I love starfall.com. When I was in the classroom as a teacher, I used several of starfall’s different phonics/writing journals with my students. As a mother teaching her preschooler to read, I have ordered a set of the starfall beginning readers. This company makes reading/writing/phonics products that I believe in, and that have earned my teacher stamp of approval.

When my daughter began to develop an interest in using the computer, http://www.starfall.com was naturally one of the first sites I introduced to her. While the site goes hand in hand with many of their products available for purchase, it also can stand alone as a great tool to introduce your child to letters, sounds, and beginning reading skills. Many people upon finding out that I’ve taught my four year old to read, immediately say things like, “Well, you were a kindergarten teacher, so you know how to do that. I could never do that.” With resources like starfall out there, any parent who is willing to set aside a little bit of time and exercise a bit of patience, can teach their child to read (or develop pre-reading skills.)

The site is easy to use, and is separated by skill level. (I will say that my daughter enjoys the activities that are above and below her level as well.) At the beginning level, the child selects a letter of the alphabet, and is led through an interactive series of screens, where they will hear the sound the letter makes, and see the sound put into words. At each level of the site, the children are shown and able to listen to, how words are sounded out.

The second step, “Learn to Read” is based on the company’s set of readers. There is a set of 15 stories, which are taught in a sequential order, building new sounds, blends, digraphs, etc. with each new book. They feature lovable characters such as Zac the Rat (the character for short a) and Peg the Hen (for short e). The interactive stories allow your child to click on each word, hearing them sounded out. They can also click on the illustration for a fun surprise or new animation.

In the third level, “It’s Fun to Read”, the stories become a bit more complex, and feature more “sight words.” (A sight word is a word that a child is expected to know on sight. It is often a word that cannot be sounded out, such as the word “the.”) The child has the option of reading the sentence on their own, or hearing it read to them. The child gets to choose portions of the story as they read. At first glance, it appears as though there are not as many story options. However, as your child completes a story, new options will become available to them.

In the final level, “I’m Reading”, the stories feature longer sentences, and more words on each page. The child using these stories, should be comfortable with sight words, and not need to rely on words being sounded out. The computer will still read the word for the child, but will no longer break the words down by phonemes/sounds. At this level, the child is also introduced to various forms of writing, such as fiction/non-fiction, comics, plays, etc.

I am a fan of anything that excites my child about reading and learning. Starfall entertains my child while also building up her pre-reading/reading skills. You will be amazed as your child begins to pick up on various sight words, letter sounds, etc.

As a bonus, if you click on the “Download Center” button at the bottom of starfall’s home page, you will be directed to a list of resources and activities you can print out and complete with your child. They even offer black and white printable versions of the 15 readers that go along with the “Learn to Read” level. You can choose the internet story, and read it through with your child. Then, you can transition to the paper copy. Allowing a child to watch and hear the story several times will help build their confidence as a reader when they move to the paper version, and will also help to cement a few of the words for them. Spend several weeks on each book, giving your child plenty of times to listen/read and re-read each book. Then, as you begin to add new books, don’t forget to go back and re-read the old, familiar stories. Re-reading is one of the most important tools in the reading teacher’s arsenal! Have fun, and never stop reading with your child!!