Monday, March 7, 2011

Review of Reading Kingdom

For the past several weeks, my two youngest children have been using Reading Kingdom, a program to which I received a year's subscription in exchange for my review.  Reading Kingdom is an online program which teaches children 4-10 to read and write to a 3rd grade level.  Unlike other reading programs, Reading Kingdom not only teaches phonics, but it also teaches a plethora of other skills lacking in similar programs.

Reading Kingdom begins by administering a skills test to your child, and this part of the program is where I have the most trouble.  Both of my twins took the skills test and, at six, Reading Kingdom determined that they were at the level of recognizing patterns of letters in words.  The problem is, both of my twins can read at about a first grade level.  The disconnect, I think, comes from the fact that typing skills, or lack thereof, are a factor in the skills test.  If you mistype something, the program assumes that you don't know it.  My kids can read, but they can't type because I have deliberately required my children to master handwriting before they learn typing.

When I saw that my twins didn't want to do Reading Kingdom since it did not challenge them in any way, and merely had them identifying patterns, I emailed Reading Kingdom to ask if they could redo the skills test, as I was afraid that their lack of touchpad skills may have inadvertently landed them at the wrong level.  After cautioning me that the success of the program depends on students following each level sequentially, the helpful Reading Kingdom staff reset my twins to the start.  However, after taking the skills test again (which was easier since they had been doing Reading Kingdom anyway), they still ended up just practicing typing, essentially, with no reading yet in sight.  As they have no yet progressed beyond this point, I can't evaluate the reading portion of the program.

Who do I think Reading Kingdom would ideally suit? Pre-readers.  Pre-readers are a target of Reading Kingdom, and the graphics and execution of the program will definitely appeal to them.  The complete independence of the program (parents are repeatedly cautioned not to help in any way) will appeal to parents who are unsure how to teach their children and would rather leave that process to an expert.  Dr. Marion Blank, the creator of the program, is an undisputed expert in the field.  For children who can read, but not type, the program may not be as appealing, since one has to demonstrate that she can type before she can progress in the program.  For a child (or parent) who wants to focus solely on reading, this might be a deal breaker.  

Further, Dr. Blank's program is predicated on the notion that one cannot teach reading by phonics, since most of the English language is simply not phonetical.  Unfortunately, this premise is simply false.  There are phonics rules to explain the vast, vast majority of the English language. 

 In the example cited by Reading Kingdom, it is posited that only 8 of the 23 words in this example can be sounded out phonetically.  However, if one has a complete grounding in phonics and phonograms, one knows that every single word in the example can be sounded out using phonics rules.  True, you have to know that the second sound of "s" is "z" and that s often makes this sound at the end of words which are not plural, and you have to know that "so" is pronounced the way it is because it is an open syllable, and not a closed one.  Whereas RK touts that your child can read without learning all kinds of complicated rules, I come at reading from the position of learning all of those complicated rules, which will not only create a great reader, but also a great speller.

This program is the first I have ever reviewed with which I have ideological differences.  Reading Kingdom advocates one method of teaching children to read, and I believe that another method is superior.  As I said, though, for some parents, this program could well be the answer to a prayer.  It is user friendly, cute (a plus for young children), and boasts a helpful and responsive staff.

Reading Kingdom costs $19.99/month (after a free 30-day trial), or you can pay for the whole year for $199.99).  Subscriptions can be canceled at any time.  To find out more about the program, visit their website, or contact them on their contact page

I (wearing my Dr. Delgado hat, which I usually don't put on in my homeschool life!) have one opinion about Reading Kingdom.  For others, visit the crew blog!

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