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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Reading Kingdom

This is a review.

My kids love it when we get a chance to review on-line or computer stuff for school.  This time was no exception.  We got to try out an on-line program called Reading Kingdom.  It is an on-line reading program that teaches reading and writing for your younger kids and by the time they are done, they will be at a 3rd grade level.

It is an interesting program because it teaches the reading and writing skills a bit differently than you think.  It isn't the classic phonics approach....which at first I was a little nervous about.  But, then I remembered all those times when I was teaching my early readers that I had to say, "Well, this word doesn't follow the rule."  I had to say it a lot!

The system used in Reading Kingdom was created by Mr. Marion Blank, from Columbia University.  Her approach teaches children to read and write using six skills:  Sequencing; Motor Skills; Sounds; Meaning; Grammar; and Comprehension.

So, to get started with this program, I had S-girl, who just started 1st grade, take the Skills Survey.  They ask that parents be nearby during the child's computer time, but not help with any answers.  I didn't help with any answers which was hard, because a few of the things she ended up getting wrong were misunderstandings of what she was supposed to do and not because she didn't understand the material, or know the answer.

After this was completed, Reading Kingdom, then adjusted where it felt S-girl needed to start in their program.  It started her with very basic stuff.  She didn't like it.  In the beginning, it took her about 15 minutes or so to complete her lesson for the day. (After the really long Skills Survey portion....I am not sure how long that took....but  it was a long time) They recommend using this program a minimum of 3 times a week, with 4 being ideal. I just had her do a lesson a day, as part of her regular day, so she did it 5 times a week....with a few "oops" days in there where we both forgot.

It repeated things. It showed her the same information in different ways. Again, something that should be good in a teaching situation. But, since I think she probably should have started at a different level than the Skills Survey said she did, she was doing some things that, for her, were really basic. (For full disclosure here, the people at Reading Kingdom said that I could have her retake the Skills test or start at a different level if I contacted them....but I didn't....we just muscled through....)

One of the philosophies behind Reading Kingdom is that this program takes diligence.  Here is information from an e-mail sent to me about the program.

Unlike other programs, Reading Kingdom requires a more advanced degree of diligence. This is because it is based on the teaching methods of Dr. Marion Blank, who has determined that a little extra diligence in the early stages of learning to read and write yields tremendous dividends down the road. So we do not allow many mistakes before the program assumes a student requires reinforcement of the skills being taught. One of the great problems of education today is that we accept so much error and don’t know how to deal with it.
So you may want to take a moment to explain to your children/students that the program is continuously evaluating what they do and do not know and it's important that they pay close attention and strive to avoid making simple mistakes because those simple mistakes will tell the program that they do not know the material completely and need reinforcement. This is doubly true for the “Skills Survey” that begins the program.
The program also uses repetition because the only way to get good at something is by doing it multiple times. Nowadays many students bristle at repetition, but the results are powerful.

I get it.  It sounds great on the surface.  I want my kids to accept when they make a mistake and to fix it.  But, I will admit that it wasn't just S-girl that was bristling at the repetition.  I understand their reasoning, but, in actual practice, it is hard not to get frustrated or bored with the repetition.

On a positive note, the screens were nice and colorful.

In this example, they would show you the word, "dog" and then you had to pick the letters in the correct order.....sometimes it would hide the word dog and you had to find the letters in the correct order.

I will say things improved once she passed that first basic level and moved onto the next level.  Really, at first, I was having to make her do her Reading Kingdom lessons.  I kept encouraging her and telling her that once she finished with this easy stuff she would move onto something different and have more fun.

Happily, I didn't lie to her.  She is having much more fun now and even though she is still covering some of the things we covered last year, I like that they are showing her some different ways to look at words that don't necessarily follow the "rules".

I liked that the lessons were able to be completed pretty quickly.  I liked that the lessons were colorful.  I liked the approach across the board of six skills.  I did get to the point where I was not sitting with S-girl everyday while she did her Reading Kingdom, so I liked it that the program sent me e-mail updates with where she was in the program and when she was able to move onto the next level. 

I liked that you could choose to have your child work on the actual keyboard or an on screen keyboard.  (We started with the on screen option...and S-girl and I both hated it....we ended up switching to the actual keyboard which came much more naturally - however, the real keyboard doesn't show both upper case and lower case letters.....which a few times was more of a challenge for her.)  This picture will give you an idea what the keyboard looks like....even though, at the moment, it is just showing you the top row....

See?  It has both capital and lower case letters.

What we didn't like in addition to the repetitive nature of the program was that it is a really slow program.  When you answer a question correctly, you get a woo hoo or some sort of sound and picture that you have gotten it right.....then, you wait.....and, finally, it will move onto the next question.  I can't really describe it, except maybe that it felt like we were using a dial-up connection.  Remember that?  When you had to be patient and just wait for stuff to load and not start clicking on things to hurry it up.  You know?  I found myself getting very impatient when I sat through the lessons with her.  She would just sort of gaze around and sort of day dream while she was waiting for the next screen.  I am thinking that isn't a good thing.

This is a program that could be a supplemental tool for anyone in the early elementary years.  Because, as noted by Reading Kingdom teaching your child to read is really the most important skill they can have for educational success....because even with technology....they still need to be able to read the information.

Overall, we liked this program, but didn't love it.  It definitely got better and more fun for S-girl the further into the program she got, but, it took a while to get there.

You can try a 30 free trial of Reading Kingdom at your house.

If you try it and decide you want to use it at your home or school, it is $19.99 per month or $199.99 per year for the first child with each child after costing an additional $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year.

Take a look at what the other TOS Reviewers thought of Reading Kingdom.