Monday, February 08, 2016

Phonics Firefly

I have blogged about the Phonics Firefly before, but I feel as though I really need to give it its own post. It is a noisy toy, ie it uses batteries and makes noise. Usually noisy toys very rarely make it past the threshold of the house and if they do, the batteries are mysteriously short-lived. Yet, the phonics firefly with it's vaguely annoying voice and music has its batteries regularly replaced and we own not one, but two of the things.

Why? Why would we do this to ourselves? (Because let me tell you, when they are both going in the same room at not quite the same time... much deep breathing must ensue.)

We happily put up with this state of affairs, because the deal little firefly toy is a learning toy that actually does what it promises. It really does teach letter and sound recognition and children like playing with it. Learning toys either fall into one of two categories, they can teach, but it doesn't matter because children hate them, or they are fun and children play with them, but they don't really teach. Oftentimes, I find just regular old toys and games of the non-educational variety are more useful than the "educational" ones. I bought the firefly on a whim because of good recommendations, but truly didn't have great expectations for it.

Our two fireflies have been in nearly constant use since we bought the first one when A. was little. I will also add, that the play is entirely self-directed. I don't help the children. If they want to play with it, they are entirely on their own. I have better things to do with my time than make an electronic firefly tell me I'm doing a great job. I am firmly convinced that A. learned to read so early because she played with it so much and it has helped nearly every other child with early phonics.

My love of the firefly has been renewed over the past couple days as I have watched Y. play with it. She is a fairly competitive child, so testing herself with this toy is right up her alley. She is also strongly driven to learn and she has figured out that learning to read English is going to be in her best interests. A couple of days ago, Y. saw one of the little girls playing with a firefly and immediately picked-up on what it was doing. H. showed her how it worked and since then she has made amazing progress. The first "game" on the toy is it singing the Alphabet Song while each letter lights up as it is sung. The second game is to push a letter to hear the firefly say the letter name. The third game is to push the letter that the firefly says. I have watched Y. move between the three games as she teaches herself the letter names. I would say after two days, she is about 50% accurate. Not bad for having no English exposure up to now.

Watching Y. play with the Firefly has also encouraged G. and L. to get it out again. They know their letters and sounds, but are now branching out into the higher level games of spelling three letter words. R. also likes the firefly and has been spending a lot of time listening to the Alphabet Song. I love how the toy encourages children to pick their own level of learning. Usually when I'm watching the child will pick a level that is a bit of a stretch. They will play at that level for a while and then switch to an easier level for a while. Then it is back to the appropriate one. Every so often, they will try a level out of their reach, then go back to the appropriate one, and so on. I find it so interesting watching them challenge themselves and then give themselves a mental break.

So if you have a pre-reader in your home, or a child newly learning English, I highly recommend the firefly. It is pricier than when I bought our first one 14 years ago, but I would probably spend the money again, knowing how much it would be used over the years. I think we are on our 2nd and 3rd versions. If memory serves, firefly #1 at some point was invited into the bathtub and didn't survive the ordeal. We try to keep the surviving ones downstairs and away from running water.

(In full disclosure, that Amazon link up above is to my associate's account and I do receive a teeny, tiny bit of money for everything sold through that.)


Angie Butcher said...

I'm baffled by my 3rd grader's struggle with phonics. She has never been interested in letters, sounds, words or reading (unlike my other girls) and instead gravitates to all things social and creative. She's a math whiz but is still struggling with phonics. Maybe she'd get a kick out of this toy!

thecurryseven said...


The problem-solver in my immediately started to come up with different ideas for encouraging a child who wasn't excited by words. Then I realized that wasn't really what you were asking for. :-) For a third grader, I would think it might feel a little "baby-ish". She might go for it, but it might be even better if you had a younger child you could borrow and with whom she could play with it. I will often find older children playing with much younger toys, and in watching them, it is obvious that this play is filling a deep need at that moment. Usually, when they notice I have been watching, they will claim they are playing with the younger brother or sister.

I personally think we move our children out of basic toys far too soon and one of the benefits I've found with having a wide age range is that my older children have had access to baby toys far longer than most children. So, the fact that your daughter might see it as a baby toy, is not necessarily a bad thing in my book, you just have to figure out a way to allow her to use with while saving face.


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