When Libby Curran began working in an under funded school in rural New Hampshire, she found that many of her students were struggling to learn to read. Growing up in generational poverty, with few books in the home, these children started school with huge language deficits and the gaps seemed to grow wider every year. Libby knew her children needed to read more, but books for the earliest readers are not readily available in bookstores or libraries; educational publishers charge high prices; and trade books are often poorly written, boring or hard to read. So Libby began to write the books herself. Using repetitive sentence patterns, simple pictures to illustrate the concept words, and including topics and humor that appeal to young children, she has created hundreds of "little books" which she prints and staples at a cost of pennies per book. Children read the books over and over again, by themselves, with a buddy, and at home with their families. Children's self confidence grows along with their reading skills, vocabulary and background knowledge and best of all, the children love to read.
Over the years, Libby's "little books" have garnered state and national awards. In 2002, The Committee for Teaching About the United Nations presented Libby with a Best Practices Award. In 2006, she received the prestigious Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical Award, and spent a year sharing her books and methods with low income schools throughout New Hampshire. And in 2012, Libby was named a People Magazine Teacher of the Year.
Searching for a way to make her books available more widely, Libby began contacting iPad App developers. She had a series of Skype conversations with Joseph Chen and Andrew Friday of revSquared Studio: a team of Americans working in Beijing, China. Andrew brought a background in the gaming industry, while Joseph offered his programming expertise. They decided to create The Learning Station, a joint company to make an innovative early literacy app, which would make quality, easy to read books fun and accessible for every early reader.
RevSquared contributed "Edify", their prize-winning quiz software platform, which generates custom questions. They also do the design and programming work. Libby recruited her son, Evan, also a teacher, and a talented children's musician, to do the voice-over narration and create song books and original music. Libby provided the illustrations and text for over a hundred books in the first version of the app. Working collaboratively- in late night conversations over Skype- (negotiating the 12 hour time difference) the app has grown in depth and complexity to provide early readers with a comprehensive learning experience, which builds confidence, reading skills and background knowledge to take every child from pre-reading to independent reading.
The original version was extensively test piloted in pre-school, elementary and special education classrooms. Daily feedback from students and teachers has helped fine tune the app. With a custom made font, smart tutorials, visual and auditory cues to ensure success, The Reading Train is built to make learning to read as easy as 1,2,3.