Even though Lauren is not quite ready for formal reading lessons, I have collected quite a few different reading programs. Most of them are based on teaching phonics skills.
Recently I had the opportunity to review a reading program that comes from an entirely different perspective. Reading Kingdom is primarily a whole word approach to reading, but it goes much farther than just teaching a child to recognize sight words.
If you'd like to read more about the basic philosophy behind Reading Kingdom's instruction, they offer a pdf download that explains how they differ from other reading systems. You can find their full explanation here.
There is a full description of Reading Kingdom available on their website here so I'll simply walk you through our experience with Reading Kingdom. I used it with Lauren (just turned 5) and Brennan (age 10, probably an average reader for his age).
Lauren started with Keyboard and Mouse Training. The program recommends that most kids spend a week or two in this area. Lauren is fairly proficient with using the mouse and can locate most letters on a keyboard. I think she only spent a few sessions working in this area.
Her first skills assessment placed her in the pre-reading activities -- Seeing Sequences and Letter Land.
In the Seeing Sequences section, she practiced picking out matching letters in the proper left-to-right sequences. She started with clicking on just two or three letters in a row and moved up to four or five at a time. The letters initially stayed on the screen for her to refer back to, and later they disappeared before she clicked the matching ones.
The Letter Land section allowed her to practice typing and taught her how to type capitals. The program does not require proper ten-finger touch typing, but rather the child learns to quickly locate the proper letters on the keyboard.
Brennan used the Letter Land section for a while, and he found it a bit frustrating. His problems weren't with typing, but with following the directions and doing it exactly right. Sometimes there was a pause before he was allowed to type, and he wanted to start before the program was ready.
There were several days when we started that this program was a real struggle for Lauren concentration wise. I suspect that she's just a bit too young to focus on doing exactly what the program requires. The lessons are relatively short, but they seem based on getting a certain amount of questions correct. On the days that she bounced around the computer, the session seemed to take forever because it was waiting for her to answer without being prompted multiple times. I found that it worked best when I sat beside her and redirected her attention back to the computer.
Brennan moved through the Letter Land section fairly quickly and took his first skills assessment. It tested both recognition of the words and spelling/typing the words. Again he was somewhat frustrated with the way he had to pay close attention to what was being asked and then type accurately at the correct time. I think he would've done better if he had been allowed to self-correct his typos or spelling mistakes before the answer was checked.
The program is divided into 5 levels with roughly 150 words in each level (Level 1 has less). The program estimates that it will take 10-15 weeks to complete each level.
Once Brennan got the hang of answering the assessment questions, he tested into Level 5. His lessons are working on spelling skills as much as they are reading skills. For instance, in a recent lesson, he needed to type, "As long as the water is not cold, the kids can swim there." The entire sentence is shown first, and then the student types it as it is dictated word-by-word.
I think this program could really help Brennan learn to focus on all the little things in writing -- things like starting a sentence with a capital letter, remembering the punctuation, not skipping over little words, etc. He gets frustrated that the program counts accidental mistakes as wrong answers, but I'm happy every time the computer gives him the uh-oh sound for not starting the sentence with a capital letter.
When Lauren finished Seeing Sequences and Letter Land, she tested into Level 1. At that point, she could read and spell the names of people in our family (Mom, Dad, Addison, Nana, etc). I don't think she knew any other words.
The program starts by teaching easy nouns like kid, pet, girl, and boy. It also teaches verbs and helping words. After a few weeks in Level 1, Lauren can read sentences such as, "Can the kids talk more?" At the same time, she's learning to type those words.
The activities repeat for each new word that is introduces -- first recognition, then filling in the blanks of a partially completed word, and then later typing the whole word from memory.
For Lauren, I like the idea of using the whole word approach to reading in addition to the phonics work that I will be adding in. Right now, she hasn't picked up on any phonics patterns that would help her remember how to spell a word. Even simple words like "can" or "pet" are memorized groups of letters; she doesn't sound them out to figure out how to spell them.
As I watch Lauren work through this program, I wonder if the biggest issue is that she's still a bit young for formal reading instruction. She can work through the Reading Kingdom exercises to learn a new word, but she might not remember it for the next lesson. I noticed this morning that she spends a lot of her lesson waiting for the program to give her typing prompts for the words she learned a week or so ago. I really think that if she were perhaps 3-6 months older, then she's be able to learn and retain the words that are introduced each session.
Reading Kingdom is available as a month-by-month subscription for $19.99 per month or as an annual subscription for $199.99 per year. There is a free 30-day trial available, and I'd highly recommend trying the program for yourself. After our first 30 days, I really understood the program and saw how it could work well for my children.
As always, if you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about Reading Kingdom, be sure to visit The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.