Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading Kingdom

Reading Kingdom is an online reading program designed for children 4-10 years of age. The program was created by Dr. Marion Blank, Director of the Light on Literacy program at Columbia University (learn more about Dr. Blank here). It is recommended that children begin the program starting at age 4 or 5 (assuming they are able to sit for 15-20 minutes to complete a task).

According to Dr. Blank, when a child learns six fundamental skills necessary for reading and writing, they will experience success. These skills include:
  • Sequencing (Letter Order)
  • Motor Skills (keyboard and mouse use)
  • Sounds
  • Meaning (introducing words in context--not as unrelated lists of words)
  • Grammar (introducing 100 most commonly used words)
  • Comprehension
The Reading Kingdom website provides the following explanation of how the program is organized:
The Skills Survey
The program begins with your child taking a Skills Survey. Through simple, game-like activities, it reveals the skills a child has and does not have so that the program can start at exactly the right place to encourage the greatest success.

The Teaching
Once the Skills Survey is completed, the teaching begins. The program is organized into six levels.

Pre-reading Level
Teaches the Visual Sequencing and Keyboarding Skills that underlie reading and writing. A child goes through one or both of these programs if the Skills Survey shows that these components are needed.

Level 1
Gets your child reading, understanding and writing meaningful ideas by teaching key nouns (kids, girl, bird), verbs (actions such as eat, walk, fly) and "helping" words (the, some, is, can, are). Once a set of words has been taught, the child gets to read a book containing those words, along with words previously taught. As in all subsequent levels, there are six books in Level 2.

Level 2
Greatly expands the range of ideas your child reads and writes by adding new nouns (puppies, man, water), verbs relevant to those nouns (run, fix, move, including words that convey motivation such as need, want, like), pronouns (she, I, we), additional "helping" words (that, also, both, of) and question words (who, what, which).

Level 3
Enhances your child's ability to tell and understand stories by teaching the words to convey past tense (was, did, were), along with increasing the range of nouns (ground, rocks), verbs (push, think, hurt), "helping" words (most, on, any), and adjectives (sad, happy, nice, -y as in dirty, rocky).

Level 4
Gets your child reading subject matter that is different from typical stories and essential to school success. It introduces a wide variety of objects and beings from the natural world (animals, rainbow, moon, tongue, group, people, earth) and higher level question words (why, when, how). These are then incorporated into books that convey science type information.

Level 5
Has your child reading rich stories which provide a sense of fun while teaching complex cause and effect relationships by expanding the range of nouns (computer, letter, fish) and verbs (change, know, float), and introducing a set of complex ideas (luck, true, never, change, sure).

One of the first creatures students are introduced to is this adorable owl. She provides the narration and verbal directions to students.

Before taking the Skills Survey, children complete a Keyboard and Mouse Training. If your child has not already used a mouse or keyboard, Reading Kingdom has an excellent article offering help in this area.

In Letter Land, the child is introduced to upper and lower case letters. Before doing this review, I had not really thought about the fact that a keyboard only shows uppercase letters. It is therefore important for a child to make the connection between upper and lowercase letters in order to use a keyboard. Within the program if a child is unable to find a lowercase "b", then they are shown a keyboard on the screen that has both upper and lower case letters shown on the virtual keyboard. The correct key is highlighted and then the child is given an opportunity to try again on their keyboard. The program will continue to redirect a child to the correct answer. Some responses require you to use the mouse to select letters on the screen, other activities require child to type using their keyboard.

Each session of Reading Kingdom is fairly short--15-30 minutes depending on the level. Students can do additional activities within a session, or if they want to advance more than one lesson in a day, they need to "exit" and then restart the next session. Children may remain on a level for several weeks depending on how many sessions they are completing each week and how well they are doing. The segments are entertaining and varied enough that the child doesn't become bored. At log in, the child can see where they are in the program (completed items, sessions in progress and sessions yet to learn). When they pass a level, the parent is notified by e-mail of their advancement.

Our Experience
My 6 year old daughter (non-reader) and my 8 year old son (reader) both tried out this program. After completing the mouse & keyboard training and the first skill survey, they were both placed in Level One for the Reading and Writing lessons. Since my son (in second grade) is already reading, it didn't make sense that he would test into the same level as his non-reading sister.

I suspect that keyboard errors affected my son's placement. For example, at one point he was shown a sentence and then prompted to type the words one at a time. The directions were a little unclear and he ended up adding a space which bumped him into the space designated for the next word and then all the remaining words he entered were wrong. This happened on more than one activity which led to some serious frustration. I don't recall if he was supposed to wait for a prompt for a space or whether the space was done for him (and by hitting it himself, it threw off the line). In either case, I wish it had been possible for him to self-correct before his answer was "scored."

In spite of his placement within the program, my son has enjoyed doing the program and his motor coordination on the keyboard and mouse have improved. My daughter has also enjoyed using the program. Both are still in Level 1 so we still have a ways to go in the program but they both said they want to continue.

There were many things we really liked about the program and some things that we felt could be improved to make it even better.

Program Strengths
  • Clear and well-articulated narration
  • Auditory cues to signal a change in activities
  • Gentle, auditory cue when a wrong answer is selected
  • Correct answers modeled and students able to try again
  • Encouraging comments to the child (e.g."Way to go!", "That's it!", "Good Job!")
  • Short sessions
  • Fun, colorful graphics that aren't distracting
  • Fun kid-friendly animals and creatures that provide feedback to child
  • Variety of activities (use of mouse and use of keyboard is alternated)
  • Facilitates visual discrimination of words
  • Reinforces spelling and writing as child learns to read
  • Provides good foundation in keyboard and mouse skills
  • Allows child to work independently
Suggested Improvements
  • Clearer instructions when to type on the keyboard and when to use the mouse (both my kids had many incorrect responses initially when they tried using the keyboard in places they were supposed to use the mouse).
  • When just beginning the program, it would helpful to allow more time to respond (this could gradually be decreased as the child progresses)
  • Have the auditory narration match the owl character's mouth (owl looked like it was still talking after sound was done--we kept thinking we were missing instructions or our speaker had died)
  • Allow a child to make corrections if they realize that they have made a mistake (some portions did allow this but not all)
  • Make sure all pages load properly (we would sometimes come to an activity with a blank screen...we could hear narration but not see anything until we clicked around the page)
Try it yourself FREE
This program is very unique in its method of instruction. For a very complete explanation on how Reading Kingdom differs from other reading systems, you can read this article. The website also offers a variety of tutorials explaining all aspects of the program. The Reading Kingdom website is one of the most comprehensive, user-friendly educational sites I've visited.

One of the best features of the program is that you can try it free for 30 days--the very best way to see if it's something beneficial for your child. (Note: No credit card information is required for the trial period; you will only be prompted for payment information if you choose to subscribe after the trial expires.)

For children who have struggled with traditional methods of reading instruction, this may be just the program they need. Reading Kingdom can also be a valuable supplement to other reading programs to help learn words that do not follow phonetic rules. And after some initial guidance from the parent, children will be able to use the program independently which helps boost their confidence in learning.

Questions and Reviews
Have additional questions about Reading Kingdom? Visit their Frequently Asked Questions page. The website includes many testimonials from parents, teachers and children--you can read those here. To read what other reviewers thought about the program, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Purchase Information
First 30 Days: Free
Subscription Rate: $19.99/month (no minimum number of months) or
$199.99/year ($9.99/month for each additional child)

Contact Information
Address: 12405 Venice Bl., Suite 342, Los Angeles, CA 90066
Phone: 310.288.6811
E-mail company here

Happy Reading,

Disclaimer: I was given a free 12-month subscription to Reading Kingdom for the purpose of reviewing. No other compensation was received and the opinions expressed are my own.


Reading Kingdom said...

Thanks for the great review!

You're correct. It sounds like the keyboard errors were what affected your son's placement. Punctuation (including capitalization and spacing) is not just a “side skill” (though the limited attention it typically receives sends that message.) It offers lots of information that is central to comprehension and to writing. Hence, the Reading Kingdom makes it a central part of learning –right from the start.

We all can see the consequences of ignoring the role of this component. Basically, a very high percentage of children –at all grades—simply do not know how to use it. In writing an essay, for example, children commonly capitalize the first letter of the first word and put a period at the end of the first sentence; after that, it’s all “up for grabs.” They look at the sets of words and place capitals and periods (using little else) almost at random.

The best way to begin to redress this problem is to start early. Failure to start early has major consequences. Basically if you start out allowing errors to make the initial learning, then the errors become imprinted into the learning process. They are what is in place and they are very difficult to unseat. In other words, the errors and confusion stays.

At the same time, parent observations are invaluable and we steadily use them to modify the program. As you will have seen in using the program, we do a lot to enable children to get past errors that they make. Because of programming limitations, we did not include that component in the Skills Survey. We are exploring ways in which we might include this aspect in the Skills Survey.

Reading Kingdom said...

Oh, and one more thing... We're happy you think our owl is adorable. Kids really seem to love her, which is why we're thinking of using her a lot more in our teaching!

Jill Stanish said...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your helpful comments!

Reading Kingdom said...

My pleasure!

Come Again, Pelican by Don Freeman

Don Freeman, creator of the beloved Corduroy books, first published Come Again, Pelican in 1961 and it has been re-released May 2024. Seein...