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Children's Software Review:    Clifford Phonics

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Clifford the Big Red Dog does everything in a big way, but the understatement in his latest software title, Clifford Phonics, is what makes it one of the best Clifford games yet. Clifford Phonics is uncommonly age-appropriate—just right for emergent readers. It effectively drills simple phonics a little bit at a time. As kids play the game, they work with basic letter sounds, very simple sight words, word-object association, basic word families, and more.


The context of Clifford Phonics is a carnival. The carnival host is coming up short-handed, and Clifford, along with his faithful canine buddies, are eager to help him out. Kids explore the carnival grounds, finding games, and earning rewards that include decorations for a float. Once all activities in the game have been played, kids can finish decorating their float and take part in a parade sequence.


Each main activity focuses on a basic concept in phonics and early reading. One involves reconnecting hoses on a balloon-blowing machine by matching words and pictures. The activity gradually advances as children achieve—at first, kids match words and pictures with the same words and pictures; next, players match words with their pictures; and finally, kids match words with words. Red herrings are added for extra challenge, and children must discern subtle differences between words like pen and pan. Note that none of these levels is too challenging for very beginners.


A Ferris wheel activity involves working with word families (example, dog, log, and bog). Children build silly stories by adding words to a pre-written story (pictured above left). This activity comes complete with a laugh track as kids’ stories are read aloud. Players work with rhymes in a tightrope activity, and identify both upper- and lower-case letters in a “cow herding” game. Finally, kids find objects that start with given letters (pictured at right), and as kids advance in the activity, more choices are thrown into the mix and letter blends are added. Again, nothing is too challenging for children just learning to sound out small words.


Besides plenty of main activities, the carnival setting is brimming with mini-games that help kids practice building words. For example, a Wheel-O-Words mini-game simply offers a word ending and kids spin the wheel to build different words with the same word ending. Another mini-game involves adding the silent “e” to simple words.


Although the game is at times wordy, no pun intended, kids can certainly skip through chatter by pressing the spacebar. All around, the design of the program is superb, and the parade sequence at the end of the game (the piece de resistance) is far from disappointing. Children can decorate the float (see picture at left) bit by bit at any point in the game using the reward decorations they earn by playing the main activities.


This is one of our favorite edutainment software games of the year. Why? It’s fun and only gently challenging for emergent readers. It’s ideal for children just beginning to find meaning in short small words, and never over-stimulates or frustrates with inappropriate material for the intended age group.



This title is now available as Clifford Reading Pack (DVD Box), which includes Clifford Phonics software as well as 6 Clifford Phonics Scholastic books so that kids can practice new phonics skills away from the computer as well! Great deal.




  • Age-appropriate activities in a freeplay environment.
  • Plenty of opportunities to learn at every turn in the game.
  • Difficulty levels adjust automatically as children play each activity.
  • Encouraging feedback.


  • This program targets children just learning basic phonics and building simple words--not all children in the intended age group will find challenge in the program.  




For Win/Mac By: Scholastic  Ages 3-6 Published: 2003






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Reviewed October 2003                                                                                            Comments? Email us.

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