Every parent wants the best for their child, but sadly trying to coax them away from their toys and towards something educational can be a feat of itself, especially with young children. Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip & Kipper: Volume 1 features characters from the Oxford Reading Tree curriculum books in a title that they will develop with as they go through school. Volume 1 starts at the very beginning of your children's reading and writing journey, with content suitable even for those in nursery and reception.
The game is split into three sections, Level 1, Level 1+ and level 2 dependent on the child's stage of development. Level 1 starts by building your child's vocal confidence by exploring the sights and sounds they are already familiar with, such as copying the mooing of a cow, and is perfect for those who are young or shy. Level 1+ focuses on the first phonics they will be taught while level 2 finishes the collection and begins to look at their first joint sounds such as -ck.
Your child is slowly eased into tasks at all stages as small levels break the exercise into chunks, making sure they are supported instead of being left to sink or swim. First exercises encourage your child to look and listen to the sound they will be working on. Rather than just being left with audio queues, the top screen shows pictures of the letter as well the the word being used to demonstrate the sound's use — for example a sun for s. It provides time for the task to settle in and you will find your child starting to join in alongside.
After their practice run, it's time to get to work. After hearing the first exercise again, your child will record their voice using the microphone and clearly marked pictures at the bottom. The microphone picks on their normal speaking voice perfectly so there is no need to shout, meaning they are learning in the tone they are meant to be using it. It isn't all work and no play and they can then listen back to their recording of themselves and hear what they sound like, which my little one found was the most entertaining part of the game.
To help them remember their new sound, there are objects in a picture that share the same sound e.g. game and green. As it is still at the early developmental phases, there is a handy microphone symbol to show them the words, though it cannot be obvious at first. They need to test their memory later in another activity where the word is spoken and they much find the corresponding part of the picture to press.
Writing isn't left out as it has its own exercise. After being prompted by the letter's sound the top screen shows the upper and lower cases of the letter with handy little arrows in the letter, showing how many lines should be used and what direction to move in. They then need to copy over a guide on the bottom screen to pass the test. The touch screen won't just recognize the shape that your child has made, but also the direction they made it; so if they form the letter incorrectly, it won't let them complete the task. While this task frustrated mine greatly as he tried to form g's by going the long way round, it forced him into the correct pattern which will hopefully stick.
Reading is covered in two sections — fiction and non-fiction — both featuring Oxford Reading Tree stories. Out of all the sections of the game, this is the one that will need the most parental input. In the fiction section there is a story-time option that allows the story to be read to them, a bonus perk for parents that need to spend a lot of time in work. In the reading section, however, the line they are meant to read is read out prior, like in earlier sections where they then speak and record their voice. Even though the writing is on the screen, being prompted beforehand could encourage them to simply copy rather than speak for themselves. The non-fiction section is the true test of reading and is simply the story book in its most basic format, allowing them to read independently and at their own pace.
While your child will be excited to learn with their familiar school friends, it is firmly an educational title that isn't disguised as a game. They won't play for hours burning themselves out, but will play for shorter sessions, perfectly matching activity length and ideal study periods. Constant encouragement is given, pushing them to more success; after every correct answer they are met with a good or excellent, and on the slightly longer tasks there is a small tree that grows on the top screen after each correct answer, a physical representation that they are moving forward. By doing all activities jigsaw pieces, collectable cards and stamps can be collected for just about everything, encouraging them to want to do everything. There is even a StreetPass option too, so they can show off how well they are doing to friends.
While parents are encouraged to participate with their child, regardless of your console experience you will feel comfortable offering support. In the corner of every screen is a little parent icon, which after pressing will not only tell you what to press to advance, but also explain each activity to you. For those wanting to keep track of progress, there is also a handy parent section on the main page that will let you check every aspect of your child's usage. It records the last time they played, their average session length as well as all the tasks they have done and how well they did on them. It's perfect for those whose child wants to be more secretive and to get an insight on what areas they may be struggling with.
Phonics Fun with Biff, Chip and Kipper: Volume 1 is perfect for those first starting school, a true rarity in the educational market. It covers all the main school focuses of reading, writing, speaking and listening. It isn't a title that your child will burn through, but will stay with them as they grow over their early school life, but if they struggle with studying, they won't be impressed that it is treated more as an education tool than a game. With the titles priced at the equivalent of a set of the read-at-home book series, it is an excellent buy to get all the added educational interaction as well as remaining accessible to all parents.