Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Reading Kingdom

I know that there are many moms who are educating children with a WIDE range of ages, from high school through preschool, and I have a  great deal of respect for what they are doing. I have come to the conclusion that it is MUCH easier to "School" a 6 year old with a 3 year old tagging along than it is to add the 3 year old to a 10/13 mix! (Imagine that!)

I am always on the lookout for interesting and engaging activities and programs that youngest can enjoy as he joins the olders in "School" (Because, of course, he doesn't want to be left out...). Thus I have enjoyed having the chance for him to work on some letter and patterning skills with The Reading Kingdom program, which was provided to me as a member of the TOS Crew Reviews.


The Reading Kingdom is really targeted for ages 4-10 or so, but given that my little guy has a great attention span, speaks in complete sentences(Albeit missing a few sounds...), identifies shapes without any trouble, and can hold a crayon or pencil to draw, it was determined that he could be gainfully engaged in this "learn to read" program.

I will give you my thoughts on this program, but I want to be CERTAIN that if you are interested in a "learn to read" program that you check out some of my other TOS Crewmates' reviews, as many of them were using it with children who are right smack dab in the target age-range, as opposed to one on the fringes.

First, it is important to know that The Reading Kingdom is based on work and research by Dr. Marion Blank, the director of the Light on Literacy program at Columbia University in New York. She is considered by her peers as one of the leading experts in literacy. You may want to read this 6 page pdf file that discusses how The Reading Kingdom differs from other reading programs on the market. In a brief nutshell, it focuses on:
  • Sequencing
  • Motor Skills
  • Sounds
  • Meaning
  • Comprehension
  • Grammar

The Reading Kingdom is NOT a phonics based program and indeed Dr. Blank does not appear in the least to espouse learning to read via phonics at all. If that is your inclination this is probably not a program for you. HOWEVER, you aren't learning to read, your child is, and what works for one may not work for another. I should certainly mention that my two oldest children learned to read with phonics instruction and they have not had too much trouble~ in fact they are very good spellers. However, they would not be able to recite back to you many of the phonics "rules". They are just "intuitive spellers"~ I would say that I am a firm believer in phonics instruction given MY experience, but I grant that others' experiences may be very different from mine. That being said, I will now... finally.... give you my thoughts on The Reading Kingdom from the viewpoint of a very young preschooler.

The program starts with a "Skills Test" that will assess your child's readiness to use the keyboard and the mouse, as well as some cognitive sorts of skills. They are then placed in what the program deems the correct level. My son was appropriately place in the very first section which was "Keyboarding and Mouse Skills"(KandMS). 
  • "Mouse Skills" section where the child mouses over and clicks on the picture being described. Littlest did very well on this section, and enjoyed the various pictures. He would have prefered to find the "Rocket" picture every time, but did a very good job following directions
  • "Keyboard Skills" section, which asks the child to type the letter they see on the screen. This is one of the most helpful portions of the "KandMS" part of the program. A letter would appear on the screen, and littlest would be asked to "Type this..." (Note: the letters being shown are all lowercase) If he hesitated too long, a "keyboard" would appear on the screen, and the requested letter pad would be highlighted. I thought it was great that the keyboard pads showed both the upper and the lowercase letter, so that he could learn not only to identify the where a given letter was found on the keyboard, but also identify it with the upper and lower case letters together. He quickly learned where the letters that were presented to him were located. One minor detail, I found that he was anxious to move on to more letters before the program decided he was ready, but in general, he enjoyed being able to find those letters pretty quickly. 
When the program deemed him ready, he was moved into "Sequencing" and "Letter Land".

PhotobucketHere is where it got a little tricky for him. 1-3 letters appear on the screen, and then another, larger set of letters show up below. The child is asked to "Click these" and hopefully uses the mouse to click on the letters in the correct order. In this case, the "d" should be clicked, and then the following "e". Littlest could generally get the letters right, but his timing on moving the mouse to the correct little space was not always precise enough for the program. It would then say "Try again", and if he wasn't quick enough, it would go to "Click these" and highlight the  correct letters in the lower sequence in the correct order. This became a little frustrating for him, as he was mentally focused and capable, but not able to click in time. I will add that he is NOT using a mouse as is recommended, but rather the touchpad on my keyboard as this is the only viable computer for him to use with this program at the moment. I was having some difficulty clicking the letters in the precisely correct amount of time with the quirks of using a touchpad myself. I would expect a program for Pre-K to allow for a little more "fidget" time (If he even looked up at me, instead of the screen, the timing would be "off"). There is a "Redesign" in the works for this section of the program, and I expect that this issue will be taken care of. In the meantime, we have reached an agreement, Littlest and I~ He touches the letters in the correct order, and I do the clicking....

In LetterLand the emphasis is on learning where letters are located on the keyboard. A letter will appear on the screen, and the child is asked to first click on the correct letter on the keyboard that appears on the screen. (I do the clicking part again....) The child is then asked to click on the correct key on the physical keyboard, which Littlest does with alacrity. He has moved up as far as three letters at a time as well as 2 letters and the space bar.

Because of where he is, as a three-year-old, we have only progressed this far, but I have been very impressed with his ability to learn where the letters on the keyboard are located. Thus far there has been no reading, and the letters aren't "named" by the program at this point. When they "appear" to be clicked or typed in order, I will say their names in order, and he proceeds to match them up. In this way, he is learning letter names and locations, but we haven't gotten to the "Sound" and "Reading" portion of the program as of yet.

One characteristic of this program is that there is no "Written" scope and sequence, as The Reading Kingdom believes that all children progress at individual rates. I would agree with that assessment, however, it creates some interesting issues. While I appreciate that it is "adapting" to my child, I would also like to know precisely what is coming up in the next few lessons. The parent has no ability to advance or postpone the progress of the child, which can be frustrating if a child mentally "Gets it", but physically isn't fast enough to suit the program.

For a little more insight into the other levels of The Reading Kingdom, I recommend reading this 9 page graphic overview of how The Reading Kingdom is organized, as well as the other TOS Crew Reviews, as I mentioned before.

The Reading Kingdom is available on a monthly basis for $19.99/month or $199 for a 12 month subscription.  (With additional children being added for $9.99/month) You can get started with a free(no credit card required) 1 month trial to check it out, and see if this is something that might work for your emerging reader(s).

The Reading Kingdom also offers :
Reading Kingdom's Phonics Plus 5 Kit~  a hard-copy version of their program
The Reading Remedy~ Dr.  Blanks' book
Reading Kingdom Story Smarts~ A comprehension program that complements the online Reading Kingdom program
LetterLand by Hand~ a handwriting program

Because I was provided with a free one-year subscription to The Reading Kingdom, I am going to be very interested in how the program revisions work out, and how my Littlest does as he gets a little older.

As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose how to best spend your homeschooling budget. If I have been helpful in any way, I'd LOVE to hear about it in my "Comments". :)


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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