Phonics, as most of us probably already know, deals with teaching the basic concepts of reading through speech sounds. Leapfrog’s Phonics Pond implements this idea in a neat and enjoyable teaching tool. (Many of you with smaller children may already be familiar with Leapfrog, a company that regularly puts out a wide array of products that incorporate both learning and fun. For my money, Phonics Pond does a great job of integrating the two.)
First, let’s look at the physical layout of this product. Aesthetically, Phonics Pond presents all the consonants of the alphabet (in lower-case letters) as yellow push-buttons on purple fish icons. Vowels appear as red push-buttons on green frog icons. At the upper right corner is a “Help” button labeled with a question mark.
Phonics Pond actually teaches in a multitude of ways. A slidebar on the right lets you indicate which of the following seven activities to formally initiate:
Discovering Letters – Children press the letter of their choice and are rewarded with the name of the letter.
Finding Identified Letters – Phonics Pond asks the child to find a specific letter of the alphabet, e.g., “Find the letter O”.
Letter Sounds – Children press the letter of their choice and Phonics Pond imitates the sound the letter makes.
Finding Letters by Sound – Children are given the sound of a letter and asked to identify it. (This is essentially just the reverse of the “Letter Sounds” activity.)
Spelling – Various 3-letter words are spelled out, and children are asked to press the corresponding letters that make up that word.
Random Spelling – Children are asked to press any three letters to make their own word. (Should the letters pressed not form an actual word, Phonics Pond will still sound out the letters themselves. In addition, certain inappropriate words will be ignored if spelled, whether by accident or design.)
Music – Children are prompted to press a letter, which will cause music to be played – mostly perennial favorites like “This Old Man,” “Yankee Doodle,” and the like.
Overall, Phonics Pond seems to do a great job of teaching through the concept of phonics. Even better, it does so in such a way that children will actually enjoy learning. Finally, this would seem to be a product that will have long-term utility, especially in households with more than one child.