All kids should have the opportunity to become great readers. Kids who become great readers, feel smart and confident, are more likely to enjoy school and can follow their imagination and curiosity wherever it takes them.
I am sure that learning to be a great reader can be a great, fun and rewarding adventure. That’s why I founded Smarty Ants.
The first thing we did at Smarty Ants was to work with two of the leading experts in early childhood literacy in the United States. Dr. David Pearson is the Dean Emeritus at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education and Dr. Robert Calfee is the Associate Dean Emeritus at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. They created the Smarty Ants reading program. The curriculum is based on the best teaching practices they have developed over the last 40 years and are using in the early literacy programs at UC Berkeley and Stanford. This is the core of Smarty Ants.
Then we assembled an all-star team of educational game designers, interactive game programmers, phonics reading and storybook authors, graphic artists and animators, composers and musicians. This team worked for 3 ˝ years to put the Professors’ great reading curriculum into a 3-D game environment where every game and adventure kids play leads them forward on their track to becoming great readers.
I think of Smarty Ants as a place where kids can learn to read with Dr. Pearson and Dr. Calfee as their personal tutors. In the Smarty Ants world, our professors appear as an Ant Coach avatar, who personally trains (and teaches) each kid. When kids first enter the Smarty Ants world, they meet their Coach, the Flea (and other adorable characters), they adopt their Dog (who learns to read with them), they go to their Ants home, and the end up in the Ant Gym where they go to the Diving Pool to play the assessment game.
While kids play the assessment game, their Coach determines which level they should enter the game. There are 11 levels, which start with Level 1, teaching kids the names and the sounds capital letters make, and go all the way through Level 11, teaching kids prefixes, suffixes, multisyllable words and how to use apostrophes to make word contractions and possessives. It is critical that kids start playing in Smarty Ants at the correct level, so they will be in their “zone of proximate learning”, fully engaged, and neither bored or overwhelmed.
Once kids start their adventure they learn the sounds letters make, how those sounds are used to build words and how those words are used to make stories. These skills are introduced through over 250 interactive teaching videos, and the skills are mastered as kids choose from more than 14 learning module games. By the end of the Smarty Ants adventure kids master all of the basic rules of phonics (through first grade standards), they will have built over 1,400 words and 67 stories and musical DVDs based on those stories. They will be exposed to great children’s literature to develop listening, comprehension and fluency skills. They will receive over 2,500 learning awards and participate in 11 graduation ceremonies and receive 11 graduation diplomas.
Each child will progress at their personalized pace. Kids are assessed as they play each game. We have developed scaffolding and support which is presented whenever we determine that support is needed. This variable support system allows kids to accelerate through those concepts they master quickly, and to slow down as they are given all the support they need to master concepts that are challenging to them.
We have tried to accommodate differences in kids’ learning styles and risk tolerance. We give kids a wide range of paths they can take to master each concept. We allow kids to choose whether they want to view teaching videos as each concept is introduced. We allow kids to pick from up to 14 learning game modules to master each concept. In each game kids can elect to warm up and play a practice round before the game begins. When they start the game, they can choose to play in easy, medium or difficult levels. As they play the game, they can always click on the teaching video cloud for a refresher on the concept they are learning in the game. If they miss a concept three times in a row, the learning video is triggered, although, again kids can skip it. Finally, if they miss the concept three more times, the learning video is triggered and viewing and interacting is mandatory.
In short, we have a fantastic curriculum from Pre-K through the end of the first grade. We do an initial assessment and on-going assessments to be sure kids enter the game at the correct level and stay at the pace that optimizes their learning. Our learning videos and game modules allow kids to learn where they want and at the degree of difficulty they choose and with the level of support which allow them to succeed. By the time kids graduate from the 11th level they have built the foundation to allow them to become great readers.