I’ve been spending a lot of time on Reading Bear with my youngest son. I always touted Startfall as the single best site to teach young readers. I think Reading Bear is the next “learn to read” vehicle after you have finished up Starfall.
Reading Bear is a wonderful tool for young readers
While Starfall does have more advanced stories as readers progress, they are not nearly as much fun or as well done as the original stories with Zach the Rat, Gus the Duck, and their colleagues on Startfall that I have learned to love so much. Starfall’s more advanced stories are hard for “young but advanced readers” because they are dry and don’t maintain interest. My son is easily bored by these. Also a factor: you have to pay to get these stories from Starfall. I still recommend buying the upgraded Starfall because there are good counting and math games we like to use. But the extra reading is just not fun like the characters in original (and free) stories.
Okay, I’m trying to write about Reading Bear and I’m talking about Starfall, my first love. Reading Bear sets out to teach young readers vocabulary and phonetic patterns. A delightfully perfectly cast woman with great pronunciation, Melissa Moats, reads the initial word. They show a picture of the noun or verb and then use the word in a sentence. They then read the sentence back going over the words by highlight the each word as it is read and then repeat the phrase typically with a video that conforms to the sentence. She tops it off by reading the word one more time.
That description reads as extremely boring. Usually the sentence they use defines the word and they are, regrettably I think, never very silly in their choices. But, I’m telling you, it works. My two year old will stay with Reading Bear but will more quickly tire of other websites and online stories we used.
There are seven different versions of how the vignettes are read. In the extreme pronunciation version, Moats sounds out a word more slowly before coming back to normal. I’m not sure about how I feel about that one so we use the third option “Let me sound it out.”
One great thing about Reading Bear that I think/hope is valuable to my two-and-a-half year old son is its focus on meaning and context. I like that he see how words are being used and I think — I’m not sure but I think — it might be better than reading stories for helping kids understand the real meaning and context of words.
Reading Bear continues to keep adding more and more content which I really appreciate. This is a huge weakness with Starfall which achieved awesome and then quit making any meaningful advances. My best advice is to really give Reading Bear a chance if you are interested in helping young readers get better at reading, phonics and reading comprehension.
About Reading Bear
Jimmy Wales is the front man for Wikipedia, who is at the top of the page from time to time asking for donations. His less known co-founder, Larry Sanger, is not longer with Wikipedia but is doing cool project like this. Sanger is just like me. He has young kids and he believes that early reading is a real key to future success.