If we reallly stop to think about it, the ability to read is an amazing skill. For me, watching this process unfold has been an amazing privilege. I remember the day when I realized that my oldest child was really reading: she was sitting on the couch with a new picture book from the library and giggling! I knew that we hadn't read it before so she definitely hadn't memorized it. Not only that, she was enjoying it! That was a moment that thrilled me. My older son was a completely different story. Letters and words never really "clicked" with him until about fourth grade. He loved books too, but his reading ability was far lower than his interest level. What he could read was dull and boring. But lo and behold, somehow in fourth grade, after listening to me read, the light bulb went off and he began devouring those big thick Redwall books like nobody's business.
Now it's time for me to do it all over again. And to be honest, I didn't really have one reading program I swear by. Each of my two older children learned how to read with two different programs. So when the opportunity came up for this review, I thought that I would let Jonathan give it a whirl. Here's the 411...
Company Information: The Reading Kingdom is an online reading program created by Dr. Marion Blank, one of the world's top experts in literacy. This program is unique in that it goes through six different skills that children need to read successfully. This scientifically designed program teaches all six of the skills needed for reading success: sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar and comprehension. Before you consider this program, you may wish to read their PDF which outlines why this reading program is different than other reading systems.
This program is designed for early, accelerated and struggling readers, which pretty much covers most kids! After taking a skills survey, the program begins to take your child through a series of games and activities that is customized to his specific needs. Because it is an online program, your computer will need to meet some basic requirements in order for you to get the most out of it.
Product Reviewed: One-year individual reader account
Price: free for the first 30 days. Thereafter, if you choose to continue, subscriptions are $19.99 per month (with no minimum monthly requirement). Or if you prefer, you can opt for the one-year subscription at $199.99, which is 20% off the per month price.
Age Range: 4-10 years old
Parental Preparation: I first had to set up an account, which wasn't too difficult to do. Once we were set up, we jumped right in! Jonathan first went through an evaluation, which helped to determine the best starting point for him. As a 4-year-old, we started right at the very beginning.
However, if I were to do it over again, I would probably go through the tutorials on this page and read through them so I could better understand the big picture of the program. If you are used to using a phonics-based program as I am, then it may help you to better understand why it does not start with learning letter sounds.
How We Used It: We used The Reading Kingdom every day (or at least four times a week). Lessons took between 10-20 minutes long. We started out first with very basic skills, such as moving from left to right as well as some beginning keyboarding skills. Though the home page mentions that kids can do this program on their own, I opted to sit with him through most of the lessons (except for a couple of days when big brother supervised the process).
The program asks parents to refrain from "helping" their children (i.e. tell them the answers when they are too slow or give them hints or do it for them). Aside from a little help with the mouse in the beginning, I tried very hard to adhere to this, as I wanted the program to truly match his abilities, not mine. (Although I must say it was hard, and I didn't always succeed.) After about 10 days, Jonathan moved on to the first set of readers. Each day, he was presented with a new word and learned how to recognize and spell that word. After a few days of learning the words, they were put together in readers.
Most of the time, we found that one days' sessions was enough for my little guy. Just a couple of days, when the lessons were really short, did he do two. Unless your child is just chomping at the bit to read, I think it's better to do just a little than too much. We've been doing this program for four weeks before this review and he has not complained too much about doing his "Owl Reading".
What We Liked:
- Definitely very appealing to kids: colorful and cute! Isn't that little owl cute?
- Short daily lessons were just right
- Jonathan enjoys the game format.
- Lots of positive reinforcement--which is good for me, as I tend to be a little impatient at times. So even if I cannot be encouraging, the program says what I cannot!
- A lot of parental help via videos and a great blog.
What We Didn't Like:
- I am used to the phonics approach, so it was hard for me to catch on to the direction and how this program works. I had a hard time figuring out how the different activities fit together and what was the purpose of each. (Jonathan, of course, didn't care.) If you use it, make sure you read this PDF before beginning.
- There were times when Jonathan found the font they used confusing (e.g. the lower case "t" was not what he is used to seeing).
- When he was a little too slow in typing in the letters, they would type it in for him, which was frustrating for him because he wanted to do it himself.
- He doesn't seem to remember all the words that he has worked through. Sometimes he is just guessing. I have since used the option of reviewing words, but that does seem to stretch out his lesson for the day. I do just one review word, but you can do up to three.
While I think Jonathan has really enjoyed this program (it has held his attention longer than other online/computer games!), as a parent, I think I'm going to need a little more time before I decide if it really "works". But as long as he is interested, I think we will keep doing this as part of his daily schoolwork, but I may need to do some extra supplementation with phonics programs or play some games with him to reinforce what he is learning. The program is very gentle, much more so than I am, which is a definite plus in my book!
However, one month is probably not enough for me to really vouch for its effectiveness. As with many skills, reading takes time to learn, practice and develop. With that said, this is one of those reviews that I may need to update and revisit as we continue using it, so stay tuned!
Disclaimer: I was given a one-year subscription to The Reading Kingdom in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. If you are interested in other reviews of this product, click the banner below!