Starfall.com

starfallAnyone with pre-school to first-grade children should check out this FREE educational resource.  I have just begun my journey as a home-schooling mom, but after a couple of months of comparing this site to a $150 Kindergarten phonics curriculum, I definitely prefer Starfall. This site is incredible!

It builds concept upon concept by using great graphics, clear pronunciations of each letter and word, fun interactive games, and terrific teaching songs.  (I can’t tell you how often we’ve gotten these songs stuck in our heads and have ended up singing things like, “Ed the Elephant likes red eggs. eh, eh.  eh, eh” or “The silent ‘e’ at the end of the word makes the vowel long” around the house all day long!)

In addition to the tremendous phonics foundation that it lays, it also gets kids acquainted with using the computer.  They learn how to navigate between pages, drag and drop with the mouse, and yes, on occasion, wait patiently for a page to load – all key skills for today’s world.

There are four main sections to the site:

  1. ABCs. In this section, each letter has it’s own set of activities.  For example the A “book” as they call it, has pictures of things starting with the letter “a” on each page.  When the child clicks on the sparkly letter “a” in each picture, they hear the short “a” sound and the name of the object in the picture is pronounced.  Sometimes the picture then dances, sings, or giggles. (Which terrifically entertains my two kids.) When the child is ready to turn the page, the short “a” sound is repeated. The end of the “a” book has an activity where the child sorts capital and lowercase “a’s” into the correct baskets.  Good stuff.
  2. Learn to Read.  This section starts to blend letters and has a book for each level.  So after the child does activities with “an” and “at,” they read “Zac the Rat.”  Then they move on to blending “en” and “et” and read “Peg the Hen.”  Unlike paper books, these books have special spots you can click to animate the picture.  Madeline loves to read the page and then look for the spot so she can click and watch the picture do something fun. There are also some fun movies in this section.  More really good stuff.
  3. It’s Fun to Read. Madeline and I have only begun to explore this section.  It’s got subsections where children begin to practice their new-found reading skills : All About Me, Art Gallery, Magic, Music, Poetry, Tongue Twisters, and Bird Riddles.
  4. I’m Reading. They describe it as the section which transitions children from learning to read to reading to learn. Here there are longer books and games in various subsections: Three Little Plays, Fiction and Nonfiction, Comics, Folk Tales, Greek Myths, and Chinese Fables.

There are a couple of other great parts of the website for parentsStarfall Puzzle Set:

The Starfall Store. Here you can find hard-copies of most of the books from the site along with several other supplementary materials. We have the Starfall Phonics puzzle set (see right).  Each of the five  jigsaw puzzles focuses on a short-vowel sound by displaying words in “tags” attached to various objects.  They are very heavy-duty and are cleverly color-coded on the back so the pieces don’t get mixed up.  Niiice!

The Download Center.  Here you can print activities for each of the sections.  It’s pretty much a free on-line  workbook you print and use as you like. Lately, we’ve been focusing on one puzzle (or short vowel sound) per week.  I go into the download center and print activity worksheets that go directly along with the puzzles.  I love it!

Why I prefer Starfall to an “official” (and comparatively expensive) phonics curriculum

I mentioned earlier that I prefer Starfall to the official Kindergarten phonics curriculum I’ve been using.  Just in case you’re curious (I know I would be!), I’ve been using Saxon phonics.  For the record, I haven’t totally abandoned Saxon for Starfall simply because I have the Saxon curriculum already.  I keep wondering if there will be a point where Saxon will suddenly emerge as the more valuable resource for us.  It hasn’t yet, but I continue to comb through it each week to pull things that will work in conjunction with Starfall.   Here are the reasons I prefer Starfall:

Starfall allows us to move at a quicker pace. Saxon spends a lot of time on each concept.  Since Madeline already had a few concepts under her belt when we officially started school and has soaked up the new ones pretty quickly, I appreciate the flexibility I have to let her move ahead at her own pace.  Other students, however, might benefit from slower pace of Saxon.

Starfall allows us to interact with new concepts freely. Saxon has each day rigidly planned out.  I’ve talked to some moms that really appreciate this feature of Saxon.  I guess if I were homeschooling multiple kids, I might appreciate the fully planned-out and scripted style of Saxon.  But presently, I really appreciate the freedom we have with Starfall to explore with Madeline’s interest.  Within each section, we have freedom to move around.  For example, we explored letters in the ABC section in whatever order we wanted.  Once we mastered each individual letter sound in the ABC section, we moved into the Learn to Read section and took liberty to explore blending sounds slightly out of order. The Parents page on Starfall agrees that this is okay:

Although we recommend your child progress sequentially, there is no harm in allowing him to follow his own interests and create a unique path. Starfall supports your child’s exploration. Every word on the site is clickable and will read aloud. In this way, your child’s speaking, reading, and writing vocabulary can grow alongside his curiosity.

Lest you think I’m alone in my excitement about this site, check out some of their other accolades:

  • The Reading Teacher named Starfall.com one of “Five Internet sites too good to miss” (May 2006).
  • In 2005 and again in 2008, Homeschool.com recognized Starfall as one of their top five educational websites.
  • Starfall was the first Internet site to be recognized by Children’s Software & New Media Review as the highest rated product in their Early Elementary category, Spring 2004.

What a blessing!

My only question is: Are there any resources like this for grades other than K-1st?  If you know of anything like this for older kids, please do let us know via a comment.  Thank you!

The Reading Teacher named Starfall.com one of “Five Internet sites too good to miss” (May 2006). In 2005 and again in 2008, Homeschool.com recognized Starfall as one of their top five educational websites. Starfall was the first Internet site to be recognized by Children’s Software & New Media Review as the highest rated product in their Early Elementary category, Spring 2004.
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