT", "SAT",
"SPAT" and "SPLAT". As you can tell, the lists are not
put together haphazardly, but with a common theme, usually same-ending-sound.
At any time in a list the child can choose another list. He doesn't even
have to finish the word he's doing first. We believe in maximum
flexibility for minimum frustration.
The next three menus are "Color", "Size" and
"Font". They are there strictly for variety.
The Startup menu allows you to do a bit of customization for your child.
If he is very young or gets frustrated easily, you might want to pick the
"Easy" option. That way, any key he presses is the right one.
The "No Keyboard" option is for use as a background program.
When Eddy was about five months, I found it helped him to get to sleep if there
was something going on on the computer. Why not take advantage of the
In the Startup menu, there is an option for the computer to say "Try
again" if the child presses the wrong key. But some people find this
distracting, so it can be turned off.
Now that we have the mechanics out of the way, I'll tell you the most important
thing about WordTalk. It works! When I read about the "Talking
Typewriter" experiments done in the '60's (see Background),
I was like you - a little skeptical. If this method was so great, why
didn't the whole world know about it? (I still wonder that. I still
don't have a good answer.) But I was intrigued enough to spend the time
trying the method on my little girl. It was astounding!
Andrea is my third child, and before they entered school I taught the first two
to read a little bit. Frank learned the rudimentary basics when he was
three and a half, and Lori learned a little just before she entered kindergarten
at four and a half. But their learning was a long, painstaking,
unsuccessful process compared to Andrea's and Eddy's. Where I had to sit
down with Frank in my lap and point out a word over and over again in his
"learn to read" book; all I had to do with Andrea was turn on the
computer. Where neither Frank nor Lori learned enough to read a book until
they were in school; using the computer Andrea was reading at the second grade
level on her fourth birthday. Where the big kids learned to read with that
dead-pan expressionless tone common to first graders everywhere; using the
computer, Andrea and Eddy read with expression and fluency.
The difference was like night and day. I know. I tried teaching both
ways - without the computer, and with it, and I will never recommend going
without. It's not merely the fact that it's much easier on both the child
and the parent to use the computer. Besides being easier, the child learns
more, and learns better. Oh, there is definitely a place for the personal
touch in computer learning. The time spent sitting down reading to a child
is probably also crucial to learning. (The time spent sitting down with
the child and having him read to you is even more so.) But why make
reading a chore? Make it an adventure!