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Sound Reading Software: Hop, Skip & Jump Review by Stacy Rocha

379 Turkey Hill Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

Sound Reading is based on the premise that struggling readers are deficient in phonemic awareness and have problems with auditory skills. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in speech. Auditory skills are essential to being able to hear and distinguish these individual sounds and then link them to print. Instead of focusing on print to sound, the program focuses on hearing the sounds and then linking them to phonograms once phonemic awareness is in place. On this premise, the developers of Sound Reading have developed a great program targeting these troubled areas to help all struggling readers not only learn to read, but read with fluency and comprehension. The kit includes one CD-ROM and three readers.

The software itself is very user friendly, even for little ones. The only computer knowledge your child will need is how to use the mouse. He or she will need to be able to click and drag objects around the screen. Once you have introduced your child to the software he will be able to click on his name and get started without the assistance of an adult. Headphones are recommended so that the child is sure to hear the sounds being made without any outside interference. It also helps if it is quiet wherever your child is working. Too much background noise or distractions may be detrimental to your child's progress. Since being able to correctly hear the sounds is one of the hallmarks of this program, you will want to provide the right working environment for your child.

It is recommended that your child use the software two to three times per week for 20-30 minutes per session. You should not try to rush your child through the program. After your child is familiar with the software, you can introduce the readers. You can use the readers as one of your weekly sessions or any time you wish. Many of the activities on the software are repeated in the readers.

There are 12 levels with approximately 23 activities per level. The main screen has six level markers across the top and bottom, with 23 hexagons in the middle. By clicking on a colored hexagon, your child will begin the next activity in the program. Once the activity is completed, the hexagon turns transparent. Your child may click on any hexagon on the screen to go to the next activity, or he may repeat a previously completed activity if desired. As each activity is finished, a small part of the background screen is revealed. Once an entire level is finished, the whole scene is shown while brief music plays, and then the scene is moved to the level marker, and a new set of hexagons appears with a new background behind them. If at any time your child is struggling with an activity, he can click on the red X icon at the top of the screen and return to the main screen. The hexagon for that activity will turn red. If your child exits out of five or more exercises in one level, he will be blocked from moving on to the next level until he has finished enough of the exited activities to move on. The parent or teacher can also unblock the child by clicking on the report icon at the beginning of the program to access the blocking feature. This isn't preferred, as it is important for your child to complete the activities to fully master the skills required for reading success. You can also monitor your student's progress by clicking on the report icon on the main interface screen.

This program is for children ages 4-6 who are just beginning to read or who haven't begun reading instruction. The main emphasis is placed on phonemic awareness and auditory skills. Phonograms are not introduced until Level Four, where they are gradually included in the activities already being played. Some examples of the activities are:

Word and Sentence Construction
Three columns of pictures (with three pictures in each column) are shown. A sentence is said, and the student must click on the pictures corresponding to the words in the sentence. Later in the software, the pictures are replaced with phonograms, and the child must click on the sounds in the word that is said. The word is said once and then repeated very slowly. The column the sound is in is lit up while the sound is being said.

Counting and Clapping
Your child will click on a circle to make Brad clap one time for each word in a sentence. Later in the program phonemes will replace sentences.

Two pictures are shown. The word of one of the pictures is said; then two squares above the pictures start moving closer together. The sounds of the word start blending together as the squares get closer. Your child must click on the picture of the word that is said. In the beginning of the program, compound words are used, making it easier to distinguish the two separate words. Towards the middle of the program, simple two syllable non-compound words are used. Then three syllable non-compound words are used with three pictures.

Phoneme Discrimination
Two squares are shown with lowercase letters. When the cursor is moved over the letter, the sound of that letter is said. A letter sound is made, and then your child must click on the correct letter.

Phoneme Manipulation
Two to three blocks are shown representing the phoneme in a two to three letter word. Change a word (such as sat to sad) by dragging the block of the sound that changes away from the word and replacing it with another empty block.

The readers aren't your typical beginning readers. The first reader focuses primarily on phonemic awareness by repeating some of the activities from the software. Word and Sentence Construction is used by showing a box with three columns with three pictures in each column. Your child will point to the pictures that represent the words of the sentences you read to them. The child practices automatic naming by pointing to and saying the name of each picture as fast as he can. Print to sound is practiced by saying the sound of each letter in a square as fast as possible. In the second reader, step reading is introduced. There are four words in a box that have the same ending. Each word builds on the one before--for example: in, kin, skin, skins. In the same manner there are step stories in which a new word is added to each line--for example: "Brad; Brad hops; Brad hops on; Brad hops on Dad." Blending is also practiced by showing the letters of a word spaced out. Your child will point to and say each sound and then say the whole word. The third reader incorporates step reading and step stories, but halfway through the book, step stories are replaced with stories. The stories start out short, about six sentences in length, and gradually build. The last story has about 21 sentences.

My six-year-old son had a lot of fun with this program. It was very easy to implement, not teacher intensive. Besides familiarizing myself with the software in demo mode, there was nothing that I really had to learn. No schedules to figure out, no lesson planning--everything is open and go. The only downside I found to this program is the cost. When it's on sale, you can buy it for $189. Otherwise, it costs $249. Domestic shipping is free, and the company does offer a payment plan. If you decide you are not satisfied with the program, there is a 30-day, two grade level money back guarantee. I am extremely impressed with this beginning reading program. So many programs focus on the wrong things: learning the letter names, sight words, etc. Sound Reading Solutions has got it right.

Product review by Stacy Rocha, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2010