Monday, March 7, 2011

TOS Review: Reading Kingdom

I'm a big fan of teaching children to read using phonics.  As a 2nd generation homeschooler, I've been both the teacher and the student, and I've never been convinced that the whole-word (or "sight word") method really teaches children to decode words on their own.  So color me super-surprised that Reading Kingdom was able to change my mind, if only just a little.

The Reading Kingdom program has been developed by Dr. Marion Blank, director of the Light on Learning program at Columbia University and author of The Reading Remedy. The interactive lessons teach the six skills (sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar and comprehension) that Dr. Blank theorizes are necessary for reading mastery. You can read all about her theories for reading and how the program works here.  In short, here's what she proposes:

Dr. Blank says that these six skills are necessary for a child to be able to master reading.  As you can see, she suggests that the pure phonics approach only teaches one of these six skills.

I must admit, this approach had me question my firmly held beliefs.  After all, a child doesn't really learn to read the word THE by using a phonics approach.  In fact, my favorite reading program, Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, calls THE a "funny word" and teaches it by having the child learn that it does not work to sound it out, then teaches the correct pronunciation and reviews it for many lessons in a row.  There are quite a few other "funny words" in Teach...; understanding this, I also realized that my approach to reading has never been 100% phonics, and that whole-word does have it's place.

However, even with my new "enlightened" approach to reading, I wasn't completely convinced that Reading Kingdom is the best approach for a new reader, for two reasons.  First, because I found that the lessons concentrated much more on sequencing than phonics, meaning or comprehension.  In my book those would be the top 3 things that are necessary for a beginning reader.  Second, because most beginning readers are young (age 4-6 usually) and Reading Kingdom required fairly fast keyboard skills, which can be frustrating for these little kids.  Even my older (7) child using the program ended up in tears more than once because it was "too fast".

On the plus side, the program is structured to allow the child to work independently, which can be a great benefit for those kids who want to learn how to read and are insistent on doing "BY MYSELF!"  Both my girls (age 5 and 7) were able to do their Reading Kingdom lesson on their own each day.  I was able to keep track of their progress with the online progress reports.

Progress Report Showing Status of Different Skills

Progress Report Details
The yellow section shows the session details for a selected skill
The section at the bottom is the key for the progress report
Reading Kingdom offers a "kid customized" program.  It starts with a skills survey that assesses the child's abilities in pre-reading, reading and writing. This is an activity that a child completes before starting the actual teaching. It assesses his or her skills in pre-reading, reading and writing. Based on the results, the program places each child at the point that is just right for his or her skill level. This prevents children from wasting time learning something they already know (which leads to boredom) or being faced with tasks that are too difficult for them (which leads to frustration).  The child then embarks on their program that takes advantages of the child's strengths and helps him overcome any weaknesses.  You can read more about how the program works here.

One of the nice things is that you don't have to commit to Reading Kingdom right away.  They offer a free 30-day trial to get you started.  If you decide that Reading Kingdom is for you, then it is very reasonably priced at $19.99 per month or $199.99 per year (pricing is per child).  You can cancel any time.  Additionally, if you are unable to afford purchasing Reading Kingdom, they offer a scholarship program.  They are that sure that their program works!

Though Reading Kingdom wasn't a good fit for us, I can see how it could work very well for some families.  Beyond using it to teach reading, it would be helpful for children who have trouble with spelling or reading comprehension.  It seems to be a very well-thought-out program, with science and experience to back it up.  Their free trial and scholarship program shows their dedication to making sure that children get a good start with reading.

Find out what other crew members thought about Reading Kingdom here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received two complimentary 1-year subscriptions to Reading Kingdom in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

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