If you have little ones who are interested in playing on the computer, then you might want to show them Starfall.com. It's a website that teaches reading skills (phonics) and it's free. I've been aware of the site for several years, but since Ryan was never too computer-y and is only just now beginning to show an interest in learning to read, we've never explored it too much.
Enter Morgan. She's always been a gadget girl, interested in cell phones and computers and light bulbs and toys that blink and make noise. At her age, Ryan detested toys that made noise (ah, those were the days!). Buttons. If there is a button to be pushed, Morgan is there with a finger, ready to do the job.
About a month ago, a friend of mine reminded me that Starfall existed. Now Morgan had already been using my computer to "write" which means type letters into a word processing program. Hours of fun. But she was getting a little bored with that and when my friend brought Starfall to my attention again, I figured I'd show it to M.
After a few weeks playing Starfall, this child is dangerously close to reading. She knows all of the letter sounds, including the long and short vowel sounds. She understands how sounds are put together to make words and can identify individual letter sounds that make up a word like "dog." She can look at pictures of a fan, pan, man, and match the beginning letter sound to the -an. Starfall has cute catchy little songs for different reading rules. There's a "Silent E" song, for example. Morgan sings them all the time.
Obviously, this is a child who is internally motivated to play these games and she has always been into letter and word games. And I have spent time with her, answering questions and reinforcing some of what she's learned by singing the songs with her, etc. I'm not claiming that Starfall automatically mesmerizes all children and gets them close to reading in a short time, because of course that would be silly. But if you have a kid who is interested in letter sounds and likes computers, this may be a website they'll enjoy. They can start with the individual letter games, and then work their way up to the word games and stories.
Not to mention, Ryan has become interested in the website since Morgan has been so involved in it. It's fascinating to watch their minds work. I'm sure in part because Ryan is 3 years older, he absorbs the concepts much faster. Morgan might play one game repeatedly for a day and Ryan will understand the idea after playing it or watching her play it only about 5 times. And I've caught him singing some of the songs to himself, too. So I think Starfall is a good supplement to our efforts with Ryan.
Oh! And there is a calendar feature that allows you to print. Ryan has a March calendar and is marking off the days as they pass, which is helping him learn the days of the week, how dates work, etc. Next month (his birthday month), we'll print a new calendar, and we'll just keep going with it. I'd say that's his favorite part by far.
Those of you who are veteran homeschoolers and educators probably find Starfall old hat, but just in case you hadn't heard of it . . . did I mention that it's FREE? :o)