A mouse-led reading revolution
In countries as far away as the United States and Costa Rica, a little grey mouse named Ricardo is becoming a household name.
Ricardo Reading Mouse®, the creation of Underwood-based occupational therapist and author Melissa Savonoff, has become a role model for children across the world learning to read, write and spell.
The range, which includes books, workbooks, apps, games, songs and videos, has taken years – and decades of experience in occupational therapy – to complete.
Melissa Savonoff presenting at a library.
Melissa has always been fascinated by the ‘brain-body’ link between play-based movement and learning.
For instance, the spatial awareness skills required to track and catch a ball are also used when children are trying to form letters for the first time.
This became impossible to ignore as she realised how children who struggled with learning often had poor handwriting.
‘There’s a tendency to neglect the importance of handwriting and its impact on learning and memory,’ Melissa says.
‘What’s produced by the hand becomes muscle memory and helps embed letter knowledge in the brain which can help improve reading and spelling abilities, versus just seeing or saying the letters.
‘Learning to read, write and spell is incredibly empowering, and all subjects eventually require these skills.’
Melissa, who has homeschooled all 5 of her children, was inspired to create the range in 2016 after identifying gaps in early literacy curriculum.
Ricardo Reading Mouse® encourages children to sing, dance and clap, which develops essential skills like eye-hand coordination and memory.
She’s currently working with British and Dutch researchers who are similarly passionate about the mind-body connection when it comes to handwriting and learning.
Most important to Melissa is the impact Ricardo Reading Mouse® has had on children.
‘You can change a child’s entire outlook on life by supporting them in doing something they thought they couldn’t do,’ she says.
‘I recently saw my songs being sung by children at a kindergarten graduation ceremony in Miami, Florida and it made me cry.’
Melissa is also changing lives closer to home.
She runs regular workshops at Logan City Council Libraries to teach parents how to support children developing early literacy skills, along with those with sensory issues.
Helping those in need
When Melissa isn’t helping with early literacy, she’s busy helping others in the community through the Hosanna Excelsis Treasure Chest Arise Shine Outlet for Christ op shop in Underwood.
‘We provide things like food, Bibles, clothes and stationery to people in need from the proceeds,’ Melissa says.
‘We don’t go through any government organisation; people just come in from all walks of life, they tell their friends, and it has spread just like that.
The op shop supports remote communities in Australia and people in countries like Tanzania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone.
As for what’s next, Melissa has big plans for the little mouse.
‘There are still things in my computer that haven’t been released, specifically for early readers, and an online course to get children school-ready,’ she says.
‘I’d also love to do more in-person workshops and I look forward to interacting more with the local Logan community.’