Jacquelyn Davis, a former Washingtonian of the Year who was honored for her pioneering work establishing the Thurgood Marshall Public Charter High School and D.C. New Leaders, recently launched Clever Noodle, an educational tabletop “learn-to-read” game company. Davis has set her sights on the national literacy crisis with a focus on the power of games as an essential tool to contribute to reading success. Unlike oral language, reading is a learned skill that must be taught. Many parents do not know this. (See tips below on how you can help your child.)
Davis is a Fellow and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at national education nonprofit Bellwether, where the new venture is being incubated. Her first product, Kangaroo Cravings, was first introduced on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in October, garnering 561 supporters! These early backers purchased or donated enough games to enable the young company to go into full production of 5,000 games, creating the first educational board game that teaches over 300 high-frequency, sight words aligned to the brain science of how children learn this foundational reading skill. Good-bye boring flashcards, hello really fun and effective Kangaroo Cravings.
Davis has been a leader in the education space for years, but the pressing need to address the literacy crisis hits close to home. She is the mother of a young son whose struggle with reading was compounded by a recent dyslexia diagnosis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her son was having a tough time hitting his reading goals, and traditional flash cards did not work nor did they keep his attention. So Davis got out the markers and glue, and using the back of a delivery box, she came up with fun ways to engage her son’s imagination while helping him learn his high-frequency, sight words.
Her son loved the game, and more importantly, his reading fluency improved dramatically! Word quickly spread among his classmates, teachers, and school leaders in Washington, DC. Over the next two years, Davis refined and tested the game with hundreds of kids, teachers, and education leaders. Initial responses exceeded Davis’ expectations. “Our literacy experts reviewed Kangaroo Cravings and we are all excited to use it in our classrooms,” noted Dr. Melissa Kim, Deputy Chancellor for DC Public Schools.
Throughout her personal journey developing Clever Noodle’s first educational tabletop game, Davis has enjoyed learning firsthand from top literacy experts why the Science of Reading is key in addressing the literacy crisis that impacts over 70% of America’s school age children.
Davis shares three tips for parents of young readers:
- Read aloud more advanced texts to your children than they can read on their own. In doing so, you’ll help your child increase their background knowledge and vocabulary critical to comprehension. Engage with the text, asking your child what he/she/they predict will happen next. What’s the setting and how does that impact the story? What character do you like best and why? What do you think is most ____(e.g., funny, sad, surprising, etc) about this section of the book/chapter? Ask your child to let you know if there is a new word they don’t know, then explain it. Discussing the literature with your child improves their critical thinking and vocabulary.
- Get your child screened in kindergarten for early reading success – or any possible red flags to monitor. There are many free online dyslexia screeners to use if your school is not already doing this assessment. Ask the school about their practice here.
- Ask your child’s elementary school what literacy/reading curriculum it uses. Ask if phonics is included. If the school says it uses Caulkins’ Readers, Writers Workshop or Fountas and Pinnell (often referred to as “F&P”), tell them these curriculums have been proven to be ineffective in teaching reading. Ask the school to implement a proven phonics curriculum aligned to the Science of Reading.
To find out more tips and insights about children’s literacy, and to place pre-orders of Kangaroo Cravings (to be delivered in early 2023), please visit Clever Noodle.