Literacy Ed Tech Can Provide Invaluable Support At Home

Jan 24, 2024 2:31:13 PM

by Shawnta S. Barnes

I taught middle school English for years. I was an elementary literacy coach and an elementary librarian. My sons really had no choice but to love reading and learn how to read.

What if you aren’t a teacher? What can you do as a parent or caregiver to instill a love for reading?

These were the questions my parents pondered when I was a kid. They weren’t teachers, but they knew I needed to do some educational tasks at home to (a) emphasize that school is important and (b) supplement and support what my sisters and I were learning.

In the 80s, there were limitations to what my parents had access to, but today, technology allows thousands of resources to be at parents’ fingertips. However, with their busy day-to-day work, it is hard for parents to know which tools to supplement literacy at home.

I’m not suggesting that parents become literacy instructors. There's a science to teaching reading in the classroom, but parents are their children’s first teachers and must take action to ensure their children become literate and, ultimately, effective readers.

Here is an education literacy round-up for parents:

For Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

Preschool Prep: Preschool Prep Company has a suite of resources for young children, from math to literacy. Parents can purchase DVDs or download digital videos to a tablet.

Pros: There is content for letters, sight words, and phonics. The videos are calm and relaxing. Repetition helps solidify concepts.

Cons: Children who are used to content that has upbeat music and a lot of interaction might be disappointed by the repetition, which can, at times, seem like animated flashcards.

Recommendation: Have children use a video for 15 minutes daily, such as on a tablet on the way to daycare.

Bonus: Other resources help with math and learning shapes.

Cost: Reading Pack $35.95 - $54.95

For Preschoolers through 2nd Graders

Endless Reader: Endless Reader is a follow-up app to Endless Alphabet. This app allows children to practice frequently used words in the English language, hear the sounds the letters make in each word, and use the word in a sentence.

Pros: This app goes beyond the flashcard format and shows the words used in sentences, which also helps students understand and recognize what the word means.

Cons: Children build the word by dragging the letters into place. As the child drags the letter, the letter repeatedly says its name until it is in place. The con to this is that some letters make different sounds in the words they are in.

Recommendation: Have children use the resource for 15 minutes daily on a tablet.

Bonus: There are other complementary apps, such as Endless Alphabet and Endless Numbers.

Cost: Free plus add-ons for a fee

ABC Mouse: ABC Mouse Early Learning Academy is an interactive platform on a computer or tablet. Resources extend beyond literacy and cover a more extensive range of ages.

Pros: There is phonic content, stories, and grammar lessons. There is a learning path where kids can see their progress. Parents can print out certificates for their children.

Cons: Children might want to repeat certain parts they enjoy instead of working through the content—this was an issue I had with one of my sons.

Recommendation: Have children use the resource for 15 minutes daily on a computer or a tablet. Children with limited computer mouse skills may need help to use this resource on a computer. ABC Mouse is a subscription-based platform, but it is frequently on sale.

Bonus: There is math, science, and art content.

Costs: $12.99/month, $29.99/6 months, or $59.99/year

A-Z Music Videos: The app includes only the ABCMouse letter music videos. These videos are also on the ABCMouse YouTube channel as well.

Pros: This free app already includes music videos of the letters A, B, and C. All videos are available online for free. The video helps with letter recognition and words that start with the letter.

Cons: To get the videos for letters D-Z, parents must purchase tickets, or you can earn tickets. Each video costs 50 tickets. For 99 cents, parents can buy 100 tickets, the lowest increment of tickets available. The videos focus on letter recognition and nothing else, such as letter sounds.

Recommendation: Have children watch one to three videos per day. Don’t pay for the tickets. When I had free time, I would repeatedly play the videos to earn tickets to unlock videos, and my twin sons used the app to help earn more tickets.

Bonus: Some of those songs are a bop you can rock to while cleaning your house. Also, the lyrics to each song are provided on the website version.

Cost: Free

For Preschoolers through 5th Graders

Storyline Online: Storyline Online is a program of the SAG AFTRA Foundation where actors and actresses read children’s books.

Pros: Children can listen to books read fluently by adults who understand the importance of using infection and enthusiasm when reading.

Cons: It is a website. Parents of young children might have problems with their children accidentally leaving the website page and needing help to get back to it.

Recommendation: Have children listen to one story per day.

Bonus: This allows children to read many books without owning the books. Owning books can be an issue in smaller homes or apartments.

Cost: Free

For 3rd through 5th Graders

Lexia Read @ Home Activities: Lexia Core5 is a platform that helps students build literacy skills through a systemic approach that uses direct instruction. Lexia Read @ Home Activities are supplements to this programming. Although I am not recommending the platform, the resources provide specific activities for parents to supplement adolescent literacy skills.

Pros: Each activity is simple, allowing children to build literacy skills away from a device.

Cons: Parents would have to plan for the activities and participate.

Recommendation: Incorporate one activity a week, and when parents/caregivers have finished the activities, you can start back at the top.

Bonus: There are activities provided in Spanish.

Cost: Free

For 3rd through 8th Graders

Adventure Academy: Adventure Academy is for children who complete ABC Mouse. It has a different look than its counterpart. Children complete quests in language arts, math, science, or social studies instead of completing a learning path.

Pros: This platform mirrors quest-based video games. Children can customize their avatars. This curriculum builds upon the ABC Mouse curriculum. Children continue their literacy study in reading comprehension, spelling, and grammar.

Cons: Children might want to repeat games or focus too much on changing their avatar’s clothing rather than progressing through the quests to learn skills. Both of my children spent way too much time on their avatars. Adventure Academy is a subscription-based platform, but it is frequently on sale.

Recommendation: Have children use the resource for 20 minutes daily on a computer or tablet, focusing on areas of difficulty first and areas of ease last.

Bonus: This platform also covers science, social studies, and math.

Cost: $12.99/month or $59.99/year

For 6th through 12th Graders

Adolescent Literacy Building Activities: The program that follows Lexia Core5 is Lexia PowerUp. Although I am not recommending PowerUp, the supplemental adolescent activities provide opportunities for parents with more free time to be more actively involved in building literacy skills at home.

Pros: The guide is only two pages long, and the activities are simple.

Cons: Parents would have to plan for the activities.

Recommendation: Incorporate one activity a week, and when parents/caregivers have finished the activities, you can start back at the top.

Bonus: There are activities provided in Spanish.

Cost: Free

For K-12 Students

IXL: IXL touts itself as a “comprehensive K-12 curriculum.” This curriculum covers multiple subjects outside of literacy and aligns with many schools' curricula.

Pros: Many schools already use this resource during the school day. Parents should find out if their children have an account through their school. Children who aren’t using IXL at school can use it for free. IXL allows ten free practice questions per subject each day. Also, there are explainer resources to help students understand the content.

Cons: The subscription is per child and has different subscription tiers. This is one of the more pricier options for families.

Recommendation: Have children use it for free and complete ten free questions. Children using their school account should pick one to three skills to work on each day.

Bonus: This platform also covers science, social studies, and math. Parents who sign up can add Spanish to any subscription tier.

Cost: $9.95 - $19.95/month

For 6th through 12th Graders:

Lit2Go: Lit2Go is from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology. It contains a collection of classic poems, stories, and books online for free.

Pros: Children follow along with the text while listening to the audio.

Cons: This website contains works that are now in the public domain. They don’t include newer stories.

Recommendation: Have children pick a book and read/listen to a chapter per day.

Bonus: Lit2Go organizes the website by authors, genre, and collections for ease of use.

Cost: Free

It would have been easy for me to tell parents about resources I used as a middle school English teacher or elementary literacy coach and say to use them at home. What we use in the classroom often doesn’t work well at home when parents come up against roadblocks—which is why I did not recommend Lexia Core5, only the supplemental resources.

Instead, every resource on this list is one we used with my sons at home for short periods, but adjust according to your child’s age and attention threshold. We found it was easier when we only did short bursts; it is better to be consistent with learning in small increments than not at all. Happy reading!

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at gardenershicole.com. To learn more about Shawnta, visit educatorbarnes.com.

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