Phonics or whole language? This debate has been raging in the
public and private schools for many years. My father was taught
with a whole language program and swears that his spelling and
reading skills suffer to this day from the lack of phonics training.
My spelling bee champion son believes that phonics is critical
but is inadequate for good spelling and reading skills. My two
sons with Down syndrome learn to read sight words fairly easily,
but they struggle to sound out words. A whole language approach
improves fluency and avoids the complicated, and often contradictory,
phonetic rules of the English language, but it limits students
to words they have previously learned. A phonics approach allows
students to sound out new words, but it is often confusing due
to the plethora of irregular English words. So what is to be done
with this sticky problem? The Reading Kingdom program
($19.99/month or $199.99/year per child) was developed by Dr. Marion
Blank to help children acquire all the skills they need to learn
to read. Dr. Blank, a leading expert in literacy skills, was frustrated
that so many children were falling through the cracks in reading.
She developed the Phonics Plus Five Kit to address the
six basic skills that are needed to become a proficient reader:
sequence, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar, and comprehension. The
Reading Kingdom is the online version of Phonics Plus
Five, providing all of the same material in an online format.
So how does The Reading Kingdom work? First, it is an
online subscription service, not a computer program that you buy
and install on your computer. It is recommended for ages 4-10 and
will teach reading skills through about a third grade level. The
program starts with a Skills Survey that will evaluate the unique
needs of the child and place him or her at the correct level. The
first two levels in the program (Pre-reading Level) teach kids
sequencing skills and basic mouse and keyboarding skills so that
they will be able to effectively use the keyboard for the writing
components. The next five levels teach progressively more complex
reading and writing skills. Practice with writing words (through
typing them correctly on the keyboard) is integrated throughout
the program. There are also Progress Checks at the end of each
section to make sure the child is learning and retaining the material.
Each of the six levels has six books to help the child practice
his increasing reading abilities and to keep the learning interesting.
The Reading Kingdom uses a variety of short activities
and engaging graphics to practice the numerous skills of each level
and to hold the child's attention. Each lesson takes about 10 to
15 minutes. At the end of the session, the program offers the child
the choice to practice more on activities and books they have finished.
The program continually monitors and adjusts to the child's abilities
and pace. More practice is provided as needed, or the child can
move ahead quickly as skills are mastered. The program uses a colorful,
uncluttered interface that is easy to navigate. Graphic rewards
and encouraging comments are offered throughout, which keeps the
program very positive and uplifting. Progress reports are available
online and are emailed to parents as the child finishes key parts
of the program.
We tested The Reading Kingdom with two of our boys to
see what it could do! Benjamin is 11-years-old and has Down syndrome.
Zechariah is 5-years-old and is gifted. They are both reading at
about a second grade level, although Benjamin struggles much more
with comprehension and writing skills than Zechariah. We were impressed
at how much both boys have enjoyed the program and ask to work
on it every day. They can easily navigate through the program with
little assistance. After a few months, they have made some good
progress on reading and writing skills. Both seem to enjoy the
activities and books, and they love the graphics. Benjamin always
wants to do more, and if I'm not looking he will start a whole
new session when he finishes! Zechariah usually does an extra activity
or two and then is ready to move on to something else. I like that
the activities are short and engaging so that the kids are excited
about learning. The uncluttered backgrounds and sounds help Benjamin
stay focused. I also really like the emphasis on writing skills,
which are so important to future academic success. I've been pleasantly
surprised at how quickly both boys have learned to write a variety
of words and sentences. I like the email updates and online progress
reports, although these could definitely be strengthened to provide
more information to parents.
One of my few concerns about the program is the hunt-and-peck
typing that is developing for both boys. They are learning where
the letters are located on the keyboard, but the program does not
help them learn which fingers to use for which letters. Particularly
for Benjamin, this will be very difficult to unlearn when he is
ready for more extensive typing skills. We decided to use a typing
program concurrently to try to build good typing patterns from
the beginning. I have also noticed that both boys, particularly
Benjamin, have learned that if they push the space key or a key
they know is wrong, the program will help them with the next step.
When they are really stuck on what to type next, this is very helpful.
However, Benjamin tends to make the program do much of the work
for him instead of trying to write the word on his own. He does
well when he attempts the words, but he would often rather have
the program make it easy for him.
One of the strengths of The Reading Kingdom is the integration
of phonics, whole word reading, and other important skills, which
provides a nice blend of both reading philosophies. Another strength
is how the program progresses and adjusts to the child. A 30-day
free trial is offered, so you can test the program and see if it
is a good match for your child. I would recommend The Reading
Kingdom for parents who want a comprehensive, engaging, and
well-researched reading program for their kids.