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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Product Review: Ooka Island Early Reading Programs

The Ooka Island Adventure is a program designed for children ages three to seven (or Pre-K to 2nd grade). The program plays like a video game in which your child travels the island solving mini-missions and finding lost books. The entire time your child is on Ooka Island he/she is practicing key reading techniques. These techniques are carefully embedded into the play using OokaMethod, a combination of scientific method, several methods of instruction, and real-time reporting. The program is downloaded onto your computer, and an internet connection is required for play.

You child will enjoy traveling around the island completing missions and reading books. You can rest assured that although an internet connection is required, your child will not be able to access the internet while on the site. To learn more about the activities that Ooka Island offers for your child, click here!

As far as on-line reading programs go, Ooka Island is very comparable for cost. For one child it is $12.95 per month, or a discounted rate of $99.95 for the year. For two to four children it is $19.95 a month or $129.95 a year.  Your subscription also gives you access to the Ooka Island Blog, the Ooka Island Books, and Ooka Island Music.

The Ooka file is fairly large, so check out these requirements to make sure it'll work with your system:
Operating System: Windows XP, Vista, 7 or Mac OSX 10.5 & up
Processor: Pentium 4 – 1.3Ghz or AMD Semperon
RAM: 512MB
Monitor: Must support 1024×768 resolution
Graphics: DirectX 9-capable graphics hardware with 64MB Video Memory. (Most cards made after 2006 should be able to run the game).
Audio: Built in or external microphone & speakers
Hard Drive: At least 3GB of available space
Network: Persistent high speed internet connection

The Adult View on this Program

My kids definitely enjoyed playing Ooka Island. We allow no TV or video games and so Ooka Island was seen as a real treat. Even James (age nine) enjoyed watching while his brothers explored the Island. Margaret (age three) would often 'remind' me that Henry had not done his Ooka Island schoolwork. I found it to have a minimum amount of annoying sounds and distracting visuals. The file is pretty big (see requirements above) and it took a long time to install on my computer. One time I had difficulty logging in and I contacted customer service from their website. They responded within 30 minutes to my email. Impressive!

The big question is: Did Ooka Island improve the reading level of my children? Honestly, I don't know. As homeschoolers we have several reading curriculum's in place at the same time and Ooka Island was used to supplement pre-existing curriculum. It certainly didn't hurt, especially with Henry who is on the cusp of pre-reading and fluency. It added extra exposure in a systematic manner that I support: letters create sounds and you must manipulate these sounds to create blends which in turn creates words. Following this sequence decodes a majority of all words.

My only real complaint (besides the size of the file, but that was mostly impatience complaining there), was that it required a lot of computer motor skills to play. Ooka Island backs up their decision to make the game this way. Their claim that technology is becoming commonplace and children are going to need to know how to use it is very true. But I still hold true to my personal belief that computer time for young children should be very limited, if used at all. These children need real life experiences, and they can learn to click and drag on a computer at a later time. Henry had to be really encouraged to play the game alone, because he struggled so much managing the mouse. Isaac offered to control it for Henry and he was much more motivated when the physical struggle was eliminated.

What Did My Pint-Sized Product Testers Think?

Well, I didn't like how the cave of sounds was before everything, because you kept having to click a bunch of stuff and it was the same thing over and over.  I really liked the free play because then I could choose the games that I played. I really thought the game was too easy, but I liked to play it anyways.

I liked the cake factory because there were brown cakes, orange cakes, pink cakes that were white and pink on the side. I liked the music because it was pretty. I liked the books because them were about Kayla and Jayden and Bill.

The only thing I liked was free time because all the other times then you were doing stuff that I didn't like. Doing the Cave of Sounds and making cakes. That stuff was really boring because in the Cave of Sounds then you had to do really weird things and in the Cake Factory you didn't even really get to make cakes.

I encourage you to check out Ooka Island to see if it is a good fit for your family. They offer a 14-day free trial so you can see the benefits firsthand. Also, you are welcome to use the Promo Code: LAUNCHSPECIAL30 to receive 30% off a monthly subscription.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Review Group, I received a free subscription to Ooka Island in exchange for an honest review on this blog. I received no other compensation. 

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