Monday, March 7, 2011

The Reading Kingdom: TOS Review

The Product:
Reading Kingdom is an online reading program that is aimed at beginning readers all the way up to 10 years of age. Even older for those who need remedial work. The program is the work of the reasearch done by a  Dr. Marion Blank, the director of the Light on Learning program at Columbia University. Dr. Blank designed the program to teach the 6 essential skills for reading which are:

The Reading Kingdom is a year long or monthly subscription based program but you can sign up for a 30 day free trial here.

Each child starts out in the Skills Survey section so that the program can properly place the child where he or she needs to be. With no help from the parents the child completes this on their own and is then accurately placed in the correct area.

"Type these."
Keyboarding practice. Highly vital to this program.
Letter Land is where the child spends time working on mouse and keyboarding skills and where most, if not all beginning readers are placed. Those who need to work on keyboard and mouse skills will also find themselves here. Letters are flashed on the screen and the child is either prompted with a "click these" or "type these" so that they know if they are to use the mouse for the on screen keyboard or find the keys on the actual keyboard. There is a very short amount of time allowed before the program jumps in and does this for the child.
"Click on these."
Working on sequencing left to right here.
Seeing Sequences is another beginning area. This is where the child is prompted to click on or type certain letters in left to right sequence, a necessary and important skill for fluent reading.

For example, Brother, 5 and very new to letters and reading was placed at the very beginning for a couple of reasons, he had no keyboarding or mouse skills (this program relies very heavily on those skills) and his sequencing and letter recognition skills needed work. Brother has been working on this program for about a month now and he just this week graduated from Letter Land and was moved into Level 1. Honestly at first he hated it...then I decided to follow the advice of the creators and let him hunt and peck for his letters on the keyboard. I was not thrilled to do that as I didn't want it to create a bad habit but for the sake of all of us I relented. He then began to enjoy it and did much better. But the timing aspect of the program gave him trouble and caused frustration for him.

"Type these."
Big Sis, 7 and reading above level took the Skills Survey and was placed in the same areas as Brother, Seeing Sequences and Letter Land. This was because her typing skills were not swift enough. She is still there but has used the program less frequently than the others. Honestly it irked me that my best reader was placed in the beginning simply for a lack of typing skills.
"Type kids." Level 1.
Biggest, 9 and reading on level passed the skills assessment with ease and was placed into Level 1. She immediately began type to out words such as girl, girls, some and more. She was given these words in a few different ways and that made the program enjoyable for her. She loves it!! She is now on to typing complete sentences which is wonderful for spelling practice! Being dyslexic I believe that this program will benefit her so much!
Level 1: "Click on the word that says kids."
McMama's Opinion:
I am really quite torn about this program and this review. A few weeks ago I didn't like it at all but seeing how it's benefiting Biggest my opinions have somewhat changed. I will start however with what I have not cared for.

 I don't like how so much of where children are placed depends so heavily on being aquainted with the keyboard and mouse. For a reading program actual reading skills did seem to take a backseat to those skills. I think it's great that they have the child click on the correct letters on screen using the mouse but the additional task of having to find those same letters on the keyboard have proven quite a struggle for Brother and Big Sis. Honestly, right now, at their age, knowing where the letters are on the keyboard is not a goal of mine. But to use this program we have been forced to have them learn. Why can't the program simply require at least the beginners to be limited to selecting the letters on the on screen keybaord?

I didn't like how I always feel so lost as to what kind of accomplishments my children were making. They do have progress reports so to speak but they are very vague and simply tell what information was covered and come at the end of the levels and surveys.

When I looked at Brother's progress from Letter Land today it showed that he completed all four levels, the date in which that was done and displayed an icon telling me whether or not he did excellent, good or needed improvement. I don't know what he did excellently or what he needs improvement on. It would be nice if there were more detail about the child's actual current progress. Something stating that he did well but is slow in recognizing these letters, failed 'x' amount of times today to correctly sequence these letters etc. It's great when they pass something but it comes as a surprise, there's no way to tell if they are improving or not until then. Well, if there is I haven't caught on to it very possible.
Brother working on RK and Littlest being a distraction!!
I do not like the time limit on the program. In Letter Land and Seeing Sequences Brother struggled so much because he didn't click on the letters on screen fast enough nor was he, at times, able to find the keys on the keyboard within the alloted time...and it's ridiculously quick. I have heard that they are working on that part though.

I disagree with Dr. Blank's philosophy about phonics. From what I can tell Reading Kingdom teaches mainly sight words and words that have what phonics programs would call "special sounds" such as "girl". (My girls always spelled that "grl" when they were learning but they always knew how to read it.) I believe that the method of learning to read relies on the child (Biggest used a phonics intense program and Big Sis basically taught herself with little to no training at all) and also calls for a careful mixture of phonics and whole word memorization. However, teaching reading is a very personal decision and can very greatly from family to family, child to child. You can read an interesting tutorial about what makes Reading Kingdom different from other reading programs here.

Brother, who is now in Level 1, is being prompted to spell girl. The child can't even figure out what letter makes the 'guh' sound let alone spell the entire word. While working today he was telling me over and over that it was too hard and he didn't know how to spell it. The program did figure that out and eventually put the word up on the screen. He then proceeded to type it. I believe that this program will teach him to eventually read the word 'girl' but by memory only. For a word such as 'girl' I guess that's not the end of the world but it's not what I am use to in a "traditional" reading program.

I am unsure about how much of an actual learning to read program this truly is, but it's great spelling work!! (I know, I keep saying that!)

The creators of this program suggest that children be allowed to use one finger to find the letters on the keyboard. Reading Kingdom, although relying heavily on typing ability-or the ability to find the letters on the keyboard,does not teach 10 finger typing. This bothered me as I mentioned above but just today I saw Big Sis, who has already had some tying experience and was using the correct fingering position before this program, has now regressed to using one finger. This is disappointing to me.

Here is what RK says, "Q: Why does the Reading Kingdom teach keyboard skills? 
A: Teaching reading requires the teaching of writing as well. To create words and sentences, a 
child has to be skilled in using the keyboard. This does not mean ten-finger touch typing. But it 
does mean being able to smoothly find the required keys. Once a child has basic keyboarding 
skills, time can be spent on learning and not on hunting for keys. 

It would also be nice to have a scope and sequence available. I'm not sure how many parents buy a curriculum or program for their children without knowing what material is covered ahead of time. There doesn't seem to be a way to clearly understand what material will be covered throughout RK. Although it is stated that once gone all the way through children will be reading at a 3rd grade level.

I've said a lot of negative so let me end with some positives.

I LOVE how Brother and Big Sis are getting an extreme amount of sequencing practice. For beginning readers this is especially needful. So, for example the program will put the letters 'b o l s o' on screen and will highlight 'ols' prompting the child to click those when the selection box comes up. The child will have to click on each letter, in order, from left to right. I can't tell you how many times my two wanted to start from the right and click the last 'o'. But they would get it wrong and would be 'retrained' by having to watch the computer and then do it again. I think it's awesome practice!

I love how Biggest is getting wonderful practice with some words that she's had a hard time spelling. Sure, she can read them just fine but spelling 'some' for instance would result in 'sum' or 'som' much of the time. She is also gaining and eye for those small words that she tends to leave out of sentences when she reads. This has been great remedial work for her.

Since it has taken us so long to get where we are (Biggest did great but she started this program just a short time ago so hasn't gotten far). We haven't been able to see what's ahead for us. I am very curious as to how this will go and promise to update this review in a few months. You can find out how long this program takes here.

I would have loved for this review period to have been about a month longer. I think that by then we would really have been moving and would be able to experience more of the program.

I will keep using this for my children because I think that eventually Brother will be learning those words, albeit in a way that is very new and different to me and the spelling practice is just so great for my big girls!

To read more about the program download The Reading Kingdom Structure Overview tutorial.

The Breakdown:
  • I have mixed feelings about this program right now. Somethings I LOVE and other things I don't care for.
  • This seems more of a spelling program to me, yes, the children will learn the words but purely from memorization, not sound.
  • This will not work for every family. Do the trial and see what you think. To see if your young child is ready for this program read this tutorial.
  • You can purchase accss to the program for $19.95/month or $199/year plus $9.99 for each additional child enrolled in the program.
  • If you truly desire to use this program but honestly cannot afford the price RK does offer a scholarship program. You will need to contact RK for more information.
  • Our contact was a wonderful lady by the name of Colby Devit. I cannot express how helpful, prompt and knowledgeable she is!! She is a jewel and I am thankful to have been able to work with her throughout this review period.

**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the 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. I do want to express my gratitude to Dr. Blank and the Reading Kingdom for allowing our family to review this product! The generosity of this company has been overwhelming! Thank you!!!**

Lovin' Learnin'


  1. I agree that it will work for some families, and not for others.
    My son likes it now that we are out of Letter Land and Seeing Sequences.

  2. Very thorough review. I am kinda in the same boat with you. Not sure on how I truly feel about this product yet.

  3. Yes, very thorough. My older daughter needs the spelling help, and I like it for that.

  4. Great review! I completely understand being torn. My daughter enjoys it and it serves as excellent re-enforcement. Love the picture of the littlest distraction. I have a little distraction that hangs out around the computer as well, lol.

  5. Good synopsis of the program. I'm still torn over making the Bugs continue with it. She is so easily distracted by anything on a screen right now. We'll see in a week or two. After we finish with these colds! No one can concentrate on anything right now.

  6. Hey how did you get the program images from the internet onto your blog post? good job!

  7. Thank you for taking the time to review our Reading Kingdom program...We really appreciate your feedback as user comments are the number one way we determine how we should improve the program.
    Regarding your comment on the reporting, we are currently updating our reporting to provide more information to the parents, teachers and tutors who are using the program. This should be implemented within the next month.

    With regard to your point about the time we allow for children to respond, this is something we have worked very hard to get right and we are continuing to work on it. On the one hand, you don't want to give a child too little time. But on the other hand, if you give a child too much time, then she or he may not really be mastering the material before moving on to
    the next level. Part of mastery is being able to accomplish a task within a reasonable amount of time. However, we are always reviewing how the program
    works and will continue to do so as we move forward.

    Thanks again!


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