February 18, 2016

Speakaboos Platform Uses Topics Kids Love to Get Them Hooked on Reading

By Erin Flynn Jay, Contributing Writer | Literacy Resources

The Speakaboos team believes they have found the key to turning young children into avid readers.

Their platform — www.speakaboos.com and free mobile apps for iTunes and Google Play — uses interactive stories to get children as young as 2 ready for reading. Speakaboos features a growing library of over 175 stories divided into categories children are interested in such as princesses, robots, vehicles and monsters.

Interesting topics keep children engaged in Speakaboos’ stories, said Alice Wilder, chief learning officer for the company. This increases the likelihood they will build background knowledge in the topics and become motivated to learn more, which boosts comprehension.

Improving comprehension is one of the main goals of the stories, which feature highlighted read-along text illuminating the connection between letters and sounds. If the young users lack strong background knowledge, rich illustrations and animations help them understand the plot. Touch-screen interactivity advances the story line, spotlights individual characters and helps children to connect with the text.

Delivering a better reading experience

All this adds up to technology that enhances the reading and learning experience.

“Technology offers elements that make reading on a digital device qualitatively different than traditional paper or picture books,” Wilder said. “Digital stories allow for simultaneous presentation of animation and audio, consistent feedback, interactive features, and a child-driven scaffolded experience.”

Wilder says research has shown that technology features designed to enhance learning of the story — rather than distract from it — can promote emergent literacy skills.

“We’re encouraged by the fact that on average, kids read 22 minutes per session on Speakaboos,” Wilder said. “That tells us kids are engaged in our content and truly enjoying the reading experience we provide.”

The technology in Speakaboos allows kids to control their experience, choose their level, set their pace, review whenever they wish and get precisely the help they need. Features are designed to make abstract concepts visual and concrete, allowing children to move the story forward.

Getting children excited about reading

The ideal Speakaboos experience inspires kids to want to read more digital or non-digital stories, and fires curiosity to extend the learning from stories to real life. Wilder said the production process is tested twice with children to ensure the story-based experiences captivate young imaginations and get kids actively participating.

“This is why we work with kids twice in the development of every story before launching it on our platform,” Wilder said. “Kids literally help us ensure that our stories are appealing, interactive, comprehensible and impactful.”

Teachers also have praised the platform. According to Speakaboos, teachers say the stories motivate reluctant readers and engage avid readers, encourage independent learning and push readers to the next literacy stage with multiple reading modes that align with their current ability to read. “Teachers have also conveyed how much they appreciate that Speakaboos can complement their curriculum,” said Wilder.

Libraries and classrooms nationwide are using Speakaboos, and the company has partnered with premier distribution companies to make the technology as accessible to educators as possible. They also work directly with individual districts and schools that are interesting in purchasing Speakaboos as a classroom tool.

Tips for motivating a love of reading

Wilder shared these tips on how teachers can effectively motivate children ages 2-7 to read and learn:

  • Start with what kids care about. If they’re not interested in what they are reading about, then reading feels like work. “Remove that initial obstacle by identifying texts that compel a child to want to read for information, knowledge, pleasure or simply curiosity. Once you do that, the chance they will want to read even more, discover new stories or even new interests increases,” Wilder said.
  • Think of the children first. Building confident readers takes time, but with the support of a platform like Speakaboos, you can start with what excites them and use that as a springboard toward further reading and learning.

As an educator, Wilder says we are in one of the most exciting times for reading and learning. Technology now enables us to work with children and use methods proven to help them learn, backed by the findings of researchers.

Complementing books — not replacing them

There’s no need to fret that Speakaboos’ technology will replace traditional books printed on paper. The developers have something else in mind when they design and build these interactive experiences.

“As we add new content, we think about providing more stories that deepen and widen our interest categories,” Wilder said. “We also focus on asking the question, ‘what makes this story better as a digital story than a hardcover book?’ Why do we ask ourselves this question? Because hardcover books are awesome and we never want to replace books.”

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.

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