Friday, December 2, 2011

Pirate Queen: Making waves with online learning game

She was a legendary pirate of the high seas around Ireland but Grainne Mhaol is now set to help children with dyslexia and other reading problems.

An animator whose child has dyslexia has developed a unique online game to encourage others with the learning disability to read.

Linda O'Sullivan, from Co Clare, came up with the idea for her 'Reading Bridges' programme by combining her background in children's animation with her 10-year-old son Oisin's experience with dyslexia.

"This is the first product of its kind designed in Ireland and it's all about creating a fun environment for children who are struggling with reading, or even reluctant to read.

"Children learn better when they're having fun and this game is all about fun-based learning, without the fear of failure," she said.

To encourage children to embrace the written word, she based the game on the ancient legend of Grainne Mhaol, the legendary pirate 'Sea Queen of Connacht'.

The game follows the adventures of Jack, a modern boy who falls through a time portal. He meets Grace, a feisty 16th century girl, who is determined to become a pirate like her father.

Together they set off on a series of adventures, which take children through games that helps them with word building, word recognition, short-term memory and visual skills.

The animated game uses phonics -- the building blocks of reading -- in which children learn to pronounce words by associating letters or groups of letters with the sounds they represent.

The phonetic pronunciation of the word -- such as "c - a - t" -- is then reinforced with an animated image and sound of the word.

The games -- aimed at children aged 7 to 12 -- are also designed for children who are reluctant to read or who are falling behind their peers' reading levels at school.

"It's all about building up enthusiasm to read," Ms O'Sullivan said.

Children are encouraged to tackle more complex words through a series of rewards -- such as being awarded gold stars on a chart or getting a loyalty badge, she added.

The game can be particularly helpful, she said, for children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia -- a neurological condition which affects their ability to read.

"While these kids have skills that are enormously important in our world, many quickly turn off reading because of difficulties with perceptual or auditory skills related to dyslexia. Their default is often to find any excuse to avoid reading at all and so much learning is lost as a result.

"Everybody knows somebody with either dyslexia or an undiagnosed reading difficulty," she said.

"Approximately 10pc of all children are somewhere on the dyslexic spectrum, and these children are bright, creative and often visually and spatially very talented.

"Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver and Walt Disney are just a cross section of talented dyslexics who have changed the world we live in," she added.

A free seven-day trial of the game is available on

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