* Starfall

Starfall has come of age!  I first started using this site back in 2002 and am pleased to see that it has gone BIG.  Of course, it’s no longer all free, but $35 for a “more” Starfall family subscription is reasonable.  If you’re not familiar with Starfall, it originally featured books and songs on beginning phonics skills for  pre-K and kindergarten age children.  There were also additional fun activities for kids related to holidays, with some math activities.  Look at it the new and improved version!

starfall 1

This site has long been popular with teachers and homeschoolers alike.  It’s a great way for English language learners to hear short vowel sounds properly pronounced.  It’s also ideal for young special needs learners (more on that below).  I’ll describe the features of the “more” Starfall site below.

What kids do:  Most kindergarten and first graders would enjoy spending time on this site even if it weren’t assigned by a teacher.  As you can see from the graphic, the site is well-organized with clear visual clues about its content.  The phonics stories have been expanded to include skills through r-controlled vowels.  There are also stories emphasizing sight vocabulary.  Starfall now includes an excellent selection of books in its library, I’m Reading section, and BackPack Bear’s Books.  The math section is vastly expanded with teaching materials and games.  The site still has a wide selection of holiday stories and activities, all of which include a “listen” option with real kids’ voices.

What teachers get:  Starfall has developed excellent curriculum materials for both pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.  The teacher resource section includes a variety of generators (such as word cards and math sheets), ongoing assessment forms, and many graphics for whole classroom SmartBoard use.  In fact, teachers may purchase plush figures featured in Starfall’s phonics readers.  Students are also introduced to American Sign Language.  Both reading and math sections feature games and instructional materials.

Pros:

  • The graphics are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  All activities open in full-screen mode with no clutter or ads.  They also follow a predictable format for closing and returning to the main menu.
  • The materials are culturally diverse; one of their best nonfiction stories is a biography of Ruby Bridges.
  • The recorded voices are actual kids and adults.  Nothing robotic (except in the place value game “Make a Robot” which is introduced with a deliberate robotic voice!).
  • Games are highly engaging without wasting precious time.  They are also easily understood and provide excellent practice.
  • Special needs kids can easily focus on the appropriate skills and make good use of their online work.  Kids with weaker skills benefit from the optional “listen” feature.
  • The teacher’s resource section provides a wide range of materials for a complete year of instruction in pre-K and kindergarten.  It also explains the importance of phonological awareness and HOW to teach it.  You’d be surprised at how many teachers would appreciate that.
  • The generators are easy to use and also have wonderful graphics.
  • The range of materials would engage students through first grade and into second grade.

Cons:

  • Hmm….
  • Hmm….

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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