Skylanders and Moshis aren’t complete nonsense though.
In fact, I’ve found that the attention span for my kids looking at books, sticking stickers and playing with figurines is downright amazing!
(Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure that Skylanders and Moshis have videogame/online components which we don’t use. We have stuck (no pun intended) with stickers, books and some figurines. Except for that one iPad game “Skylanders Cloud-something or other.”)
The interest level and attention span for the characters is incredible! And they utilize them to play creatively as well.
In terms of teaching reading, the creative character names are extremely useful.
One of my principles of teaching reading is: If it’s fun, it’ll get done!
Now I’m not saying that it’s a teacher’s job to entertain children; heaven forbid!
But, it’s way easier to teach a child if they are engaged.
I don’t need to remind my kids to ask me to play games on the iPad, and I don’t need to remind them to play with Skylanders or Moshis, they just do…. So I just make the most of the opportunity help them learn while they’re playing (without overdoing it and killing the fun-ness).
(They’re so into the characters, they don’t even realize they’re learning! – Sneaky, sneaky.)
The character names vary from phonetically very simple like “Hot Dog” and “Pop Fizz” to increasingly complex like “Cynder,” “Drill Sergeant” & “Persephone.”
In the Skylanders Ultimate Sticker Collection, for example, the names are in nice bold text with vibrant colourful pictures (followed by a short description in a normal font underneath, which my 7 year old reads.)
One advantage of the names is that they develop the skill of decoding nonsense words (to sound out meaningless, completely made up words).
Sounding out nonsense words demonstrates a child’s ability to use phonics to decode new and unfamiliar words, which is one of the big advantages of teaching phonics as a reading strategy.
In the UK and USA decoding nonsense words is actually part of the curriculum, and kids are even tested on their ability to decode nonsense words phonetically!
- In the USA, in Kindergarten, for example, in certain reading assessments “there are 4 areas assessed: letter naming fluency, letter sound fluency, phoneme segmentation fluency, and nonsense word fluency” (emphasis mine).
- In the UK, the BBC explains: “A reading test, introduced in England in 2012, checks children’s reading skills. Pupils are asked to sound out 40 words, some of which – controversially – are made up, such as “voo” and “spron”.“
And while Skylander and Moshi character names aren’t complete nonsense, neither are they everyday words (Spyro, Flashwing, Drobot, Shroomboom, Ninjini, etc.); so kids get the benefits of learning to decode nonsense words without the drawback (and potential frustration/confusion) of sounding out literally meaningless (i.e. complete and utter nonsense!) words.
(Nonsense words that are just nonsense violates another of my teaching philosophies: show kids how reading is useful to them now, not 10 years or 5 years or a year or a month from now. Why would they want to be able to read TODAY?!)
And with so many fantastical characters, the opportunities to decode new names currently seems endless.
The icing on the cake is that my 5 year old wants to figure out the names of his own volition!
And he’ll usually try to figure them out himself before he asks us what they are.
(If he does ask us, we’ll have him try to begin to sound out the name and then help him figure it out; unless it’s just too phonetically complex for him, in which case, we’ll help him with the first sound and then tell him the rest of the name.)
Enjoyable & Useful … What a great combo!
And something that he takes the initiative on … A triple threat!
I seriously doubt that the creators of Skylanders and Moshi Monsters really had learning to read in mind when they created these creatures and worlds, but if you can have Learn to Read with Star Wars, (Star Wars characters also have the made up but not totally nonsense dynamic) then by all means, make use of the quasi-sensical names of Skylanders and Moshis characters to (sneakily) teach your kids to read … without them even noticing.