At Sifteo, we believe that the cubes are an excellent tool for language and literacy, no matter what age the player may be. However, working with an education specialist with a great deal of experience in reading instruction, Dr. Victoria Matthews, we decided to create a game for pre-readers. We discussed ideas with her and came to the conclusion that pre-readers need a fun yet focused way to learn letter sounds. Isolating the sounds gives a learner the foundation they need for greater phonemic awareness. For a game, we wanted to give the the player something manipulable that could boil down the letters to their basic sonic attributes.
After a little more thought, the notion of a machine containing funny chutes and apparati seemed appropriate, but the machine, the Alpha-Matic needed an owner, or owners. Thus, Notch and Nelly Cogwell were born — two inventive twins who love learning letter sounds by playing with their Alpha-Matic machine. Notch likes to invent funny things out of objects he finds around the house. Nelly is very mechanically inclined and thus helps Notch fashion his new inventions together. She also maintains the Alpha-Matic.
While designing, we set for ourselves some clear goals. One goal was creating a sense of wonder and awe for the player as they experience the relationship between the letters and the mechanical device. As we were designing the game and thinking about the visual assets, a lot of childhood memories came to mind. We discussed the joy of creating endless tracks of a wooden train set or watching the Rube Goldberg device at the Louisville Science Center. The design process certainly required multiple viewings of Sesame Street and the Pointer Sister’s Pinball Number Count animation.
Inspired by these systems of motion, we felt that the metaphor of a letter floating through pipes reinforces the idea that letter sounds eventually have to flow together to create a full word. Language is a system just like machines and their many parts. We came up with a pipe system so that at the end of each path there is a little reward, the apparatus the player puts together by playing a set of mini games.
Another goal we had was to give the player a sense of accomplishment. The mini-games that Notch leads the player through allows the pre-reader to test their new knowledge about letter sounds. Just as the new parts for the Alpha-Matic are being built, the player too is building their skills around reading. These relationships are no accident. It is important for children to know that although learning takes time and practice, this practice can also be fun and very rewarding.
When we tested the game, we watched children slowly and carefully move the cubes around to create a different shaped path. Their inclination was to focus on the letter as it moved through the pipes, thus consequently also listening carefully to the letter’s sound. Their focus is rewarded when they realize their new knowledge allows them to create the funny new parts such as the bubblipuffer or the sizzlematron. We hope your child enjoys playing with the Alpha-Matic by learning and testing their new knowledge of letter sounds.