Every year, in spite of hours of instruction in phonics and sight words, it seems that school kids are lagging in reading achievement. Dr. Marion Blank, Director of the Light on Learning Institute at Columbia University, decided that a different approach was needed.
Reading Kingdom is an online language arts program that trains kids from ages 4-10 in the 6 skills necessary for proficient reading and writing: sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar, and comprehension. A child who has completed the program should be able to read and write at a 3rd grade level.
$19.99/month (with no monthly minimum), or $199.99 per year (20% off)
add additional children for $9.99/month or $99.99/year
There are scholarships available for those in need, please see the site for details.
Reading Kingdom is fully customized to your child’s skill level.
Before beginning, your child will take an assessment which may take one or two sessions. The length really depends upon how much your child already knows since the program automatically adjusts to her responses. A pre-reader will have a relatively short assessment if the program determines that she needs to start at the very beginning. A child who is already reading will have a longer assessment so that the program can determine at what point in the overall sequence she should start.
What about Accessibility?
RK gives options for using either your computer keyboard or an onscreen keyboard and mouse. We chose to use the onscreen keyboard because, ahem, the letters are worn off of many of our keyboard’s keys (not a biggie a touch typist like me, but a bit of challenge for the kids).
All instruction is given verbally, with no reading or direct intervention by a parent required. In fact, you are asked not to help your child unless they need hand support, so that the program can accurately gauge your child’s skill level.
The program does have a built in “time limit” where it will correct your child if they don’t respond quickly enough, but you can lengthen that time in the parental controls (and it’s not really a “beat the clock” type of situation).
Reading Kingdom is not your average reading program.
Many programs aimed at pre-readers and beginning readers begin by teaching the phonemes. They might introduce one new phoneme or sound pattern at a time and then present kids with words or sentences that use that phoneme.
RK begins with sequencing. As Dr. Blank points out, for most kids reading is the first time the order matters.
Think about that a minute. If you see a group of blocks, it’s “some blocks” or even “5 blocks” no matter what order you put them in, whether you line them up, build them into a tower, or dump them into a pile. But the same group of letters can make a number of different words depending upon what order the letters appear in.
For this reason, it’s important that the child learn to look from left to right and read from left to right, and if a child doesn’t get this, she won’t be a successful reader. Those who haven’t mastered this skill, will begin RK with Seeing Sequences.
Once your child can pick out the correct letters from left to right, the program will do the same exercise, but hiding the word so that your child has to pick out the letters from memory. It typically takes 1-2 weeks to complete this part of the program.
After Seeing Sequences comes Letter Land.
How many times have you used a learning program where your child knew the answer, but she couldn’t find the right key to press, time ran out, and she got it wrong?
Letter Land is designed to insure that this doesn’t happen in Reading Kingdom. The idea is to get plenty of practice locating all the letters (and even the spacebar and punctuation) so that later your child can concentrate on the lessons rather than get frustrated trying to find the letters.
You child will learn to match up the letters on the screen with the letters on the keyboard, but the program does not teach the letter names.
Letter Land will take about 1-2 weeks to complete.
Reading Kingdom sets your child up for success before moving on.
And that’s important. There’s no reason to rush through foundational skills. Mastery is what is important.
Beyond Seeing Sequences and Letter Land, there are 5 levels in RK, with 6 “books” in each level, as well as a “progress check” and a “review” (which is only completed if needed based on your child’s progress check).
The stories in the books are written to use English in a way that writers typically use English---there’s no attempt to group like sounds together or only use single syllables or the same pattern (cat, hat, sat).
There is also no explicit phonics instruction and no teaching of rules. Rather words are said slowly and shown on the screen in various ways.
The exercises in the books are quite varied and include:
- typing a word that is on screen
- picking out the correct word from many words on the screen
- selecting from incomplete words those that could become the word sought (for instance, choosing c_m_ for “came”)
- reading a sentence and then
- typing missing words with an audio cue
- typing the complete sentence, including spaces and punctuation, with audio cue for just the words
- and more
The exercises get progressively more difficult in the higher levels. A child in level 1 will be typing and identifying single words. A child in level 3 will be typing sentences.
You will receive weekly progress reports for each of your students via email and they’ll look something like this:
When you child finishes their session for the day, you can also check their progress in the account:
And every time your child completes a level, you’ll receive an email notification.
How did we use Reading Kingdom?
I had 3 children use RK for several weeks for the purposes of this review. After their assessments:
- Emma (age 4) landed in Seeing Sequences
- Peter (age 7) landed in Letter Land
- Mary (age 9) landed in Level 3
Emma is a pre-reader, recognizes some letters, but not all, and has no clue about things like punctuation or spelling. Her placement made perfect sense. She completed Seeing Sequences and Letter Land within 3 weeks and was placed in Level 1. She’s puttering along very slowly there.
Peter is reading at about a 4th grade level. His spelling is erratic and his punctuation non-existent. He had difficulty finding the letters, so his placement also made perfect sense. He completed Letter Land in just under 2 weeks and was placed in level 1. He is currently on book 3 in that level.
Mary reads at about a 6th grade level. Spelling and punctuation are issues for her. She is in book 15 (the 3rd book in level 3).
Each of the kids completed one or more sessions a day (Emma likes to do multiple lessons).
We did run into some minor issues (and chances are they are caused by the fact that it’s an online program and server load can be unpredictable): occasionally the program would not give the instructions on a screen and so I would have to instruct a child what needed to be done. On the level 3 books, sometimes it seemed to “hangup” when Mary was reading a selection (she would read it and then have to wait a really long time to get an arrow to progress to the next screen)---this really drew out the session and frustrated her.
For the most part, though, the kids found the sessions to be short and painless.
What did we think?
Emma loves Reading Kingdom. The other kids not so much. But what the kids like or dislike is not necessarily how we choose educational programs (hey, few people like learning grammar at all).
It’s hard for me to tell how effective this program is for any of the kids. I tend to judge things like this by what they “take away” and apply elsewhere. On that basis---I’ve seen no improvement in spelling or punctuation for either Mary or Peter, but perhaps it is too soon to tell. Improvement in these areas can be slow going.
Emma does not seem to have a better awareness of spelling or reading words. In fact, I can say she is still a pre-reader. And when she goes back and does a previous session “for review” (she likes to do that), she doesn’t seem to know the material.
She will frequently purposely click on a random answer (I’ve seen her do it), knowing that the program will prompt her. For instance, RK might tell her to type “bird” without showing her the word on the screen. She’ll randomly click on a letter, then click on it again until the program shows her the word “birds” so that she can pick out the letters.
She’s having fun, but is she learning anything? I really don’t know.