Learn to Read : Mario Alphabet Apps Phonetic ABCD

App review by
Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Media
Learn to Read :  Mario Alphabet Apps Phonetic ABCD App Poster Image
Cute, simple letter games don't deliver on big promises.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn the main sounds of letters in the English alphabet and one word that begins with each letter. They can also learn letter sounds and words in up to five other languages.

Ease of Play

On the first levels, a hand graphic clearly demonstrates how to play the game. Sometimes it's difficult to move the blocks to exactly where they need to be, which may be especially challenging for young kids with less fine motor control.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Learn to Read : Mario Alphabet Apps Phonetic ABCD is a leveled arcade-style game that introduces kids to letter sounds. For each level, as kids drag a little wheeled creature along, they complete a small action with one or more letters. Complete the action, and kids hear the letter sound and a word that begins with that letter. A new round automatically starts when kids finish the last one, which makes continuous play really easy and ends up feeling a bit addictive, so parents may want to set a time limit ahead of time. Kids can switch among English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, or French at any point in the game, though English is the only language for which the letter graphics (e.g., "C" looks like a "crown") always match the words they say. Read the app's privacy policy to find out about the types of information collected and shared.

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What's it about?

Hear letter sounds and match one word to its initial letter sound in LEARN TO READ : MARIO ALPHABET APPS PHONETIC ABCD. Kids drag their finger across the screen to roll a little creature along a path. At certain points, they meet an obstacle like a hole in the path and a block with a "p" in it. Tap the block to hear the "p" sound, drag it in the hole, hear the word "panda," and keep on rolling. Complete the level to unlock a new rolling creature and start the next letter.

Is it any good?

These leveled games offer some basic letter-sound practice, but they don't have enough depth to make it a stellar learning tool. The basic premise is fun with appealing graphics and some fun challenges. And, since the rolling creatures never "die" or fail in their journey to reach the end of a level, it's entirely age-appropriate. Yet, despite matching letters over and over again through the levels, kids will only ever hear one word with that letter sound. It would be nice to have some variety to start applying initial letter sounds beyond a single word. Also, controlling the creature can be a bit awkward at times, which may frustrate some kids. And the words are not always spoken very clearly, which can make it hard to understand what the audio is saying. Though having several languages available is a great addition, it's disappointing to see that the graphics and word choice don't always match up for the non-English choices. The developer's strong claims of how the app is inspired by Montessori and Piaget seem only concretely fulfilled by the order in which the app introduces the letters. Also, they promise the app will help kids read faster, but there's no evidence to support those claims; if parents aren't satisfied, however, the developers offer a refund. Overall, it's a fun concept but could use quite a few tweaks to make it stand out among all the letter-learning apps out there.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the letter sounds and add words to the ones included in Learn to Read : Mario Alphabet Apps Phonetic ABCD. Point out letters wherever you see them. Emphasize the beginning sounds of familiar words with songs, poems, books, and more.

  • Encourage and support literacy by reading, singing, and talking to your kids as much as possible. Reading is a superb way to help kids get familiar with letters, letter sounds, words, and other print concepts.

  • Play letter games such as "the alphabet game" in which you name a letter and kids have to think of a word that begins with that letter.

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