1. cjvitek's Avatar
    My daughter is in Kindergarten and is learning how to read. Since she likes the iPhone, I thought I would look a "learn to read" program for the iPhone. I chose to try out Word Magic.

    The "game play" for this program is very straight forward. You get to choose if letters are missing at the beginning of the word, middle of the word, or end of the word. Based on the setting, the child is shown a picture, with the word spelled out below - minus one letter. The child has to figure out what that letter is, and can pick from four letters.

    If they choose the correct letter, they get verbal encouragement ("good job", "you are awesome"). If not, they are told to try again. Once the correct answer is chosen, the child can hit the "next game" button or shake the iPhone to move on to the next question. If a child gets five correct answers in a row, they get a "star" (and a quick animation and verbel encouragement - "you get a star"). All together a very straight forward educational tool.

    Word Magic is a graphically appealing program. It has simple, crisp images for the words that the child is trying to spells. The letters are presented clearly, and you can choose between lower case or upper case. The images for the words are "cartoonified", presumably to make it easier for a kid to relate to them. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, the images are fun for kids to look at, but at times they can be somwhat confusing. The cow image, for example, doesn't really look anything like a cow. The pig was even difficult for me to recognize (although my daughter recognized it right away). Some images are also ambiguous - the "hut" could also be considered a house, a shack, an abode (although the latter might not be at the kindergarten vocabulary level).

    The choice of words seemed a little odd at times. Some of the words seemed a little more difficult for young readers. Rather than just rely of simple, three letter words with short vowel sounds, there are some words that have more complex spelling rules (at least complex for someone learning to read) - double letters, silent "e"s, long vowel sounds, etc. While you obviously need to learn to spell those, it seems that having various difficulty settings would be beneficial. Simple words for kids starting out, more complex words for kids learning some of the complexities of spelling. It would also be nice if you could choose to focus on one (or more) letters - so kinds can practice words they may be tested on shortly.

    Lastly, one of the features that is touted by the program is the reward system. You get a "real voice" praising you, and you build up stars. The real voice is difficult to understand, and at times I was simply guessing what the voice was saying. The star system might be interesting, but just building up a number of stars seems limited. It would make more sense to maybe have an animation, or have kids be able to "buy" things with their stars.

    Within the settings, you can alter color scheme, letter style, sound effects, and how you move to the next game. One feature that would be VERY beneficial would be the option to add your own words. If a child has a spelling test coming up, this would enable you to help your child on specific words they need to learn. Obviously there wouldn't be images associated with those words. It would also be nice to be able to mix up the testing options - combine the three options (letters missing in the front, middle, or end) into one larger test.

    Pros: Good interface for kids, simple game play

    Cons: Some words seem overly difficult for beginning spellers, no option to combine spelling tests or add new words, reward system seems lacking

    All in all, this program might be useful for kids first starting to learn their letters - especially the option where the first letter is missing. But the lack of other options limits the potential to use this program over the long haul. It costs $.99 so price isn't a big issue, but I am not sure how beneficial it is for kids at the intermediate stage of spelling. Three out of five stars.
    11-12-2008 10:08 AM