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With 66 percent of fourth graders not proficient in reading, early literacy is a serious problem in the United States.

Research shows that kids benefit from learning games that include physical elements, and New York-based Tiggly is building on this link with Tiggly Words. This is a set of letter toys — a, e, i, o, and u — that comes with three iPad games to help preschoolers build and understand words. The company has already found success with its math and shape games for iPad that include interactive toys. A recent study by specialist play-based research firm PlayScience found that kids playing with Tiggly Math for two weeks saw increases in early number skills of up to 71 percent. The goal here is to bring that same improvement in performance to reading.

Tiggly Words helps preschoolers recognize phonemes, construct sounds, and learn words by mixing virtual and physical items across three games — Tiggly Submarine, Tiggly Tales, and Tiggly Doctor. This mixed-reality approach is a key part of Tiggly’s strategy, according to cofounder Phyl Georgiou.

“There is a growing consensus amongst researchers that mixed-reality products provide a superior learning experience to physical or digital play alone,” he told GamesBeat. “We have commissioned our own research which confirms these findings: Children are more engaged and learn more effectively when they use our learning system which combines both physical and digital worlds.”

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Retailers obviously believe in the potential value of Tiggly’s products — which cost $30 for a set of toys with three downloadable games — as Tiggly’s heading into more than 1,500 new retail locations across Canada and the U.S., including Target and Best Buy Canada.

This retail expansion is a big deal for a company that’s relatively new to the educational games scene, having started in 2012. It released its first Tiggly-branded product in 2013. “By combining toys and apps in a smart and interesting way, we have managed to take shelf space from the big players who typically dominate mass market retail,” said Georgiou.

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