A Maritime company has developed a new app designed to help young children learn to read.

Ooka Island is a place where children from pre-kindergarten to Grade 2 are able to escape for some fun, while learning fundamental tools like reading.

“Every child, the first thing they do is create an avatar on the island. So they are sent to Ooka Island as a hero and to teach the Ooka elves how to read,” says app co-creator Joelle MacPhee. “That is putting them on a personalized path and the program will start adapting to their strengths and weakness. So every child will have a different learning experience.”

MacPhee has had a long association with literacy. Her grandmother, Dr. Kay MacPhee, is the woman behind Spell Read – a reading intervention program for older children and adults.

“It was really inspiring when she wanted to move it over to technology and that’s how I got involved,” says MacPhee. “I think she’s amazed to have all these kids access it from all over the world and being able to see that it is working.”

MacPhee says Ooka Island has brought a lot of joy to her life and the company’s 10 employees.

“A lot of the times we have parents who are in complete disbelief that an app is teaching their how to read and it almost sounds too good to be true,” says MacPhee. “It feels really wonderful to know that you can really have that impact on technology and you can make it affordable and accessible for a lot of families out there that otherwise could not afford the other services or intervention programs that are out there.”

Ooka Island is currently used by more than 10,000 subscribers online and has been selected by education departments across the country.

When the Halifax Learning Centre discovered the app, staff felt it would be a great addition to their classrooms.

“When we’re doing our lesson plans for our students with Spell Read, we can go in and learn how these kids have done with Ooka Island and it can give us just some more insight into things to bring to our classroom,” says Eryn Steele, with Halifax Learning Centre. “For our parents, they have this great game they can use any day of the week, any time, and their kids can jump on and play.

Sarah Arnold says watching her child develop a passion for reading was a real joy.

“When she started, we played pretty much two to three times a week, over the course of a year to two years,” says Arnold. “Now she’s pretty much an independent reader and she’s reading in English and in French. She’s a French emersion child as well and it’s had a really good impact on both languages.”

App user Anna Archibald says the game has helped her to gain confidence.

“Before I started it I was really struggling and it was really hard for me to sound out the words,” says Archibald. “So if I need to read something to my class, it gives me more courage to read it first to my mom or dad.”

Users can download the app and play the first level for free, with access to the first 1.5 hours of the 80 hour program. Users can subscribe to unlock the full program with an in-app purchase.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ana Almeida