Monday, March 7, 2011

TOS Homeschool Crew Review: Reading Kingdom

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Reading Kingdom is an online reading program created by Dr. Marion Blank. According to the Reading Kingdom website, Dr. Blank has spent more than 40 years studying how children learn to read and is considered one of the leading experts in literacy. Reading Kingdom is designed around the idea that a strictly phonics based program does not work. She believes that reading mastery requires 6 skills, as shown below:

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We received a one year subscription to Reading Kingdom to use with our younger boys. FRitW is 6 and recognizes many of his letters and sounds, and MT is 4 and knows a few letters, but no sounds. I should explain here, that I do not feel that earlier is better. I believe that children will enjoy reading much more if they have a variety of experiences to enhance their understanding and vocabulary, so we have not used any focused reading curriculum other than review products we have received this year.

Since I have not used any curriculum with FRitW and haven’t seen a computer based reading curriculum, I really had no idea what to expect from Reading Kingdom. But because FRitW enjoys using the computer so much, I had high hopes for the program. FRitW and MT each began the program by using the keyboard skills program to help them achieve the speed needed to be able to use the program effectively. Neither child was ever able to successfully complete this portion, but I allowed them to move on to the actual instruction. (Note: this is directly against Dr. Blanks recommendation and may lead to lack of success in the program.)

Although it would have been best to work longer with the keyboard instruction, I knew we had a limited time to review this product and honestly, we would not have had time to move on to the reading program if either child had had to master the keyboard. In addition, the boys had to move back and forth between two computers, with very different keyboard setups, due to computer problems and the fact that two computers serve 5 people in this house.

Both boys moved on to the Skills Survey to determine their placement in this program. Both were placed in Seeing Sequences and Letter Land. These sections seem to focus on the Sequencing and Motor Skills portions of the 6 essential reading skills. They are given rows of letters like the one below and then the letters disappear and they must recreate those sequences from the letters in the box.

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Other activities in these sections include finding the letters and punctuation on the keyboard and typing them as requested.

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FRitW is doing very well in these areas, but gets extremely frustrated when it is marked wrong because he does not type it in the rhythm required. I know, I know – I should have had him finish the keyboard skills. – But wait! I definitely have the keyboard skills to be successful, yet I constantly struggle with the Reading Kingdom program.

I chose to have a Parent account so I could attempt the higher levels of Reading Kingdom myself. I took the skills survey myself and was placed at level one. (Ok, I can definitely read at a significantly higher reading level, but I chose a review account that allowed me to work through all of the program and I made many errors because unfortunately I am as curious as FRitW - you will see what I mean later in this review.) As I have progressed through the program I have been consistently frustrated by the timing. The program asks me to type a word or some missing letters and I wait for what I feel is enough time and type the correct letters. I get an error response and the program corrects me. Arrggh!! Maggie has used my account as well and experiences the same frustration. You have to pay very, very, very close attention to be sure you are typing at the correct time - not too soon, but not too late.

Overall, I did not find this program to be a good fit for our family. There are things I appreciate in the program but my overall experience was not positive.

A few problems I encountered:

- the program was so dependent on the keyboard timing that I felt that the reading instruction was secondary. FRitW definitely had mastered the concepts in Seeing Sequencing and Letter Land, but his occasional error due to distraction or keyboard timing (often as a result of our fluctuating internet speed) held him back from moving to the actual reading instruction. In a program that demands such perfection I am concerned that FRitW and MT would not develop the love or skill level of reading that they see in Kirk and Maggie.

- Although I agree that strict phonics instruction is not enough to teach true reading, I noticed that in the portions of Reading Kingdom I experienced there was no phonics instruction at all. When letters were pictured they were described by their letter name, never by a sound. Readers consistently encounter new words in reading and I think that phonics instruction allows a child to attempt to read new words. If they pronounce them incorrectly – I am ok with that - as long as they are able to understand the meaning through the context.

- In the reading portions of the program I was frustrated by the ‘fill-in-the-blank’ words. Once a word was introduced the student did a series of activities to reinforce that word and many of the activities required merely filling in the missing letters. From a reading and spelling standpoint I think that typing the entire word has more merit as you are able to envision the word as a whole. There were some activites of typing the whole word as well, but the main learning seemed to be type the missing letter.

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- The instructions were not always clear. In Letter Land, children are to type the letters shown on their computer keyboard when the letters appear on the screen. But they must use the mouse to click the on screen buttons when it appears like this (with the visible keyboard):

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However, their were no written or verbal instructions to this effect. Repetition is a friend to young children and I think steady repetition of the instructions would have been beneficial. FRitW and MT would type the correct answer on the computer keyboard and be frustrated when they were told they had the wrong answer because they should have used the mouse to click the on screen keyboard.

In the Reading/Writing Levels you do the same activities in each section, but often the instructions are not clear here either. I often forgot what was expected of me – for instance, in one activity after you have identified the words you are to identify, a picture of a sun appears at the bottom of the page. If you do not click on the sun a voice eventually announces “please click here” and the sun lights up. To me it was not obvious that I should click the sun, especially since the program uses a variety of pictures to show the answer is correct or incorrect and you do not click on those pictures.

- This program is very colorful and has lots of action. I am sure this is to engage the child, but I and the kids found it very distracting. Most pages have two characters, one which responds when the answer is correct, one when the answer is wrong. FRitW loved their actions so much that he HAD to find out what the wrong character did!



Some things I appreciated about the program:

-The attention to punctuation and spacing was very good. I like that students must use a capital letter where appropriate and remember to type the space bar between words and use correct ending punctuation.

-The program approaches a new word from several angles and words are used in context to enhance meaning.

-In the first level, many common sight words are addressed: some, here, are, the, etc. So children have the tools to read many things early in the program.



Personally this program did not fit our homeschool, but we embrace a very laid back program of school instruction and have had success with that. Kirk and Maggie learned to read with very little formal instruction and are voracious readers. Please keep in mind that your family and homeschool will be different and many of the things I did not like about Reading Kingdom could be exactly what would help your child excel. This program might also be a wonderful supplement for children in a typical school environment.

If you have a child that is ready to read or struggling with reading, take some time to look at the website. Click here for a wonderful breakdown of the program and how to use Reading Kingdom with your children.

Reading Kingdom has a 30 day free trial available and may be purchased monthly for $19.99 or on a yearly basis for $199.99.

Other members of the TOS Homeschool Crew also used Reading Kingdom. Click here to read their reviews.

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**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on this blog.

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