Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of Reading Kingdom

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For the past few weeks, Michael (8) has been using Reading Kingdom to assess and assist his reading. In order to see if Reading Kingdom is right for someone in your house (it is officially for kids 4-10), check out "Is It Right For Your Child."

What is Reading Kingdom?

Reading Kingdom is endorsed by a slew of education professionals, teachers, parents, and Cindy Crawford. It is designed to take a child from beginning phonics straight through to reading and writing on a third grade level. Created by Dr. Marion Blank, "a world renowned expert on literacy," Reading Kingdom asserts that it is superior to either phonics or a whole language approach to learning to read, as many English words do not adhere to the rules of phonics at all. Learn why Reading Kingdom works here.

Reading Kingdom is emceed by a cute owl with a very soothing voice. She shepherds a child through the program, from the placement test through each level. One great feature of the program is immediate feedback when a child gives a wrong answer and the opportunity to try again. Everything is presented in a very positive way so that a child will never feel dispirited.

Depending on how a child does on the placement test, there are several different activities that he may work through. 

Michael ended up working on Reading/Writing Level 5. Essentially, he read through books and a word was left out after it was pronounced. He then had to type in the missing word.

How We Used Reading Kingdom

Originally, Michael and Mary-Catherine both were going to use Reading Kingdom. The company very generously offered us two subscriptions. After taking the placement test, though, Mary-Catherine ended up in "Letter Land." Essentially, the level requires her to learn to type. For example, in the screenshot below, she was asked to type what she saw on the screen.

Because my laptop keys are not nearly as responsive as the ones on the computer she uses most often, she would often type the wrong thing. Hence, she would get it wrong. She got so frustrated trying to type in the right thing time after time that I finally let her stop using Reading Kingdom and just let Michael continue for the purpose of the review. 

Michael made it through the placement test because we knew in advance how to navigate the keyboard carefully. I truly didn't want typing to cause Michael to end up in the same place as Mary-Catherine. He ended up in a section of Reading Kingdom that required him to listen to a word and then type in what he heard. I can see the value of that exercise, given the prevalence of homographs and homonyms; however, for where Michael is in his reading journey, he did not get anything out of Reading Kingdom (except typing frustration - my kids have not taken typing yet, and I don't think they should have to know how to type in order to learn how to read. That is my own personal prejudice).

The Reading Kingdom Nitty Gritty

Reading Kingdom can be had for a 30-day trial, and this is definitely the best way to see if it is right for your family. I expect that you would be able to determine that fairly quickly. After that, the program costs $19.99 month (with no monthly minimum) or $199.99 a year. Additional children are 50% off and subscriptions can be canceled at any time.

Reading Kingdom is not for our family, as I prefer a phonics-based approach to reading, but I have no doubt that this program is effective for many students, and is probably most effective for reluctant readers. My twins don't fit that bill, however, as they learned to read before the age of 5 and both read above grade level now. I guess my biggest issue with Reading Kingdom is that it is too easy to get bogged down in the technical aspects of the program. For example, if your child takes too long to type a letter, the program counts the answer as wrong. If your child types something wrong, but then realizes it and tries to make a correction, he can't. While you, as a parent, can adjust the response time to give your child more time to answer a question, you can't adjust to shorten the response time. In most cases, this meant that Michael had to wait a long time before the screen advanced between the pages of his book. Ironically, he ended up reading a book while waiting for the screen to advance!

Having said that, though, for kids who love computer-based learning and are having trouble learning to read, you get a whole lot of bang for your buck with this program! Parents get personalized progress reports emailed to them telling them to the letter (ha ha) what their kids learned that week. The program is designed to be hands-off for parents, which can be a huge advantage for parents who want their kids to learn to read, but don't have the time, patience, or technique to teach them. And, like I said, there is something about that owl and her voice! She is a very patient teacher!

More than I do with most reviews, I encourage you to read what others have to say about Reading Kingdom. It is a highly regarded and recommended program and is definitely worth your time if you are in the market for a reading click that banner!

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