Hey Alexa, can you teach my child to read?

In the face of declining literacy and comprehension skills of Australian kids, a surprising partnership has emerged to help address literacy problems.

It’s a dispiriting state of affairs when one in four Year 7 students do not meet the numeracy or literacy skills for their grade, while stagnating NAPLAN results have seemingly become a regular occurrence.

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From the ashes, however, has arisen a rather unexpected phoenix, with a new partnership between the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) and Amazon Alexa.

The partnership between Alexa and the ALNF has resulted in Story Sauce, immersive audio stories that children aged 7 to 10 years can listen to, read and respond to comprehensive questions throughout. The stories – and there are five at the moment – are uniquely Australian and are narrated by some well-known voices including celebrated Aboriginal artist and spokesperson Jeremy Donovan and Playschool’s own Jay Laga’aia.

Story sauce is a heavily audio experience, meaning children do not need to spend time on screens.

The missing ingredient

Story Sauce – the name refers to the special ingredient or magical flavour of the story that can be collected and turned into rewards – has been designed by ALNF in line with educational guidelines, aiming to grow vocabulary, listening comprehension and focus, all key strengths required for building literacy skills.

Kim Kelly, co-founder and executive director of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation said, “We are passionate about providing all children with vital opportunities to improve their literacy and language skills through fun, interactive and relevant learning. Working with the local Amazon Alexa team to create Story Sauce has been an exciting and unique process and we’re thrilled to be able to provide access to this creative learning tool for children across the nation.” 

Using Alexa to read stories to children will never replace parents and educators, and the vital role they play in developing language, vocabulary and literacy skills in children. It’s simply another weapon in the arsenal, another tool that can be called upon in today’s hectic world. And since many children have learned how to swipe up before they’ve learned to pick up a pen, it can be argued that learning opportunities should be taken to children, wherever they’re at.

Kate Burleigh, country manager for Amazon Alexa Australia said, “The creation of Story Sauce alongside the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation has been a rewarding experience and we’re thrilled to see Alexa bring these uniquely Aussie stories to life. We know that for many time-poor families, prioritising storytelling and reading at home can be hard. With the help of Alexa reading along with the children, Story Sauce will assist families with a way to nurture young minds in an interactive way, and bring some fun into learning.” 

Learning from own stories

“Story Sauce has been created and designed using powerful Australian stories from people of diverse backgrounds. While the program teaches literacy through storytelling and comprehension, it also reminds students that everyone has a story to tell, no matter where they have come from, and we hope it inspires kids to create their very own Story Sauce,” added Kim. 

Perhaps this is one of the most interesting aspects of Story Sauce; once children have listened to all five stories, they can write and email their own story, with the possibility of it one day being featured by the Story Sauce team.

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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