Our Story

Ooka Island exists to unlock the potential within every child to become a confident reader, so they can read to learn and take on the world.

  • 1960

    Dr. Kay MacPhee’s son overcame adversity and sparked her lifelong career in literacy
  • 1994

    The success and research of Dr. MacPhee’s 1st program, SpellRead, led to Ooka Island
  • 2008

    Jim Barber brought Ooka Island to life as an interactive learning adventure for children
  • 2015

    Meet the team that’s leading Ooka Island and graduating confident readers in over 32 countries

Ooka Clouds

A Parent’s Solution

Overcoming Adversity

All parents want what’s best for their children. They focus on protecting them, guiding them and ensuring they have what is needed to become happy, fulfilled adults. But what if you discovered that your child wasn’t like 'all the rest'? This is what happened when Dr. Kay MacPhee discovered her son was born profoundly deaf.

Kay, a school teacher at the time, searched all over North America to learn the best techniques for teaching speech and language to the deaf. Her travels led her to the John Tracy Clinic in California and McGill University, in Montreal, where her life's work and research began. Focusing on what little hearing her son had, she not only taught him to speak well, but to read well. As Kay taught other children, with and without diagnosed hearing problems, using similar techniques, she began to link reading difficulties to an inability to adequately hear and differentiate the sounds of the English language.

The techniques we were using with hearing-impaired students were tremendously helpful in discovering what was needed when learning to read."
Dr. Kay MacPhee

Research & Top Rankings

SpellRead Opened its Doors

After years as an educational assessment specialist for the school system, Kay continued to modify and hone her approach to reading instruction. In 1994, Kay launched SpellRead, a reading intervention program for older children and adults.

By 2001, SpellRead’s success had grown across North America. It was evaluated by leading researchers and underwent rigorous clinical studies. Positive results supporting the efficacy of SpellRead were published in both the Learning Disability Quarterly (spring 2001) and in Dr. Barbara Foorman's book, Preventing and Remediating Reading disabilities — Bringing Science to Scale (July 2003). Most notably, SpellRead was ranked #1 by the largest clinical reading trial in the U.S., Power4Kids, and a US Department of Education research review, What Works Clearinghouse. Out of 153 programs, 24 qualified for review. The SpellRead program was found to be the most effective in teaching reading comprehension, a fact that was not lost on Kaplan K-12, of New York, who acquired SpellRead in June of 2006.

See the full list of, Reading Research Publications by Dr. Kay MacPhee.

Reading achievement in the early years is highly correlated to success later in life. If a child can read fluently and well by age seven, the likelihood that that child will reach higher education doubles."
Dr. Kay MacPhee

Ooka Island’s Creation

Built on Research and Innovation

In 2008, Kay joined forces with Jim Barber, children’s author and teacher, to create Ooka Island. They dreamed of an engaging and effective program tailored for a younger audience but founded on the scientifically proven concepts that made SpellRead successful.

Jim designed a world of innovative instructional activities and wrote 85 leveled eBooks. With his creativity and art for storytelling, Jim made the whimsical world of Ooka and its colorful cast of characters, come to life. Acadia University helped the co-founders research and develop the specifications for an online program. The results of this collaboration led to funding support from the National Research Council, Canada’s premier organization for research, development, and technology based-innovation. This made it possible for Ooka Island’s Adaptive Learning Platform to be developed which continually analyzes a child’s progress and plots a personalized path towards mastery of the five foundational reading skills.

After two days, I have one complaint -- my kids didn’t want to get dressed for school this morning and they were fighting over the computer to play Ooka! So really, that is a good complaint!"
Dianne Tremblay, Mom of 3

Meet the Team

Graduating Confident Readers

As we've expanded, we've grown our team and we've grown Ooka Island. With an Adaptive Learning Platform™, 85 ebooks, 24 levels, and over 80 hours of individualized learning activities, we're ready to take the next step and reach little learners wherever they might be. This is a new chapter for us - and one that we look forward to writing.

  • Kelly Shaw


    Kelly brings extensive experience in digital strategy, sales, marketing and educational technology product development to Ooka Island. She successfully built and scaled a $10M business to $182M while an executive at Pearson. Prior to Pearson, Kelly worked for a Thompson Reuters company.

  • Dr. Kay MacPhee

    Director of Learning and Research

    As a literacy researcher and lifelong educator, Kay developed Ooka's proprietary Eye Ear Reading Method™ and its innovative Adaptive Learning Platform™. Before Ooka Island, Kay founded SpellRead, a successful intervention program for struggling readers. SpellRead was sold to Kaplan in 2006.

  • Danielle White

    Director of Product

    With over 10 years experience in the IT Industry and a master's degree in computer science from McGill, Danielle oversees all technology development at Ooka Island. Danielle was awarded Employee of the Year in 2014 by the provincial Innovation and Technology Association. Prior to Ooka Island, Danielle was a Project Manager and Support Specialist at Kaplan and SpellRead.

  • Joelle MacPhee

    Director of Marketing

    An award winning Schulich graduate, Joelle is responsible for Ooka Island's marketing and growth. She's had Ooka Island featured in the Huffington Post, Dragons’ Den, Backyard Inventors and more. At the 2013 National MindShare EdTech Summit, Joelle won "Start-up with the Most Impact on Student Learning" and "Solving the Biggest Problem in Education".

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