Reader Bee and the Story Tree by Learning Circle Kids LLC is a brilliant app for beginning readers that are so wonderful; you don't want to miss out on this one! From the co-creator of the legendary Reader Rabbit, Ann McCormick, comes Reader Bee and the Story Tree. Learning Circle Kids LLC has captured all the charm, whimsy, and nostalgia of first-grade primers, but make no mistake; these apps have been thoroughly researched and executed to maximize a child’s first experiences with learning to read. Each activity flawlessly segues into the next to build upon letter recognition, sound, and word formation so that the ultimate goal is to then set these words into use within a storybook. Using a multi-sensory approach, the app lays down a foundation, without being overwhelming. This helps students to retain the material by creating experiences that stimulate and interweave vision, hearing, and touch (proprioception) so that access to learned material can be reached via a variety of pathways. Included is an extensive section for parents and educators, describing how to use the app to its best advantage, and the science behind the approach. Learning Circle Kids LLC, has made this app affordable ($1.99 at the time of this review) so that any child or school with iPads can attain this gem. In the next release, expected in the upcoming week, data for level progress can be collected for five children at a time.
Basic units of seven letters (six consonants and one vowel) are arranged in a honeycomb daisy with the vowel in the center, allowing children to experiment with and make three letter (CVC & VCC) words. Here, every letter has a consistent sound, and more complex or variations of letter sounds are to be introduced at a later time. The focus is kept basic, and while this sounds so simple; it is so genius in its logic. The idea is to create inertia and the ability to read variations will then be learned in an organic manner and shaped as one gains competency.
There are two levels of play, Pre-K or Kindergarten, with 5 activities centered on each honeycomb daisy. Demands, such as tracing letters with a fingertip, are slightly increased in the Kindergarten before proceeding to the next level. On opening, you are greeted by Reader Bee, where she first introduces you to the land of letters, words, and stories through the use of the honeycomb. The letter daisy or honeycomb shape promotes the making of three letter words through either swiping or tapping. Allowing the ability to swipe out words, is quite forward in thinking, and will most likely prove to promote fluidity in reading/writing.
In the first activity, Open the Daisy, touch the blinking portion of the letter daisy to link the initial phoneme associated with the illustration. By presenting the picture first, kids formulate a mental picture of the sound and then have an established link for the letter upon its presentation.
- Next, in Trace & Chase, an illustration of the letter appears, and to see it traced, all you need to do is touch the letter. The letter is then presented with a proper tracing order from top to bottom and from left to right. In the K version, you trace the letter with your finger. This helps to set the seed for beginning writers too, by modeling letter formation, whether the letter is viewed or traced. I love how Learning Circle Kids LLC has gone down to this level of detail in their introduction with Reader Bee. If I could change any particular thing in this groundbreaking app, it would be to not use the“/h/, /h/” when finding the picture of the house, but to say a house with a single emphasis. Then, use the “/h/, /h/” phoneme on the presentation of the letter in the Trace & Chase game. This way the pairing of the letter phoneme could be extended with not only the sound in the house but with the letter also.
Once a letter is formulated, a “Wizding” pops out – and that is a lower case letter requesting you to find its matching picture in the daisy. It’s very inviting and fun….”t - Take me to my turtle”….”w - Where’s my wagon?” These Wizdings are pretty frisky and can be hard to catch, so be sure to grab them as soon as you can. If you delay or have problems, you may be prompted by the Wizding letter itself…“g - Where’s my goat?” Chasing and targeting the Wizdings also facilitates visual scanning and learning to stabilize and grade head and neck control as well as crossing midline both visually and tactilely. Grading control takes physical effort and is why we often feel much more comfy reading on the couch or with our heads in a supported position, rather than reading at a desk.
- Next up is the Letter Daisy of 6 consonants and a vowel in Type and Swipe. Simple three letter words are displayed in a book above the daisy. Students are prompted by Reader Bee to type the word from the book across the daisy. Students then shift their gaze back to the book and underscore the word with their finger. Again this not only helps to develop the ability to shift eye gaze from one point to another but also uses tactile cueing to help “set” or remember the word by the way it looks and sounds. Levels include all vowels and then a round with the edge letters h, k, v, x, y, and z.
- Once students have completed all of the letters on a daisy and made the words in the wordbook, a short story is read in Hear and Tap. Each word created from the daisy is highlighted throughout the story, further reinforcing retention. And how thrilling that is to begin to recognize words you’ve discovered in a story! Tap on a Word, and a bright and cheerful song completes your journey with Reading Bee.
- Kindergarten levels play a combined daisy chain typing game called Daisy Type with a timer after each honeycomb set, typing as many words on the honeycomb as they can remember. Preschoolers play this game after completion of all the levels. Words are recorded as in the Wordbook, and any non-word poofs away without any negativity or attention. The introduction of typing on the honeycomb itself connects the use of the alphabet to the making of words centered on a vowel, rather than an abstract ABC order. In other words, it makes words accessible. It may also set kids up for typing on a qwerty keyboard in the future through already established visual motor pathways of seeing a word and tapping its corresponding letters.
The ability to extend into off screen play is only limited by your imagination. Playing hopscotch words using a die with the six consonants from a daisy letter group to see if you can make a word or not, labeling items in the child’s environment, fishing for letters to complete a honeycomb, or honeycomb BINGO are a few things to try. There are more ideas in the Grown-ups section. Winner of numerous awards, including the Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Choice Award, 2014, and Dr. Toys 10 Best Technology Award for 2014, this app is Highly Recommended. The app is reasonably priced and packs a forward thinking and novel approach to learning to read. It appeals both to visual and auditory learners, as well as brings in a grounding proprioceptive learning element seldom seen in educational apps.
The Reader Bee Pinterest page has lots of suggestions for off-screen play, and recommended products (books, toy, apps, videos), downloads of stickers, playing cards, etc. using the Reader Bee graphics and method.
About the Author
Jo Booth has been an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and currently works in Pediatrics with early intervention. She sees kids newly diagnosed on the spectrum as well as medically fragile kids. She loves to move, explore and play every day; so that “her kids” grow up to be healthy independent learners.